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The click-click-click on the Department's linoleum caught Ray's attention. Impossibly high stiletto heels. Very nice legs. But the neon green satin hem gave him pause. He darted his eyes upward and winced.

The deep ruffled green chiffon neckline had been jerked hard to one side, revealing a bony collarbone and a round, flat nipple surrounded by wiry black hairs. Ray's eyes drifted over the artfully-glued red and green sequins dotting shoulders, neck and face—sheesh, nobody should wear that much eyeshadow. Christmas spirit going a little far, there.

Huey stood there in his suit, fumbling with the papers on his desk and manfully ignoring the cloud of chiffon beside him. "Uh—sit down, Mr. Luybov—"

Green eyes glared at Huey. "Phyllis. I told you. It's Phyllis." Phyllis readjusted her neckline and settled herself in the old wooden chair beside Huey's desk.

"Whatever," Huey mumbled. He pushed a form across the desk, then pulled a pen out of his breast pocket and extended it to her. Phyllis took it with a sultry smile.

Ray grinned: well, maybe there was some kind of luck in the world after all. He didn't get all the weirdo cases. Just most of 'em. Was Phyllis a witness? A perp? He glanced down at his watch; yeah, he guessed he could spare a minute or two to razz Huey. "Yo! Huey!" he said and got out of his chair.

Huey shot him a venomous look. "Not now, Vecchio."

"Aw, c'mon," Ray said, coming close and parking his hip on the side of Huey's desk. "Introduce me to your lovely lady friend."

"Why?" Huey shot back. "You interested?"

"Well, I'm sure interested," Phyllis said huskily, and Ray and Huey both stared down at her.

She wasn't looking at either of them. She was looking across the room at the back of a red serge jacket. Ray looked up at Huey and rolled his eyes.

Phyllis didn't even notice. "Well, well—just lookee at what Santa brought me for Christmas! My very own toy solider!" She flicked her green-shadowed eyes toward the ceiling and clasped her hands together. "Thank you, God!"

Ray stabbed a finger at her. "He's a Mountie, okay? And he ain't yours, so you just—"

Phyllis pursed her lips at him and let out a low, sympathetic whistle. "Sorry, Sweetie, I didn't mean to—"

Ray narrowed his eyes. "He not my Mountie." Though actually he sort of thought that Fraser was his Mountie. It was just too difficult to explain.

"Well whose Mountie is he, then?" Phyllis folded her green-chiffoned arms over her flat chest and looked up at him. "I'll get them to sign a permission slip."

Ray searched his mind for an appropriate answer. "He's his own Mountie," he said finally.

Fraser was now making his way toward them, hat in hand. "Well then," Phyllis said, turning to stare at Fraser hungrily, "I think a man who's his own Mountie can make up his own mind."

Ray glanced back and forth between the approaching Mountie and the infatuated drag queen; hell, he had to get Fraser out of here before—

"I assume he's anatomically correct?" Phyllis asked.

"Christ!" Ray leapt off the desk and whirled to stare at her. "What the fuck is the matter with you?"

"Well, I've got a naturally suspicious mind." Phyllis shrugged and one sequin detached itself from her forehead and fell into her lap. "I used to undress all my dolls."

Fraser had stopped dead in his tracks; his face was composed in his usual benign expression, but his cheeks were reddening slightly. "Good morning, Ray. I was just wondering—"

"Coffee," Ray said quickly, striding forward and grabbing Fraser's arm. "I need a cup of coffee. Don't you need a cup of coffee, Frase?"

"I—" Fraser let himself be pulled, but he craned his neck back to look at Huey and Phyllis. "Good morning, Huey," he called. "Good morning, madam."

Even from across the room Ray could hear Phyllis's shriek. "Madam! Madam?!"

Ray suppressed a smile. Hah—that was telling the bitch.

Fraser paused outside the breakroom and gently pulled his arm out of Ray's grasp. "I'll go quietly, Ray; no force is necessary." Ray smirked and held the door open for him. "Thank you kindly," Fraser said, and strode on in.

Ray yanked the stained carafe out of the coffeemaker and poured himself a cup of burnt-smelling coffee. "This'd better be the high-octane stuff. Can somebody explain to me the point of decaf?"

Fraser didn't answer; he had seated himself at the table, and was toying preoccupiedly with the brim of his hat. "I hope I didn't offend that woman, Ray. I certainly didn't intend to."

Ray sat down, wondering if Fraser was yanking his chain. "That wasn't a woman, Fraser."

Fraser tilted his head inquiringly. "Oh?"

"No. That was just, " Ray waved a dismissive hand in the air, "some old queen."

"Oh. Ah. I see." Fraser nodded curtly and pushed his hat away. "Not," he added gravely, "the kind I'm used to."

Ray leaned back in his chair, a grin splitting his face. Hah. The bastard knew. Well, of coursehe knew.

He should know better than to try to protect Fraser. Benton Fraser could take care of himself.


Still, though, he kept Fraser in the breakroom until he could be reasonably sure that Ru Paul out there was on her merry way. He figured that most station business could be transacted in the time it took for Fraser to get through a medium-length story, and so he propped one hand under his head and said, "So Fraser—you must really miss home this time of year," and then nodded encouragingly every twenty seconds or so for the next half an hour.

Fraser was saying, "still, you know—Old Joe never forgot to buy candles again," when the breakroom door opened and Frannie announced, "Hey, guys! It's snowing!"

They both turned to look at her. Frannie was beaming at Fraser and shoving her bosom forward, one hand on her hip. "Wanna go out and make snow angels?" she asked, waggling her eyebrows. Ray groaned and slumped back in his chair.

Fraser stood up. "I'm afraid I've procrastinated far too much already. Ray," he said, looking down pointedly. "Really. You shouldn't let me go on like that. What must Lieutenant Welsh be thinking?"

"Eh, don't worry about him," Frannie snorted. "He's locked himself in his office, trying to beat his old Minesweeper score."

"Minesweeper?" Fraser bent forward slightly, eyes wide. "You mean—?"

Ray sighed. "It's a video game, Fraser."

Fraser seemed momentarily for a loss. "Ah. Well." He straightened. "If the Lieutenant is so diligently working to improve his eye-hand coordination, I'm sure we can find something equally productive to do."

"Exactly," Frannie agreed. "So whaddya say—snow angels?" She jerked her head toward the station's exit.

"Frannie," Ray said, standing up, "no way is there enough snow on the ground for snow angels."

Frannie gave Fraser a come-hither look. "I've got time," she said, and tried to jiggle a bit.

Ray glanced at his watch, then brushed past Frannie out the door. "You wanna roll around on the concrete? Knock yourself out. I've got work to do." He glanced back over his shoulder to see if Fraser was following him, and Fraser was trying to, but Frannie was gripping both sides of the doorframe, blocking the way entirely. Ray could see Fraser's head over Frannie's shoulder as he tried to get past without just shoving her aside, which is what Ray himself would have done.

He took a step back and watched as Frannie and Fraser tangoed in the doorway. Would he just shove past if Frannie were shoving her boobs in his face like that, if he'd been invited to make snow angels with her on the wet concrete? After all, fake-o sister or not, Frannie wasn't a bad looking woman, and this was a concrete offer, so to speak. Maybe Fraser ought to just take her up on it—just yank her into the breakroom and shove a chair under the doorknob. That'd surprise the hell out of Frannie; she'd probably smack him one and—

There was something wrong with that. But still, he was pretty sure that despite all her flirting and jiggling, Francesca didn't really want anything sexual to happen. In fact, Ray frowned, it was sort of key to the whole crazy scenario that nothing did happen. And it wasn't only Frannie, either—loads of otherwise normal women threw themselves at Fraser. And maybe they all knew nothing was gonna happen.

The idea made him oddly uncomfortable, and he abandoned Fraser and made his way through the crowded hallway back to his desk.

Several people were grouped around the windows, gaping at the snow—it was really coming down, now. Ray sat down in his desk chair and searched through the clutter for something to work on. He had to have an unsolved murder under there somewhere.

After all, it was no big insight or anything. Big deal: so he would probably have jumped Frannie, given that sort of provocation. Then again he was pretty much a pig. News flash!—Ray Kowalski would probably take advantage of women who flung themselves at him.

Of course, that was probably why women didn't fling themselves at him.

He looked up and saw that—somehow, miraculously—Fraser had made it to the other side of Frannie and her boobs. Not that Frannie'd given up or anything—she'd just turned her back to the breakroom and pinned Fraser against the opposite wall. One of her hands was tightly gripping Fraser's forearm and—Ray leaned forward to get a better look—oh, yeah, it had turned into a three button day, and not even noon yet.

Fraser coughed politely and jerked his head toward the men's room, then began to sidle up the hallway. Frannie stealthily moved with him—sheesh, lady, let the man go, already!—and then suddenly the door to Interrogation Room 2 opened and Miss Phyllis click-clicked out looking like the Ghost of Christmas Don't, followed by a glum Detective Huey, who'd apparently been cast as the Nutcrackee.

Frannie turned and her eyes went wide. Phyllis stopped short and looked from Frannie to Fraser and back again.

Heh. Catfight. Ray reached up and adjusted his glasses.

Phyllis and Frannie stared at each other intently, sizing each other up. Behind them Fraser carped the diem and slipped away, disappearing into the safety of the men's room. Ray laughed aloud: score one for Fraser! Frannie didn't even seem to notice that her prey was gone—Phyllis was slowly clacking forward, and now it was Frannie herself who was backed against the wall.

Phyllis looked pointedly downward, leering a little. "Nice rack, honey."

Francesca's hands flew to her chest and she began rapidly buttoning her blouse.

Huey grabbed Phyllis's arm and practically dragged her down the hallway toward the door. "Come on, Phil—it's been lovely, but all good things come to an end. Get out of here."

"Call me a taxi?" Phyllis pleaded.

"Okay, sure," Huey said grimly. "You're a taxi."

The door swung shut behind them. Ray glanced back up the hallway; Frannie was still standing there, frozen, hands crossed over her throat. He averted his eyes and stared down at his desk: Frannie's unexpected display of modesty made him feel like some kind of sick pervert.

Murder. Murder. There had to be a murder here somewhere. His eyes lit upon the Hotchkins case—hey, a double murder, twin shotgun blasts, murder weapon at the scene but no suspects. Perfect. Just the thing to warm your heart on a long, cold afternoon—

"Jesus." He looked up; Francesca was hovering nervously at the side of his desk, buttoned up to the neck. "Did you see that? That woman—that woman was a man!"

"Yep." Ray leaned back in his chair and tried to look worldly. "She sure was. Every inch of her."

"Men." Frannie staring at the closed door, shaking her head. "You can dress 'em up, you can put 'em in a skirt and heels, but you still can't make 'em act like civilized human beings."

"That's a little harsh, isn't it?" Ray objected.

Frannie gesticulated wildly. "That prick checked me out!"

"Yeah, well, what did you—"

Frannie wheeled on him, murder in her eyes.

"— expect from the likes of him? Tell you what, Frannie—next transvestite informant we get, I'll make sure to send him to charm school first, okay?"

"Yeah, right," Frannie snorted. "Physician, help yourself!"

Anger propelled him out of his chair. "Hey, you don't have to paint us all with the same— paintbrush, okay?"

"You're all pigs," Francesca announced to the room at large. "Every single one of you."

"Oh yeah?" Ray taunted. "Even Fraser? Is Fraser a pig? I'll be sure to tell him—"

Francesca just put her hands on her hips and stared him down. "Fraser doesn't count. Fraser's a gentleman. Look it up in the dictionary," she added, and marched off in a huff.

"Oh yeah?" Ray yelled after her. "How do you spell that?"

Frannie made it up to K before her voice was out of range.

"You kiss your mother with that mouth?" Ray muttered. He sank back into his chair and swiped the Hotchkins case off the desk. Double murder, shotgun blast, no suspects—

"Mommy! Mommy! Look at the doggie!" Ray turned his head and growled at a wide-eyed little girl, who was leaping and pointing at Diefenbaker and grabbing at her beleaguered mother's sleeve. Mommy was in handcuffs; she looked like she'd just been on a three-day bender.

Ray shook his head. Focus: double murder, shotgun blast, no likely suspects. He had work to do here, and—

Red serge filled his peripheral vision. "Ray?"

He looked up at Fraser, the great Canadian neutral zone in the war of the sexes. "Got away from her, huh?"

"Excuse me?" Fraser said politely.

Ray wasn't fooled. "Francesca," he said pointedly. "You escaped."

Fraser fidgeted. "Hm, well. I suppose that's a word for it."

"It's the word, Fraser—why don't you just admit it? It's the word."

"It's, um—" Fraser caught sight of the Hotchkins file. "Is that a case?"

"Yeah." Ray sighed, and handed the file over. "It's a case. You tell me who did it and I'll go arrest him. Deal?"

"Deal, Ray." Fraser sat down in the wooden chair next to Ray's desk and flipped open the file. "It's not about credit," he mumbled to himself. "We can't let murderers walk the streets, after all." His looked down at the file, brow furrowed in concentration as he read, and then snorted in irritation. "No, honestly—it's pointless. I don't have jurisdiction, in any case..."

"There, Mommy, look!" the little girl shrieked; she was now gibbering and pointing at Fraser. "It's a real, live wooden soldier! I want one, can I have one, can I have one pleeeeaeze?"

Cripes. Out of the mouths of babes and drag queens. They all wanted their very own Mountie doll, manners and batteries included, horse sold separately. Ray wondered cynically if any of them really wanted the nutty guy underneath.


Ray gaped at Fraser for a moment, then threw up his hands. "Oh, that's it. I'm out of here. Have a good one." He grabbed his leather jacket off the back of his chair and headed determinedly toward the door.

"Ray. Ray. Ray!" Fraser snagged his own peacoat off the hook and followed him. "Ray, please wait!"

Ray made it three quarters of the way toward the front door before whirling around and confronting Fraser, who stopped short, surprised. "You can't know it was suicide," Ray yelled. "You just can't."

Fraser looked helpless. "But it was."

"It's impossible, Fraser. It was a shotgun. How the hell do you commit suicide with a shotgun?" Ray tried to aim an imaginary shotgun at himself. "How the hell did the bastard reach the trigger?"

"Haven't you ever read Agatha Christie?" Fraser asked.

"If this is gonna be some sort of speech about how Reading Is Fundamental, you can just can it," Ray warned.

"Reading is fundamental, Ray, but actually I was referring to a very specific story in 'The Labors Of Hercules'—"

Ray spun quick circles in the air with his hand. Fraser coughed, nodded rapidly, and cut to the chase.

"He did it with his foot."

Ray dipped his head and peered at Fraser over the top of his glasses. "He did what with his foot?"

"Pulled the trigger."

"He pulled the trigger with his foot," Ray repeated.

"Well, with his toe, actually. He shot his wife, aimed the gunbarrel at his own chest, and pulled the trigger with his toe. The weapon fell to the ground where you found it. It's a sad story, Ray."

"It's a crazy story, Fraser."

"The report specifically notes that Hotchkins wasn't wearing shoes or socks," Fraser pointed out.

"It was the middle of the night! They were in bed, Fraser. Do you wear shoes to bed?" Ray quickly lifted his hand. "Never mind. Don't answer that." He turned and continued to shove his way toward the door.

Fraser trailed him down the hallway. "There was a blurred partial print on the gun, Ray. Unidentified. I strongly suspect that—"

Ray turned around again. "Yeah, yeah, I got it—it's a toeprint, right? and if I check it against Hotchkins' feet I'll find a match. Right? Right?"

"Right," Fraser admitted.

"Great. Thank you, Fraser."

"You're welcome, Ray. Look behind you."

Ray turned to look through the station doors and groaned. The whole street was blanketed in white.

"It's beautiful, isn't it?" Fraser pushed past him, out the door, and a blast of icy wind slapped Ray in the face, slicing easily through the thin leather of his jacket.

"Oh, yeah," Ray muttered. "Fuckin' gorgeous." He followed Fraser out into the street, hugging himself for warmth. This sucked, this bit the big one. Three steps and his socks were wet inside his ankle boots—why the hell hadn't he worn decent winter gear?

Huge fluffy flakes landed on his head and face, clung to his glasses. He growled and swiped at the lenses with his sleeve, reducing his vision to a frosty blur: oh, just perfect. He trudged toward where he'd parked his car. "C'mon," he offered. "I'll give you a ride."

Dief bounded past him, barking and cavorting about, leaving crazy, circling paw trails in the snow: the stupid dog was happy as a clam. "That's all right, Ray," Fraser said. "I'm happy to walk."

Ray wheeled to face Fraser, skidding slightly on his leather soles and nearly crashing to the ground. "You wanna walk home in a blizzard?"

Fraser blinked at him for a moment or two and then his face split in a wide grin. "Actually, Ray," Fraser said, and Ray suddenly noticed that Fraser's face was ruddy and healthy-looking; it was freakin' freezing out here and Fraser looked like he was glowing with heat, "I wouldn't call this a blizzard." Fraser paused, and coughed into his fist. "In fact, this snow is, well, mainly decorative—"

"It looks like snow to me, Fraser," Ray snapped, and continued the long march toward his car. "You wanna ski over to the Consulate? Be my guest."

He heard Fraser sigh. "Wait, Ray. Ray. Ray? Come now, I didn't mean to insult your snow."

Ray shoved his hands deep into his pockets and ignored this. "You can ski, sled, or snowshoe home, Fraser!" he called over his shoulder. "Whatever cranks your turn. Me, I'm gonna—"

He stopped short; his car was a snow-covered mound.

"Oh, fuck."

Fraser's boots crunched softly in the snow behind him. "Let me give you a hand."

Ray sighed and waved the offer away. "You don't have to, Frase. Been dealing with these shitty winters all my life. Go on home."

"I'll give you a hand," Fraser repeated quietly. "Give me the keys."

Ray sighed and forced his numb fingers to search his jacket pocket. He closed his hand around his car keys, pulled them out, and dropped them into Fraser's palm.

Wordlessly, Fraser tramped forward. He roughly brushed the snow off the back of the car, then inserted the key into the trunk.

"Brushes on the left side," Ray said wearily. "Under all the—shit and stuff."

Loose snow flew up into a cloud, and when Ray could see Fraser clearly again he was holding two long snow-and-ice brushes. "Got them," Fraser said and closed the trunk.

Ray raised his hand and Fraser tossed him the keys. Catching them, Ray opened the driver's side door and then noticed that he'd left the top two inches of the window open that morning—well, that's just what he deserved for sneaking a smoke on the way to work. He tried to sweep the little line of snow off the vinyl seat with his hand, but mainly only succeeded in making a puddle. Sighing, he sat down and felt the seat of his pants go wet.

The inside of the car was dark and claustrophobic, like someone had spraypainted the windows gray. He worked the key into the ignition and turned it—blissfully, the car roared into life. He got out, leaving the car to warm up, and went to help Fraser clear the snow.

Fraser'd already done the back window and was working his way around the passenger side. Ray grabbed the other brush off the top of the car and turned his attention to the windshield.

He watched as Fraser cleaned off the car; he looked like he was enjoying himself tremendously. The falling snow and the bright, white street behind him only added to the impression—dirty old Chicago had suddenly gotten a new coat of paint, one that made it look—well—quaint and 19th century. Like Fraser said, the snow was basically decorative—and Ray realized that, for Fraser, this was almost like being home. He'd gotten that much from Fraser's speech in the breakroom that morning, and he probably would have gotten more if he'd actually paid anything like real attention.

Tonight there was gonna be icy roads, accidents, bad traffic. Tomorrow the streets would be soot-black and piss yellow. But Fraser was right. Right now, this minute, it was kind of pretty.

Ray turned and stared up the street, trying to see it the way Fraser saw it. The blur of wetness on his glasses helped: it made the landscape sort of dreamy, and made the lamp-posts twinkle like stars in the dusk.

Behind him, Fraser opened the driver's door and reached into the car—probably switching on the heat and the defroster. That was Fraser, always thinking.

He turned when Fraser slammed the door shut again; Fraser was standing there, face flushed, breath a tangible white puff in front of his mouth. Ray felt himself smiling—maybe it was the snow on his glasses, maybe it was just that he was finally paying the right sort of attention. But Fraser had never looked more alive to him—how could anybody ever mistake him for a wooden soldier?

Feeling mischievous, Ray took two aggressive steps forward into Fraser's personal space. Fraser took a stumbling step backwards against the car and laughed in surprise, and his hot breath caused the lenses of Ray's glasses to fog up. Ray grabbed Fraser's shoulders with his aching, red fingers and blew laughter back at him: ma'am, this corpse was alive and he could prove it.

Fraser was smiling, like he was waiting for the punchline. "Did I miss something?"

"Nah. You didn't miss nothing." Ray grinned stupidly, raised his cold-numbed hands, and briefly patted Fraser's ruddy cheeks. "Get in the car."

Fraser frowned slightly. "I really don't mind walking."

"I know. Get in anyway." Ray took a step back, giving Fraser room to move. "I need your weight."

Fraser considered this for a moment. "All right," he said, and trudged round to the passenger side. Ray opened the driver's door and Dief jumped in, tail wagging.


Even with Fraser's additional weight, the GTO skidded slightly around the first corner. Ray rolled his eyes and resigned himself to driving at 10 mph. The low speed made him feel like he was on the monorail for some sort of boring educational exhibit: "It's Christmas in Chicago! On your left, you can see multicultural children singing 'It's A Small World After All!' Note the eclectic local wildlife in the back seat!"

Ray glanced up into the rear view mirror and checked on the wolf. Dief was sitting up attentively, tongue lolling, looking very, very hungry.

On impulse, he turned to Fraser. "Wanna have dinner with me?"

Fraser looked surprised at the invitation. "You mean tonight?"

"No, Fraser—a week from Thursday. Yes, tonight—you got something better to do?"

"I usually polish brass on Friday nights." Ray turned to stare, wondering if Fraser was kidding. "Also, I'm the only one at the Consulate—Lieutenant Thatcher and Constable Turnbull are on leave for the holidays."

"Exactly my point," Ray declared, although it hadn't been. "Why the hell should you go back to an empty, freezing Consulate? I could make burgers or something. I've got plenty of beer."

"The heat at the Consulate is quite adequate, Ray."

Ray smirked and glanced sideways. "Sorry, Fraser. Didn't mean to insult your heat."

Fraser's lips twitched, but he didn't actually smile.

"Lemme try this again," Ray said, easing the car into another slow turn. "You wanna have dinner with me or what?"

Fraser paused before answering, and Ray mentally prepared himself for the letdown. He supposed he could take himself around the corner for a bite; the nachos at Billy's Bar weren't too bad, and there'd be peanuts.

"That sounds fine," Fraser said finally. "That sounds very nice indeed."


Ray unlocked his apartment door and pushed it open. Dief trotted straight in—but there was nothing he could do about that. "Hang on," Ray cautioned Fraser. "Take your boots off." He grabbed the doorframe for balance and pulled off his own wet boots.

Fraser glanced at the apartment's shiny hardwood floors and nodded, then knelt down and began to unlace.

"Sorry." Ray padded through the doorway in his stocking feet, dropping his boots on top of jumble of shoes and umbrellas he kept in a plastic milk crate by the door. "Just that the wood warps when it's wet."

"I understand." Fraser stood up, boots in hand.

"Here, I'll put 'em in the closet." Ray took the boots from Fraser and opened the closet door. He put the boots down and then snagged a wooden hanger off the bar. "Give me your coat," he said, turning around.

Fraser was staring into the closet like he'd seen a ghost; Ray turned quickly, but saw only the usual overstuffed mess. "Fraser?"

"I don't need your advice." Fraser sounded almost angry.

Ray blinked. "Hey, look—you don't have to hang it up. I just figured—"

Fraser looked at him and suddenly seemed embarrassed. "I just meant—I can do it myself," he said, nearly yanking the hanger out of Ray's hand.

Ray raised his hands in mock surrender. "Whatever. Suit yourself. I'm going to go change my socks." Shaking his head, he went into his bedroom and pulled a pair of thick socks out of the bureau. He sat down on the bed and stripped the damp, black ones off his cold, pruny feet.

His head jerked up: Fraser was whispering to someone—who? Dief? Ray quickly tugged the woolen socks on, trying to concentrate on the words.

"—your business!" he heard, the hissing S-sound in bussssinssss making the word jump out at him. "It's not what you think, and even if it is, this is my life. At least, I used to think this was my life. I may have been mistaken. But I really don't think you should be here."

Ray got up off the bed and moved silently across the carpet to the door. Fraser was staring daggers into the open closet. "Fraser?"

"Ray!" Fraser slammed the closet door shut and whirled around.

Ray frowned and took a few, cautious steps into the living room. "Is everything okay?"

"Everything's fine, Ray," Fraser said instantly, and then, without missing a beat: "I think I should go. I don't think I should be here."

Ray's eyebrows flew up. "Go? Are you nuts? You just got here."

"True," Fraser admitted, "but I have—responsibilities. Duties. I shouldn't leave the Consulate completely unmanned—"

"Oh, fuck the Consulate," Ray snorted, sliding into the kitchen. "You want a beer or something?"

"I—really shouldn't—" Fraser said.

"Cause I want a beer." Ray yanked the refrigerator open and snagged a cold bottle from the inside of the door. "C'mon, whaddya say?"

Fraser didn't say anything for a moment—he just stood there ramrod straight in his red jacket, still wearing his hat. And then, between one breath and the next, Fraser seemed to relax, the firm set of his shoulders easing into a more graceful curve. "Have you got any tea?"

"Sure," Ray said with a smile. "Tea coming right up." He grabbed a small saucepan from the counter, filled it with water, and put it on the stove.

Fraser reached up and took his hat off, placing it carefully on the kitchen table, and then, to Ray's surprise, he grabbed one of the chairs and hooked it underneath the doorknob to the closet door.

"Fraser, what are you doing?"

"I—uh—" Fraser looked from the chair to Ray and then back again, then began to undo the buttons of his jacket. "I just wanted to take my jacket off. It's quite warm in here. Unlike the Consulate, you have an excellent heating system, Ray." Carefully, Fraser removed his holster, lanyard, and jacket, folded them neatly and stacked them on the seat of the chair. Finally, he picked up his hat and placed it gently on top of the pile: the result looked like the Wicked Mountie of the West post water-bucket.

"You could have just hung it up ," Ray pointed out.

"You're out of hangers." Fraser moved aimlessly into the living room in his undershirt and suspenders; Dief was already curled up snugly in the best armchair.

"Oh." Ray reached for a mug and a teabag. "Well, whatever. Make yourself at home."

"Thank you, Ray," Fraser said, not looking one whit more comfortable.

Ray poured some boiling water into the mug and grinned at him through the cloud of steam. "I've got some brass you could polish if it'd make you feel better."

Fraser laughed and shook his head. "I appreciate the thought, but you'll understand if I decline."

"I understand perfectly," Ray replied. "You want milk in this?"

"If you have some."

"Actually, I don't."

"Well, then—no, thank you."

Ray brought the plain tea over to Fraser, who took the hot mug carefully into his hands. "Look, why don't you sit down. Really. Chill out—make yourself comfortable."

"I'm perfectly comfortable," Fraser said, and blew gently across the top of the tea.

"Yeah, you look it, too." Ray shrugged and went back into the kitchen. "Put on the TV or something. I'll put the burgers together."

Fraser's head lifted. "Can I help?"

Ray waved him away. "It'll only take me a couple of minutes. You're hungry, right?"

"Starving," Fraser admitted.

"So okay then. Shut up and watch TV."

"Understood." Fraser found the remote control, sat down on the sofa, and began methodically flicking through the channels. Ray shrugged and pulled a pound of chopped meat out of the fridge. It passed the sniff test, and he began shaping it into hamburgers. He put four large burgers into the frying pan and then turned, nearly tripping over Dief, whose expression was near to pleading.

"No," Ray said. "No." Diefenbaker didn't move a muscle. "Oh, all right," he said, and put the bowl of leftover meat down on the floor.

He found two decent looking potatoes on the counter, washed and pricked them, then put them into the microwave. "There we go," Ray concluded, wandering into the living room with his beer. "Dinner'll be ready in no time.

"Thank you, Ray," Fraser was sipping tea, his eyes glued to the screen; apparently, he'd finally found something to watch.

The cable box atop the television glowed 81—Ray hadn't even known that the numbers went up to 81. "What's that?" he asked, sinking down on the sofa next to Fraser.

Fraser looked embarrassed and reached quickly for the remote control. "It's nothing." He hit a button and the picture changed: now, a gray-haired guy was ogling an overpriced luxury car. Christ—get a life already. "We don't have to watch it."

Ray grabbed the remote out of Fraser's hand and flipped back to channel 81. "Relax, will you? I don't mind." He settled back into the cushions and stared at the screen: a bunch of crazy guys were hunched over and frantically sweeping ice.

Curling. Figured.

"I know it bores you, Ray," Fraser admitted.

"Don't worry about it," Ray said absently; he was trying to figure out, as always, exactly what those fruitcakes on the screen were doing. "Watch it, enjoy it, relax."

The thing that looked like a tea-kettle banged into another thing that looked like a tea-kettle. Fraser moved to the edge of the sofa and leaned forward, apparently uncontrollably drawn into the action. "Come on," Fraser murmured, eyes fixed to the screen. "Come on... yessss!" Fraser quickly sat upright, hands balled into triumphant fists, and grinned at him.

"Was that good?" Ray asked.

"That was great."

"Great!" Ray said enthusiastically and heaved himself up off the sofa. "When I get back, you explain to me why, okay?"

"I'll try." Fraser's attention had already wandered back to yet another group of ice-sweepers.

Ray flipped the burgers, poked a fork into the potatoes, and set the microwave for another two minutes. Then he slouched against the countertop, watching Dief watching Fraser watching curling. Whatever was happening must be pretty exciting by Canadian standards. Fraser was rocking back and forth as he stared at the screen, and Dief's tail was standing straight up.

The microwave binged, and Ray pulled out the two potatoes and put them onto plates with burgers and buns.

"Okay, okay—so what's going on?" he asked as he carried the plates to the living room.

Fraser didn't even take his eyes off the screen. "I can hardly believe it, Ray, but I think they're going for an 8-ender."

Ray put the plates down on the coffee table and sat down on the sofa. "I can hardly believe it either." He picked up his burger and took a huge bite. "What's an 8-ender?" he asked, chewing.

"It's a—c'mon, c'mon, c'mon!" Fraser yelled, lifting out of his seat. One tea-kettle thing smashed into two other tea-kettle things and sent them skittering away across the ice. "Oh my—did you see that? Double take out!"

"Take out? Like Chinese?"

"No, no!" Fraser threw himself down again on the sofa and grabbed Ray's arm, making him drop the burger back onto the plate.

"Hey!" Ray protested.

"Just look!" Fraser yanked Ray's arm upwards and pointed with it toward the screen. "How many red stones do you see?"

Ray leaned forward slightly to see better. "Them the tea-kettle things?"

"Precisely. How many tea-kettle things?"

Ray counted. "Seven."

"Exactly. You see seven red tea-kettle things because that last red tea-kettle thing just pushed out two yellow tea-kettle things."

"Double take out," Ray said confidently.

"You're getting it," Fraser said, smiling. "Now. If they manage to get one more red tea-kettle thing into the house, how many red tea-kettle things will there be?"

Ray had to think about that for a moment. "Eight."

"Correct. And how many yellow ones?"

"None."

"And that would mean...?" Fraser looked at him expectantly. There was clearly something he was supposed to be getting, some connection he was supposed to me making, though he hadn't the slightest idea what it was. It was like a flashback to a school spelling bee, where they asked you to spell some goddamned word like "substantiate" and the only thing in your otherwise empty mind was the theme from Bonanza. Bum, ba-da-dum, ba-da-dum, ba-da-dum, ba-DA-Dah!

No, it was even worse than that, because Fraser was utterly focused on him, looking intense and expectant. This was worse than any spelling bee—this was a test, this was a final exam. And he had to come up with the right answer to prove that he had brains and commitment and something like a normal attention span.

And as the theme from Bonanza thundered through his head, Ray thought about how Fraser wasn't a wooden solider, or a snow angel, or anything like that. All the chicks had him so wrong. Fraser was a man of many passions, however weird and strange. Wolves. Curling. Snow. Closets. Jesus Christ.

Eight red tea-kettles and no yellow tea-kettles would mean what exactly?

He was so close; he was so close to Fraser; if he were crazy he could just lean forward and—

The phrase popped into his mind. "An 8-ender! Eight red tea-kettles and no yellow tea-kettles would make it an 8-ender! Right? Right?"

Fraser grinned at him. "Right."

"And that's what they're trying to do—they're gonna try to get one more red tea-kettle onto the target thingy and—" Ray turned his face toward the television and yes, there it was: the last red tea-kettle thingy was slowly gliding across the ice as the sweepers rapidly brushed the ice with their brooms. "That's it, isn't it? That's the eighth tea-kettle! They got all their red kettles onto the target and pushed all the other guys' kettles off!"

"Yes," Fraser said.

They watched in silence as the last red kettle slowly came to a stop just outside the target, and the participants burst into cheers.

"Is that sort of like a grand slam?" Ray asked.

"Yes, Ray. Exactly  sort of like a grand slam."

"But they missed," Ray protested, feeling cheated. "That last kettle didn't go on the target!"

"It doesn't have to go in the house," Fraser explained, switching the television off with contented sigh. "It just has to touch the line."

Ray turned his head to argue that this was a prime example of Canadian wussiness, but Fraser turned his head at precisely the same moment and their faces were suddenly inches apart. "Uh," Ray said.

Bum, ba-da-dum, ba-da-dum, ba-da-dum, BO-NAN-ZA! All other sounds had unexpectedly gone out of the universe; all sight had narrowed to Fraser's mouth. Fraser was saying something soundlessly—at least, his lips were moving—and Ray found himself leaning forward dizzily to—

He blinked and pulled back quickly. What the fuck was he doing?

Please, God—if Fraser was ever oblivious, let him be oblivious now. Let him not have noticed, let him be somewhere entirely else—let him be in some better, Canadian, place. This was a mistake, this was just the sort of lame-brained, pathetic scenario he would come up with—

Eh, what the hell was he worried about, anyway? Fraser had deflected better passes than this, and besides, no one in their right mind could possibly see one burger (uneaten), one baked potato (untouched), one half-cold mug of tea (no milk) and a half-hour of curling as the appropriate background for a seduction scene, right? Right.

And then Fraser leaned forward, closed the distance between them, and kissed him.

Holy fuck.

Fraser's mouth was warm, so warm, on his. Ray pushed him backwards onto the sofa, his hands sliding up Fraser's shoulders and tugging at his suspenders. To his surprise, Fraser fought him for dominance of the kiss, pushing him up again and then trapping him against the sofa back. The struggle gave Ray a raging erection; he felt diamond-hard, and sucked aggressively at Fraser's mouth.

One of Fraser's hands cupped his head tightly, pulling him closer still, and the other found its way down the neck of his shirt. Ray groaned and opened his mouth. Fraser's tongue slid deep into him, stroked the roof of his mouth, stroked against his tongue—and Ray suddenly became aware that Dief was howling.

Breathlessly, Fraser broke off the kiss and turned to look at Dief—his hair was mussed, his face flushed.

"What?" Ray complained, panting. "What? What?"

"He doesn't understand kissing," Fraser said between gasps. "He thinks we're eating; he thinks there's food. Dief! No food here! Sit!"

Ray yanked his glasses off and tossed them onto the coffee table; they landed with a clatter. "I can't fuck with the dog watching."

"Dief!" Fraser said, distinctly mouthing the words. "Go into the other room! Go into the bedroom! Go to sleep!"

Ray frowned as Dief turned and trotted toward the bedroom. "Hey—why does he get the bedroom?"

Fraser flung an arm toward the disappearing wolf, looking exasperated. "Do you want to argue the point?"

"No. Forget it." Ray threaded his hands into Fraser's hair—it felt like silk against his fingers—and pulled their mouths together again. Fraser moaned and began frantically fumbling with the buttons of Ray's jeans, maneuvering him sideways until he was flat on his back. Gasping, Fraser lifted his head and torso off Ray, and with two quick flicks of his shoulders he had shrugged off his suspenders.

Ray reached out and grabbed the front of Fraser's long underwear, yanking the metal snaps open, as Fraser pushed Ray's t-shirt up and tugged his pants and underwear down. Ray was breathing so hard he thought his chest would explode—this was crazy, this was nutso crazy, he was lying flat here with his cock hanging out—how the hell could this be happening? Fraser was staring down at him and clumsily trying to unbuckle his belt at the same time. Ray reached up and threaded two fingers through the loops on either side of his pants and tugged rhythmically. "Hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, before I die here."

Fraser's eyes glanced up, full of desperation and humor. "I'm trying, I swear."

"Who the hell designed that outfit? Canadian nuns?"

"I'm going to treat that question as rhetorical," Fraser said, finally managing to tug his belt free. "For the sake of expediency."

"God bless you."

Fraser bent down for another kiss as he reached down to undo his fly; Ray lifted up to meet him halfway and shivered as their mouths touched. And then Fraser's weight came down full on him and he felt the first press of Fraser's erection against his own. Oh god. Oh cripes. From the feel of it, Fraser wasn't only anatomically correct—he was anatomically excellent.

Ray felt Fraser's wet mouth drift across his face, felt Fraser's erection slide against his own. He grunted with pleasure and thrust back as best he could. "I—oh, geez. Oh, shit, Fraser." Fraser murmured something and then lifted himself up, tugging Ray up with him into a sitting position, before closing his hand tightly around both their cocks.

Ray stared dizzily down at this new, pornographic thing between them. Fraser was gently squeezing their two shafts together, and rubbing rough circles atop the heads with the heel of his other hand. He'd never quite seen anyone jerk off like this, and wondered briefly if this was some weird Canadian masturbation technique. Whatever it was, though, it felt like heaven on earth. It was also working something fierce—they were both sweating and panting like animals.

Another minute of this and Ray felt wound, wired, ready-to-spring; he grabbed Fraser's hands with his own and stilled them. "Stop," Ray gasped. "Stop. Not ready to—I don't want to—"

"Me either. Me either, Ray," and Ray launched himself upon Fraser so forcefully that they overbalanced, slid off the couch, and crashed onto the hardwood floor, becoming wedged between the sofa and the coffee table.

Ray ignored their awkward angle and attached his mouth to Fraser's neck, finding and caressing a taut nipple with his free hand. Fraser's hand flailed wildly in the air, apparently feeling for the edge of the coffeetable. Ray growled and kicked out hard with his leg, sending the coffeetable with its plates, burgers, beers, eyeglasses, remote controls, and other assorted crapola skittering three feet away across the floor.

"Better?" Ray mumbled.

"Much. Yes," Fraser said and flipped him over.

They rolled around on the floor, kissing and groping and humping each other. And then Fraser let out a long, low groan that sent shuddering chills down Ray's spine.

Ray heard himself groaning helplessly in response—and suddenly Fraser was yanking him up and turning him around and pressing close behind him, arms wrapped tightly around him, one hand drifting down to caress his shaft and balls.

Ray gasped raggedly and blurted, "Fuck me. Fuck me. God, put it in me—put it—"

He heard a soft, jagged sound and felt a splash of wetness against the small of his back. Fraser's hand gripped him tight, tight, tighter—sweetest pleasure pain and then he was coming hard into Fraser's hand, into the hand Fraser'd quickly cupped around his cockhead.

He sagged backwards as the tension slowly drained out of him. Fraser hugged him tightly and leaned forward against him, and there they remained for a few minutes while they gathered themselves.

"I hope," Fraser was panting raggedly, "I haven't just missed my chance, Ray."

"You haven't missed your chance, Fraser."

"Good. Because I wouldn't have wanted to have missed my chance."

"You haven't."

"I'm glad."

"You can fuck me right now, in fact. You can fuck me whenever you want. In fact, Fraser, this is what I would call a no-time-limit type of offer, here."

"That's," and Fraser's voice was still breathless, but differently breathless, now, "good to know, Ray."

Ray turned around; Fraser lifted his flushed, damp face off Ray's shoulder. "I have to ask, Frase. I mean—why now?"

"I could ask you the same question." Fraser peeled himself off Ray's back, and Ray shivered from the loss of heat. "Obviously, I had my hopes," Fraser added with an embarrassed little cough. "That something like this might happen."

Ray boggled. "You had hopes?"

"I had hopes, yes. Mainly I tried to ignore them. But then tonight—" Fraser leaned back against the base of the sofa and gestured expansively around the room with his arm. "Well..."

"Right." Ray slumped next to Fraser and imitated his gesture. "The burgers. The potato. The tea. The curling."

"Come on, Ray—it wasn't exactly subtle." Fraser quirked an eyebrow.

Ray stared at him a moment and then grinned. "Worked, though."

"Well, yes," Fraser admitted.

Ray let his head fall back against the sofa cushion and laughed at the ceiling. Hoo-boy, Fraser was a man all right. Simple needs, simple food, simple seduction. Fraser reached for his hand and Ray returned the pressure with a light squeeze.

"Mind you, I'm not complaining," Fraser added quietly. "It was like a dream come true, Ray."

Ray lifted his head. "Step one, Fraser—we've gotta get you a higher class of dream. Like just for starters, next time the dog gets the floor and we get the bed."

Fraser's lips twitched. "All right. If you insist."

"And picture—next time you actually get to eat the burger and the potato."

"Now, don't get me overexcited," Fraser said reprovingly, but there was laughter in his eyes.

"Hey, can I help it if I think big? Next time—milk in the tea."

"You'll spoil me. Luxury beyond imagination."

"I think I'd like to spoil you a little, actually." Ray impulsively leaned forward and kissed him again, and Fraser hmmmmed happily into his mouth.

But Fraser was frowning a little when Ray pulled his head back. "I think I should warn you, Ray. I've been told that I can be a little—um—needy."

The idea on the face of it seemed so preposterous that Ray had to clamp down on a giggle. Still, though, Fraser seemed to be serious. "That's okay," he assured Fraser. "I don't think I mind being needed. It helps with my low self-esteem."

"Oh," Fraser said, blinking. "Well. That's all right, then."

"Yeah, that part's easy enough. It's the rest of this that's nuts."

"Point taken," Fraser sighed. "Though the situation isn't entirely bleak," he added. "For instance, Dief likes you. That helps a great deal."

Ray grinned helplessly. "You think Dief likes me?"

"Dief loves you, I think," Fraser mused.

"Aw, come on," Ray protested, suddenly embarrassed. "Dief likes everybody."

"A common misconception," Fraser corrected. "Dief just has a remarkable amount of tact."

"Really?"

Fraser nodded. "Really, Ray. I mean, you have to remember—Dief's not a domestic animal. My sense is that he exercises a staggering amount of restraint in his day to day dealings."

"You think so?" Ray met Fraser's eyes.

Fraser held his gaze. "I do, yes."

Ray swallowed hard and found that his throat was dry. "Maybe we should check on him. You think he's hungry again?" He squeezed Fraser's hand tightly.

"I think," Fraser said with a slow smile, "that he's probably starving."  

THE END