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my lungs, they're kind of shaky

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ADA Kowalski turned on her heel and left without a backwards glance at Ray, though she saved one for Fraser over her shoulder, narrow and disapproving. Fraser had never been entirely sure what it was about himself that was so off-putting to Ray's ex-wife; he was always carefully polite and friendly towards her, and even more careful not to let his dismayed confusion that she could use and discard Ray show upon his features. Maybe she could sense it anyway—his father always said, “A woman's intuition, son...well, it does something, never could remember the rest of that saying.”

In any case Ray thumped at his chest as soon as she was around the corner, a grimace pulling at his features. He leaned back against his car, hips pushed out a little from the handle of the door. Fraser considered it good news that they wouldn't be standing in the parking lot of the police station for much longer, for the sake of Ray's lumbar support.

“Ray, are you alright?” Fraser asked as the thumping continued, one loose fist battering at his friend's sternum.

“Yeah, 'm fine,” Ray said, dropping his hand, and then dragged in a huge breath—and held it, cheeks puffing slightly, his whole body rigid.

“Ray.” Fraser frowned. “Ray. Ray. Ray, Ray, Ray—”

“—FFFFFraser, what?” Ray snapped on his exhale.

Americans, Fraser thought to himself in extreme bafflement. “Ray, what are you doing?”

“You ever feel like someone gives you the hiccups?” Ray asked, rubbing at his chest now as he continued to look pained.

“No, I can't say that I have,” Fraser answered promptly, “though there was one young man by the name of Edbert Humphreys who had an unfortunate phobia of bathwater and as such tended to inspire bouts of involuntary gagging when others were forced to stand downwind of him.”

Ray blinked at him. “Yeah, I, uh, I guess that's what I meant,” he said, dragging the flat of his nails against his throat now, as if to protect his own unsavory reflexes. “Involuntary. That's a good word for it.”

“I'm sorry, Ray,” Fraser said, snapping his gaze away from where it had stayed entirely too long on Ray's hand. “I'm...failing to follow the conversation. Are you saying ADA Kowalski gives you hiccups?”

“I don't know how else to say it, Frase,” Ray said, ducking his head down with another wince. “It's dumb, don't worry about it.”

Ray calling himself dumb or stupid was not infrequent—distressingly so, in Fraser's opinion, and seemed to come in even larger clusters immediately after an encounter with ADA Kowalski.

“I'm sure it's not dumb, Ray,” Fraser started, but Ray was already turning away, frowning and shaking his head.

“Forget it. We got this new thing to look into, finally, now Stella's letting us snoop around her shady coworker.”

Defense Attorney Carl Robertson had won a suspicious number of cases, recently, at least in Stella Kowalski's opinion—and more than that, he'd apparently just purchased not one but two prohibitively expensive vehicles, and a boat. Stella suspected her coworker was taking bribes, and possibly extorting money from his clients to pay off law enforcement and ensure a mistrial. A staggering amount of evidence had been 'misplaced' throughout the last five years of Robertson's career; Fraser was very grateful to Stella for bringing them the case.

Ray seemed...less so.

“My chest hurts,” Ray grumbled, now that they were seated at his desk inside the precinct.

“It's possible your, er, hiccups had something to do with that,” Fraser kindly pointed out. Somewhere behind him a phone rang, and was answered by Detective Huey.

Ray glared at him. Then he sighed, slumped into his paperwork. His neck looked very pale and vulnerable, thin hair at the nape of his neck cut naturally into the point of a heart. “Yeah, probably,” he grumbled. “But it's not like I can help it.”

“Well.” Fraser felt an urgent need to smooth his eyebrow, but even rubbing it rather firmly with his thumb wasn't enough to settle the sudden burst of, well, something in his stomach.

Ray lifted his head just enough to stare at him.

“Does anybody on the planet enjoy hiccups? I mean, now that I think about it, that's probably some poor sap's kink, but it ain't mine!”

Fraser cleared his throat. “Free will, Ray—”

“Involuntary, Fraser, I don't know how to spell it out for you! I get the urge to dance, my feet say: Stella. I wanna kiss somebody my lips go: hey remember the girl who taught you how to kiss? Even my junk's like, like that old dog who can't learn new tricks even when the old tricks involved kicking him in the head.”

Shock widened Fraser's eyes. “Did she—”

“I mean emotionally. Emotionally I have been kicked in the head from here to the Grand Canyon and back. Which is why I got all my other body parts yelping out, 'Don't do that! Don't call her!' but my hand don't listen and suddenly I got my phone to my ear and she's snapping out hello on the other end, and by then I can't not ask, my mouth ain't listening either, and she gets mad that I'm such a dumbfuck and I can't disagree with her when 99% of my body has the dumb fucking hiccups.”

“And your heart, Ray?” Fraser asked, feeling strangely as though the words had to be plucked out of him one at a time.

Ray groaned and put his head in his hands, heels of his palms covering his eyes. “Don't ask me that, Frase. My heart is dumb too, just. Dumb in a different way.” He eased back down over his desk, rolled his head against his arms until he could peer up at Fraser from the crook of his elbow. Then, so quietly Fraser could barely believe Ray was managing to meet his gaze at all, “I don't love her anymore, if that's what you're asking. Not like I...not in the way that counts.”

“I could help.”

Fraser felt his jaw hang slightly open, as though by presenting an opportunity the words would somehow fly back into his mouth. Ray blinked at him. He cleared his throat. “That is to say,” he began without much of an idea as to what he was saying, “...would you like my help?”

“Fraser,” Ray said after a considerably long pause. “Buddy. Don't get me wrong here. I don't want to rub a mucus membrane of a pregnant anything on my body ever again.”

“Certainly not,” Fraser said, tucking his hands behind his back. “The most common remedy for hiccups in our village was to cut a hole in the ice and give the hiccupee, shall we call them, a good dunking.”

“Cut a hole in the—” Ray started, then stopped. He peered at Fraser, somewhat calculating. “How many times did you get dunked?”

“Only once, Ray. The memory of the event was usually sufficient in quelling any subsequent attacks.”

“Jeeesus.” For a moment Ray looked like he might put his head back in his hands, but he only stared at them with a faintly queasy expression before shaking himself off. “We don't got a lake. And even if we did, I'm not jumping in it, ice or no ice. That sounds dangerous, Fraser! How old were you? No, don't tell me, I'm just gonna get mad.”

“It's perfectly safe as long as you follow proper procedure in—”

“STOP,” Ray barked, cutting swaths of silence across the bullpen. Dewey perked up over his pastrami sandwich as Huey plunked the phone down with a hasty goodbye.

“Whatcha doin'?” Dewey asked with his mouth full.

“Ray has the hiccups,” Fraser helpfully supplied. “Metaphorically.”

“The hiccups?” said Huey.


“You gotta stick your tongue out and pull on it,” Huey said, providing a demonstration—thankfully he hadn't yet started on his lunch. “Tricks your brain into resetting your esophagus or whatever.”

“I always heard eat a spoonful of sugar,” Dewey said with a shrug. “Maybe I just liked the excuse of eating sugar.”

“I'm not pulling on my tongue,” Ray declared, on his feet and striding for the door. He caught Fraser's sleeve high up near his shoulder on the way past and spun him, pulling him along as though Fraser needed the incentive to follow.

“Stand on your head!” Dewey called after them.

Ray made a hand gesture that suggested Dewey do something else entirely with his body that was not altogether polite.

As they reached the door Ray stopped Fraser with a hand on his chest—Fraser stepped aside so they wouldn't be blocking the path to the exit, and found they were both crowded very neatly against the wall. Ray's eyes flicked up to his and then away; retrieving his hand, he shoved both into the bottom of his pockets, shoulders hunched to his ears. “You really wanna help me?”

“Of course, Ray,” Fraser said. It was one of the easiest questions he'd been asked in a while.

“Okay,” Ray said, rocking on the heels of his feet. His gaze was still turned to the floor.

“'Okay?'” Fraser repeated, uncertain.

“Yeah, okay. No mucus, no membranes, no frozen lakes. Other than that I give you free, uh, permission to, you know, cure my hiccups.”

The gravity of the situation—exactly what Ray was offering—chose at this moment to crash down on Fraser like the Bulgarian bouncer who had landed on top of them from the rafters of a bar while it was being raided last week. That is to say: it took Fraser's breath away.

Now Ray looked at him, and Fraser almost wished he hadn't. His blue eyes were nearly translucent in the light flooding through the precinct door, which also turned his blond hair gold. “I trust you, Fraser.”

An entire band of tuba players began shuffling through the doors at that moment, even more awkwardly handcuffed to their instruments. Several of them were playing the funeral march. Ray saw their opportunity and seized it, dragging them between musicians and into the broad sunlight of the day, just as the bass tubist decided he would rather aggressively begin playing the Imperial March from Ray's beloved Star Wars instead.


Though the exact cause of non-metaphorical hiccups continued to baffle medical professionals to this day, the theories on how to counter them remained boundless.

The first order of business was, of course, dealing with practicalities. Many cures for hiccups seemed to involve drinking something—though all cures, Fraser had found, seemed subjective and involved quite a bit of crossing fingers and wishful thinking. In all cases a sort of 'nervous system reset' was required, through either mentally tricking the body or manual stimulation. Though there was one study which showed promising statistics in chronic hiccup patients treated with rectal massage—

Fraser was not going to tell Ray about that study.

“So you don't know anything about stolen evidence.”

Missing,” ADA Robertson said. “And frankly, I find the fact that the chain of evidence paperwork has also gone missing, well, rather troublesome, wouldn't you say?” He smiled, the kind of smile Fraser could hear Ray call a 'sleezeball grin.' “The evidence could have been misplaced at any point. By anyone.”

Stella, just as they'd arranged, knocked on the door and paused half-way through, as if she was surprised to see Robertson had company. “Sorry, Carl,” she said, flicking a disinterested glance over Ray and Fraser, “I can come back.”

“Oh no, we're finished,” Robertson said, grin splitting his face in two. “Gentlemen.”

“Oh yeah, of course,” Ray said, arms folded tight to his chest, shoulders hunched. Robertson clearly assumed this posture was symptomatic of a weak man, one easily cowed by the bright lights and marble floors of the law offices of Keller & Twist. Ray grimaced a smile. “Probably just a mistake. If you find any of this 'misplaced' sure to give us a call.”

Stella was quite the actress—her eyebrows lifted, the rest of her face remaining calm and open. The perfect mix to inspire confidence in Robertson once Ray and Fraser had taken their leave.

Now they just had to...leave.

Ray seemed halfway stuck, his feet planted on the floor and his torso swaying side-to-side, arms still crossed. His eyes were glued on Stella.

Her eyebrows were getting higher.

Fraser cleared his throat. Without looking away from the situation he reached into the leather pouch at his hip, speaking to cover the noise his actions would surely produce: “As my partner said, we really have to be going,” he said as he stepped between Robertson and Ray, and then Stella and Ray, on his path to guide Ray toward the door. His timing had to be perfect—Ray opened his mouth to protest he had said any such thing at the precise moment Fraser blocked him from view of both parties, just long enough that Fraser's hand could shoot out and pop a peppermint candy between Ray's lips.

Or perhaps, not entirely shielded from view of Stella, though of the two people in the room he would have preferred not be privy to his action Fraser supposed it would have been worse if their suspect had seen. Now her expression had a tinge of, well, something like distrust. And bafflement. Which could only serve to help their cause in the investigation.

Ray, meanwhile, closed his teeth around the candy with an audible click, loud enough to make Robertson blink. But Ray didn't spit it out, and though his face had frozen in a startled rictus he didn't make a sound, only turned on his heel and marched out the door, leaving Fraser scrambling to keep up.

Stella shut the door behind them, and Fraser caught the start of a muffled conversation before the speed of Ray's retreat forced them out of hearing range.

“What,” Ray said as the elevator doors closed with them inside. He had to shove the candy to one side of his mouth before continuing, right cheek protruding distractingly wide. “What was that?”

“Humbug,” Fraser helpfully supplied.

“Hum—” Ray started. His eyes now matched his cheek.

“It's a boiled sweet, Ray,” Fraser said, producing another sample from his pouch. The candy balanced on his palm, black- and white-striped in clear cellophane. “Turnbull imported some from a delicatessen in Yellowknife to stock the consulate. Did you know there have been records of humbugs as far back as the 1820s?”

Ray sucked thoughtfully on the candy a moment before he said, “Nope. That's sure not a thing that I knew.”

Fraser beamed at him, glad he could be of service.

Ray continued to work the candy around his mouth for the remainder of the elevator ride, the walk through the lobby, and indeed several minutes into sitting in the car waiting for Stella to finish her conversation with Robertson and give them a call. Fraser had never before had an opportunity to record the potency of the candy from an outsider's perspective; within moments, the interior of the car smelled of peppermint. It was rather a good thing Dief had elected to nurse his sprained ankle at the consulate—his keen olfactory senses never would have withstood such a pervasive scent, and any measure of discretion they might have hoped to have sitting in a parking lot surely would have been dispelled by a series of lupine sneezes.

“Tasty,” Ray said, and crunched the last of the candy between his teeth.

Fraser felt abruptly assaulted with the understanding that he was intimately familiar with how Ray would taste in this moment, if Fraser were to kiss him.

Fraser shoved that thought away with both hands. Thinking of kissing Ray was not something he permitted while he was on duty—or, ever. Ever. Yes. “I'm glad you liked it,” he said, relieved to hear his voice sounded steady.

Ray tapped his thumbs on the steering wheel, eyes trained on the front windshield as diligently as though they were driving, rather than parked. “That's not gonna work,” he said.

Fraser shifted in his seat; in his pocket, the empty candy wrapper crinkled. His palms felt abruptly hot. “Pardon?”

“You can't—just shove candy in my mouth, every time there's a hiccup coming on.” Ray's hands, always so expressive, released the wheel to stir the air around Ray's chest. “Plus,” he said, darting a glance at Fraser out of the corner of his eye, “it's an element of surprise thing, right? Like yelling 'BOO.' Fool me once, uh, no hiccups. Fool me twice? ...You know.”

“Of course,” Fraser said, suddenly finding himself quite fascinated with the front windshield as well. “Though, I did once know a young woman with such severe Ornithophobia that we only had to say the word 'bird' to cure her hiccups. It worked without fail on several occasions.”

“Orntho...” Ray began with a somewhat strange expression, from what Fraser could see peripherally, before he shook himself. “Birds? Really?”

“She was attacked by a macaw as a child,” Fraser felt obliged to explain.

“In the tundra?”

“In a zoo,” Fraser said.

Ray deflated. “Oh.”


“...I'm fine with birds,” Ray said after an agonizing lull in conversation.


“I'm also not, like, peppermintophobic or anything.”

“Understood, Ray.”

“Just saying, you're gonna need to mix it up.”

Fraser clenched his teeth and nodded, unwilling to say 'understood' for a third time in a row. And yet... “Understood,” he said, because there was nothing else for him to say.

“Right.” Ray resumed tapping his thumbs.

Silence descended once more.

An older woman in her mid fifties trundled down the stairs to their level of the parking garage. Her feet scuffed the pavement with each step as she shuffled down the rows of cars, fussing with the side-view mirror on her Volkswagen before she climbed inside, turned the headlights on, and drove very carefully away.

“Er,” Fraser said, flinching at how loud and inarticulate he sounded in the stillness of the cab. “Ray,” he began again in a quieter tone, “did I—that is, were you—?”

“Yeah it was a hiccup,” Ray cut in, pinching the bridge of his nose hard enough that it must have stung. “Even when it's important, for a case, and I still—”

Thankfully, they were back in range of Fraser bag of supplies. “One moment,” Fraser said, holding up a finger too close to Ray's face, necessitated by the wiggling he had to do to reach into the backseat and retrieve one of the pre-packaged bottles of water he'd stashed there. Normally he never purchased water if he could avoid it, but needs must.

“I was wondering if you could perhaps drink this for me,” Fraser said, and pressed the cool, damp bottle into Ray's hands.

Ray stared at him, then at the water. “Frase—”

“I'd like to test a theory,” Fraser said, instilling quite a bit more bravery into his tone than he felt. “If you would also kindly hold your breath while you drink...”

Ray's face had always been eloquent—one of the things Fraser appreciated most about his partner and friend—but the fact that he somehow perfectly managed to say I know what you're doing but what the hell are you doing frankly took Fraser's breath away.

“Please,” Fraser said, soft but no less firm.

Ray watched him. He watched Fraser while his long fingers deftly unscrewed the top and brought the bottle to his lips; he watched while tipping his head back to drink, lashes low on his cheek, the long line of his throat working as he swallowed it all.

Fraser's own attempt at swallowing felt like gravel and salt.

Ray's cellphone rang, jarring them both—Ray lost a drop of water, which rolled down his chin. He gulped the last of the water and breathed out in a rush, refilling his lungs just as quickly to grab the blaring cellphone and blurt a hasty hello.

Fraser turned his gaze to the pavement outside the window, staring until his eyes started to sting. The years of practice at resembling a statue only just saved his hands from trembling, his breathing from being anything other that painfully regular. And still his gut felt tight, and a dull ache emanated from regions further down which he refused to even think about. What was he doing? Why in God's name had Ray's actions affected him so?

“Yeah,” Ray said, and then, “Uh-huh. Gotcha. No, that's good news, he doesn't seem spooked. Mmhmm. Yeah, we'll talk tomorrow. Give us a yell if he starts acting weird. No. No, Stell, I—never mind. Bye.” He hung up.

Ray's tone had remained perfectly detached and professional through most of the conversation, only wavering a moment near the end—though Fraser suspected that had more to do with whatever Stella had said to make him sound so tired. Fraser dug through his internal panic until he found the part of himself that was proud and pleased for Ray and clung to it, an appropriate reaction to his partner doing well.

“I, uh,” Ray said after a moment. “I'll drop you off at the consulate.”

Often after a case such as this Ray would invite him over for pizza or Chinese food, and they would watch whatever happened to be on TV and talk about the day and laugh, loose and easy, until Fraser excused himself for the evening. He had expected tonight would be no different, especially considering Fraser's promise to help with Ray's hiccups. Now he had to deal with equal parts crushing disappointment and relief.

Still. “Are you sure,” he began to say; he had, after all, been charged with a task.

“I'll be good,” Ray said instantly, and winced.

Fraser returned his gaze to the pavement outside, willing his mind to be as smooth and impermeable as asphalt while Ray started the engine to his car.


Fraser spent a sleepless night in his attempts not to think anything in particular, and only managed a few hours near dawn by allowing himself to hold one thought of Ray in his mind: Ray's absolute assurance that he would be good, and the cringe which followed instantly as if Ray had given away something crucially important.

He awoke, unsurprisingly, feeling like a half-drowned rat. Dief laughed at him all through breakfast.

“If you're going to behave this way I'll leave you here again,” Fraser warned finally, at the end of his rope.

Dief tilted his head to one side.

“We're not—! That's anatomically impossible and you know it,” Fraser snapped, feeling his neck heat beneath the serge. “Perhaps you should dust off your copy of Gray's Anatomy while Ray and I do actual police work. Pups, honestly...”

Dief rolled onto his back, deeply unconcerned.

Fraser had hoped his derision would spur Dief into accompanying him, to act as a kind of distraction should he need it—not, as he told Diefenbaker before departing, as a chaperone—but the wolf would not be moved. Fraser walked to the station to tire himself out, having promised Ray the night before that he wouldn't need a ride.

He had also hoped the walk would perform double duty and clear his head of all the cluttering nonsense, but one look at Ray's empty desk left everything spilling out of the neat mental boxes he'd tried packing them in, scattered like the paperwork near Ray's computer.

“Is Detective Veccio in?” Fraser asked Francesca as she passed, carrying a stack of files nearly taller than she was.

“Oh hey, Fraser,” she said, stopping abruptly to speak with him; the stack wobbled precariously, so Fraser steadied it with one hand. “Thanks. Uh, I think he's around. You need something I could help with?” The batting of her lashes was rather at odds with the strain of carrying so much—Fraser gathered up half the stack to lighten her load, and she was so surprised she nearly dropped the rest.

Fraser buried himself in helping and nodding along to Francesca's stories of the latest Vecchio family dramatics. It was almost a shock to look up between one file and the next to see Ray watching them, arms folded, a small, strange smile on his face.

“You gonna be a secretary now, Frase?” Ray asked when he saw he'd been spotted. His tone was much more gentle than the jab implied.

Fraser shook himself, refusing to behave as though he were fourteen again and trying to catch the eye of Paul Winnebago at the Innuvik repair shop. “Why, I could never leave the consulate, Ray,” he said, dusting off his knees as he stood. “Even setting aside national duty, I don't have a work visa to apply for a job in the United States.”

“...You do have a job in the United States,” Ray said.

“The consulate is considered Canadian soil, as I'm sure you recall,” Fraser reminded him, “from the Kilrey case.”

“Right,” Ray said. Something shifted in his expression, but Fraser couldn't even begin to guess at it. “When you put the cuffs on me.”

Fraser quite suddenly felt as though he hadn't had a single glass of water in a month. “Correct,” he croaked, only a little hoarse.

“I'm going to get some air!” Francesca announced with such volume and clarity that Fraser felt his whole body cringe in mortification. If his attraction to Ray was obvious enough for Franny to catch it—and intelligent though Francesca certainly was, her observation of physical cues had heretofore been lacking—then surely Ray...

Ray was gone, back to his desk, already up to the elbows in paperwork. “You about ready to go, Fraser?” he said without looking up, and Fraser opened his mouth to beg off, claim illness or appointment or a pressing need to rearrange his sock drawer; instead what came out was,

“Of course, Ray.”

Ray nodded, still buried in a file, and began walking toward the door. Fraser clamped his jaws shut and followed, only touching Ray once when his immersion in reading threatened to march him directly into a bench. Even then it was only a very light touch on Ray's elbow; Ray tensed but leaned into it, and avoided the collision with ease. Fraser then withdrew immediately and clasped his hands behind his back.

Dear god. When the prospect of merely climbing into the GTO to share a confined space with Ray made his hands sweat, perhaps the saner prospect was to rearrange his sock drawer.

Fraser still got in the car.

They drove in silence to the cafe where Stella would meet ADA Robertson for their hopefully incriminating chat, parking across the street and down half a block where they could observe without being seen. Two plainclothes policemen were stationed near the doorway with a cup of coffee and the morning newspaper, ready to intercede should the rendezvous become hostile—all Ray and Fraser had to do was make sure the wire Stella was wearing could be picked up on their frequency and recorded for future evidence.

“Did you—” Fraser started to ask.

“Stella called this morning to confirm the meet and time,” Ray said. He was nodding, or maybe rocking back and forth slightly in his seat, his hands still tight on the steering wheel. A faint sheen of sweat gathered at his neck; perhaps his leather jacket was too warm. “Collins and Ramirez set the wire. We're good to go. Guy doesn't seem to have spooked.”

“Excellent,” Fraser said, shaping the word into precisely the tone he wanted it to be: optimistic and professional and nothing more. Or less.

Ray continued to rock, just a shifting of his weight back and forth. His hands flexed, clenched and released, and again. Nervous energy, Fraser's brain belatedly supplied.

“Ah,” he said, quite without his permission. Fraser swallowed, dry. He should ask—his duty to Ray as a trusted friend could hardly be allowed to lapse simply because Fraser was having issues with slipping control. He turned his attention sternly to the cafe, where Stella was now ordering a coffee at the counter. “Did you, er,” Fraser tried to say, and found his voice nearly evaporated.

“I was good,” Ray said immediately. “No hiccups. I was good.” His knuckles went white against the steering wheel.

Fraser felt on fire. Instantly alight, as though a match had been thrown into a river of gasoline. Ray was good. No, more than that—Ray had been good for Fraser.

No, Fraser thought as fiercely as he could. He pictured the frozen lake near his grandparents' cabin. He remembered his grandmother hacking into the ice and tying a rope under his arms, the way his thin chest jumped against the rope as he hiccuped, the way the water had been so cold that he couldn't remember how to hold his breath when he was submerged. Ray hadn't been good for Fraser; he'd been fine without him.

Fraser grasped the handle of the car door—an echo of that same cold seizure of his lungs aching in his chest—and was stopped, rather abruptly, by a hand on his knee.

Ray's eyes were wide, palest green. His lips were parted. Then, “Robertson just arrived,” Ray said. His hand remained on Fraser's knee. “He could spot us if you move.”

Fraser nodded stiffly but couldn't seem to release his grip on the handle. Much the same way he hadn't been able to let go of the rope as he'd been dunked in the lake, even though the knots were tied securely. Even though it meant his knuckles were scraped bloody against the ice as he was hauled out.

Ray's thumb dragged against his knee, along the curve of the bone beneath. Fraser opened his mouth to—to do what?—but was silenced when their recording equipment crackled to life.

Stella! Good to see you,” ADA Robertson said. There was a shuffle of static while they shook hands, Stella's clothing shifting against the wire.

For the next twenty minutes Fraser feared greatly for his reliability as a witness, if the recording were to fail and he should be called upon in court to testify—every word in their conversation seemed to slip out of his memory like grasping at an Atlantic salmon with one hand tied behind his back. Ray's breathing, on the other hand, he could provide a precise account of. The number of times Ray's thumb shifted against his leg? Certainly. Though he doubted this was the kind of information he would be asked to bring before a jury.

But they must have gotten what they'd come for: Ray's grip tightened fractionally, and then he retrieved his hand, using it to speak into his police radio to signal their undercover allies that they were moving in. Ray got out of the car, holding up his badge as he dashed across the street.

Fraser followed in a daze, numbly grateful that his uniform was bright enough to stop traffic on its own.

By the time he blinked and forced himself back into the present ADA Robertson was already in cuffs, Officer Collins calmly reading him his rights as Ray spoke to Stella, and Stella unbuttoned her blouse. Fraser began to wish rather fervently that he had stayed in the car.

But she was only retrieving the wire taped under her camisole—she didn't seem to care that they were in the middle of a confused coffee shop, so Fraser attempted to emulate her composure.

“You got all that, I assume?” Stella said, handing Ray the bundle of tape and wire; Ray took it without letting their fingers brush. In fact, Ray hadn't tried to assist Stella with removing the wire at all. He didn't even seem distracted by the open buttons on her blouse; his attention was on the arrest of ADA Robertson, who was loudly protesting and threatening to sue.

“Yeah, yeah,” Ray rolled his eyes, “Good luck trying to bribe your way outta this one, buddy.”

“Give it up, Carl,” Stella said, though she did seemed distracted—by Ray.

“Alright, nothing to see here,” Ray announced to the curious onlookers, ushering Collins and Robertson through the revolving door and into the waiting arms of Officer Ramirez. Fraser began to follow but stopped when Stella did the same, assuming she would want her own space in the door, which caused the whole thing to nearly jam; in the end when he and Stella stepped into the fresh morning air—Stella with a particularly annoyed expression on her face and Fraser with a decided interest in his own shoes—Robertson was already in the back of a police cruiser, and Ray was commending Officer Collins and Officer Ramirez on a good job.

Fraser didn't think he was imagining the continued suspicious glances from Stella as they joined Ray, who tapped the roof of the cruiser to signal it to take off into traffic.

“Thanks for the help,” Ray said, holding up the wire before stuffing it into his jacket pocket. Fraser studied him with less than subtle desperation—his shoulders were braced a little but not high, not defensive; his posture as relaxed and indifferent as if he were talking to Detective Huey. “We're gonna need a statement but you can fax one over this afternoon, no rush. Uh. Anyway,” he added, and Fraser watched with growing horror as Stella's hands shifted to her hips.

A hiccup is a sudden, involuntary action, Fraser thought, and opened his mouth to—to—

“—you've got our number, so,” Ray finished and shrugged. “If you've got any questions.”

Stella stood frozen, caught in a surge of anger that Ray hadn't actually unleashed.

“Frase?” Ray said, tilting his head toward the GTO. Fraser realized, regardless of significance, Ray didn't need to turn toward him; his body was already angled that way. “You ready?”

Fraser couldn't quite strangle out his usual 'of course, Ray,' or even a proper goodbye to ADA Kowalski, but he did dip his hat to her as he passed and hoped his extraordinary rudeness wouldn't cause her to dislike him even more than she already seemed to.

Ray tucked his hands in his pockets as they crossed the street, bumped his elbow against Fraser's and shared an easy smile which split into a grin. “That was good, right?” he asked once they were seated and buckled in. “That felt good.” His grin got even wider, lighting up the whole car. “Look, ma, no hiccups!”

“Very good, Ray,” Fraser managed, his voice only a little bit hoarse. Hopefully Ray was too distracted by starting up the car to notice.

Fraser realized he was bracing himself for more, for Ray to start talking about whether or not Stella had noticed, whether she cared—which would be a hiccup, by their definition—but Ray seemed content to hum along with the radio and say nothing. Fraser made himself relax, starting with his pinky finger and working his way up.

Crisis averted. Fraser refused to allow his brain to form a picture of what, exactly, that crisis entailed.

Fraser could beg off police work once they arrived at the station and walk to the consulate, perhaps take over for Turnbull at guard duty. Some nice, rigid standing for five hours might be just what the doctor ordered.

“I gotta grab something from my place,” Ray said, turning onto the road that took them to his apartment complex, dashing Fraser's plans with one turn of the wheel. “You want to come up for a sec?”

“I can wait in the car,” Fraser made himself say. He cursed silently the moment the words left his mouth—he should have said I will, not I can, much more decisive, putting his foot down.

Ray turned into the parking lot and pulled into his space, cutting the engine with a flick of his wrist. Fraser waited for Ray to try to convince him to come up, or maybe worse, allow him to stay without a fight.

“What was the plan?” Ray asked instead, sounding remarkably calm.

Perhaps he only seemed calm because Fraser felt as far from calm as near humanly possible.

“I'm sorry?” Fraser barely recognized his own voice. He hadn't felt so lost since he was a child, or perhaps...Victoria, though the thought of comparing her to Ray made him feel physically ill. So no, he had braved worse. He would survive this, though it might cost him dearly.

“If, you know, I'd hiccuped again,” Ray said, his own voice wavering strangely, with a note of creeping self-loathing that Fraser couldn't bear. He had to act, he had to.

He unbuckled his seatbelt and leaned into Ray's space, across the gear shift and the bench seat until he'd crowded Ray against the door, his wide eyes so pale they reminded Fraser of fresh ice on a lake. Fraser ducked his head, pressed their mouths together. As dry and warm as shaking hands.

Though Fraser had never felt quite so affected from a handshake that his knees nearly gave out, even though he wasn't standing. He'd never risked the world on a handshake, never closed his eyes and lingered a second longer than he should, basking in the sensation such a simple act could cause. But Ray's mouth was so soft, the faint buzz of his stubble so honestly male, and sweet, that pulling away felt excruciating. Not kissing Ray felt like a crime.

He stopped anyway.

What's more, he sat back in his seat, opening up the sudden canyon of space between their bodies. "Ah," Fraser said, and didn't mean to lick his lips. "Boo."

Ray got out of the car.

Fraser sank down into his seat. His fingers felt numb where they'd touched Ray's face, numb in a way that meant it would hurt to regain feeling. A blunder, colossal in magnitude. A hiccup in his own fragmented sanity.

His own car door snapped open, almost sending him tumbling out onto the pavement—Ray glared down at him, at Fraser's ungainly sprawl, then abruptly hooked two fingers in Fraser's collar and dragged him upright. Fraser braced for the punch that was surely coming, and this time at least well deserved.

He flinched when Ray's hand shot out. Then he had to live with the shame when all Ray did was grab onto his Sam Browne. Ray hesitated—he'd seen—and his jaw was set. He turned and started hauling Fraser after him, up the many, many stairs to his apartment.

Fraser tripped after him with his mind screaming static, right up until Ray threw the door shut behind them and then threw Fraser up against it; Fraser's head went stunningly silent when his back hit the wood.


“It was an element of surprise thing,” Fraser said, recalling Ray's own words on the subject.

“You were gonna kiss me to—” Ray started to say, then seemed to remember Fraser had kissed him. His voice faltered, hands twitched in the air before they sank to his sides. “A shock to the system,” Ray mumbled. It sounded like something Fraser might have said.

“So that was just—just more buddy-breathing,” Ray growled, and fixed Fraser with a look that stung against his skin.

Fraser swallowed.

Ray's face twisted with more than fury—with pain and longing so clear that Fraser forgot to breathe. “You can't—do that, Fraser,” Ray snarled, fists clenched, and Fraser was wrong before—now he deserved to be hit, now— “From now on,” Ray said, “you only kiss me when you fucking want to.”

He seemed to realize how much he'd given away the moment the last word was out of his mouth; his eyes slammed shut, hands gone up to tangle in his hair, so he didn't see the long three steps Fraser took to be close to him, couldn't let go fast enough to stop Fraser from cupping his face.

His eyes blinked open. Fraser met them without fear. “Understood, Ray,” he whispered, and if his fingertips shook against Ray's cheeks it was only that he felt so full of love and awe he might burst with it.

Ray tasted even hotter this time, even sweeter, because this time he kissed back. He opened under Fraser's touch, parted his mouth and clutched at the back of Fraser's head to kiss him deeper, as though Fraser might at any moment disappear. Fraser growled low in his throat at the thought, dropped his hands to Ray's ribs to pull him closer, then his hips. God, Ray's wiry strength against his body flayed open something hungry and raw, left him kneading at Ray, pawing at him, biting into the kiss.

Ray's breath caught, and then—Ray blinked half-lidded eyes down at him, down because he'd hitched his hips against Fraser's and Fraser had, on pure primal instinct, picked him up.

They panted into each others' mouths a moment, Fraser waiting to see if Ray would insist on being put back on the ground, Ray seeming to take stock of their new height difference. It was no stretch at all for Ray to card his hand through Fraser's hair and kiss his forehead, and when Fraser closed his eyes he kissed Fraser's eyelids too, and then his cheekbones, then his mouth, murmuring with each smiling kiss, “You nut, you freak,” with such tenderness Fraser couldn't help smiling back.

“How're you gonna get undressed like this?” Ray asked, lips and teeth against his mouth, “Huh? How'm I gonna blow you if I'm all the way up here?”

Fraser shuddered hard enough to nearly drop him. He hadn't imagined they would even go past—but the yawning hunger in his belly wanted it, wanted more than anything for there to be more of Ray's skin on his. He nipped at Ray's bottom lip to break the kiss, gasped, “Bedroom?” and was answered by Ray's hurried nod and quiet Yeah, yes, please.

He set Ray down reluctantly, aware that removing his uniform would take more time than Ray's shirt and jeans. His whole body felt bereft of Ray's heat, even with Ray's incendiary gaze upon him—he walked backward into his own bedroom to keep his eyes on Fraser, on his frantic hands going through the near-endless checklist to shed his clothes.

“I only got to see this once,” Ray said to answer Fraser's lifted eyebrow. His hand settled on Fraser's side the instant his jacket opened, just the thin layer of cotton undershirt separating them now. “And Turnbull was in the room, so it didn't even count.”

“Ah,” Fraser said, remembering; definitely not at all gasping when Ray rucked up his shirt and dragged his blunt nails over Fraser's ribs. “When I, ah, smuggled in your...files.”

Ray looked like he was about to say something else—perhaps make a joke about the volume of Fraser's pants and how much they could smuggle—but Fraser ducked his head and put his mouth to the pulse fluttering in Ray's throat, sucked and worried the thin skin and waited for Ray to pull him off, tell him no marks. He didn't expect the litany of breathless curses, the “Fuck fuck fuck, Frase, do it, fucking—” and a sweet, anguished groan when Fraser set his teeth and bit down.

Ray's fingers clutched punishingly tight in Fraser's hair when he pulled away; Ray's eyes were blown dark, breathing like he'd already climaxed. Fraser mindlessly reached for him, fit his palm to the front of Ray's jeans—if he had finished then Fraser wanted to feel it, wanted to chase each convulsion with every sense available—but Ray cursed and bucked into his hand, still huge and hard and leaking enough Fraser was beginning to feel it through his jeans.

“You drive me nuts, make me crazy,” Ray growled against Fraser's mouth; he braced an elbow on Fraser's shoulder, fingers curled through the hair at Fraser's scalp, protective and proprietary all at once. His free hand ripped at Fraser's jacket, dragged it off him and went after his pants next, shoving at them with blind need. Ray was no closer to being naked at all, a truth which cut through the fog of lust in Fraser's mind just long enough to back them the three steps necessary to reach the bed.

Ray's knees hit the mattress and he sat down hard, legs splayed awkwardly to ease the pressure in his suddenly ill-fitting jeans. Even despite his grunt of discomfort he didn't make a move to undo his belt, only looked at Fraser and waited, eyes roving over freshly bared skin as Fraser shed his boots and pants and socks, soon left only in his askew undershirt and rather-less-pressed-than-they-should-be underwear.

Ray licked his lips. And still didn't start shedding clothes.

“Ray,” Fraser said.

“Hm?” Ray said, now worrying his kiss-plumped lip in his teeth.

Clothes,” said Fraser, caught between ordering and begging and trying very hard not to feel overly exposed.

Ray's fingers flew to the hem of his shirt, twitched, went still. Fraser fought not to bare his teeth. A dark flush bloomed across Ray's cheeks as his hands fisted in his shirt, tugging it up but not off, stalled by something Fraser couldn't see. “God, Fraser, you're gonna,” Ray choked out, sending the bottom of Fraser's stomach dropping to the floor.

“Ray, Ray,” he chanted, all-but falling against Ray to kiss him again, taste the doubt in his mouth and turn it into something bright and sure. He swore he meant to keep his hands above Ray's shirt—if Ray didn't want to take it off of course Fraser wasn't going to force him—but Ray groaned and dragged his shirt up at the next sweep of Fraser's hands, and Fraser touched bare skin. Ray shivered into the kiss but didn't pull away, not even when Fraser's fingertips crept up over the faint bumps of his ribs.

“Can I?” Fraser asked and Ray nodded, near frantic, hauling him back to keep their mouths moving together. Fraser dragged the shirt up over Ray's taught belly, the panting rise and fall of his chest, acres and acres of skin under his hands worth basking in.

He had to break the kiss to pull the shirt over Ray's head. Ray whined, a sharp bitten-off sound high in his throat, and tried to surge up into Fraser again—Fraser moved on instinct, pinned his hands back against the bed with the shirt still tangled around his wrists and watched Ray go utterly still beneath him.

“Shh,” Fraser soothed, hating the tension in Ray's body, the way he was holding his breath; he dropped kisses to Ray's forehead, his eyelids, his cheeks, just as Ray had done for him. “So good,” he murmured against the corner of Ray's mouth, and again at the hollow of his throat, “So good, Ray, you're so good.”

God, Fraser,” Ray gasped, but at least he was breathing again, shivering all over.

“Can I,” Fraser said again, reaching for Ray's belt.

“Please,” Ray hissed, “please, god—”

He bucked his hips at the first touch, hard enough that Fraser had to abandon the buckle to pin Ray's hips to the bed. He held down his friend—his dear, dearest Ray—at two searing points of contact. He had to let one go.

Fraser leaned down on Ray's wrists, watched something in Ray's spine go liquid even as tension sung through him like a plucked string. “Can you keep your hands here?” Fraser asked, demanded. His chest ached. He wanted more than anything to ask, 'For me?' and couldn't bring himself to say the words, even now, after everything.

“Yes,” Ray said in an instant. “Yeah, Frase, anything.” Like trusting him was easy.

Fraser kissed him to hide the effect it had on him, that Ray had on him, and let go. Ray held very still, his stomach taught and trembling, as Fraser fumbled at his belt with thick, clumsy fingers, ripping it free hard enough to dislodge the first two buttons of his fly. Fraser went in for the third and hissed in a breath—his fingers met slick, wet heat, Ray's bare cock, nothing else in the way.

“Laundry day,” Ray mumbled, lashes low on his ruddy cheek. Fraser didn't have braincells left for suspicion, or even to smother the low cry in his throat as he freed Ray completely, jerking his jeans down to his thighs. His mouth watered savagely. He wanted, he wanted—

Fraser had never been this naked with any man before. The rare, quick fumbles in the barracks made up the entirety of his experiences with men; every time wearing as much clothing as possible, the quicker to cover up if they were interrupted. With Victoria he'd been naked, more exposed than just bare skin; Victoria who used sex as a weapon, manipulative and selfish, always more about the things she could get him to do or say than any physical enjoyment. God, he never ever wanted to do that to Ray, never—

“Hey, hey...” Fraser flinched at the light touch on his head, the soft stroke of Ray's fingers through his hair. He tried to pick his head up, stop hyperventilating against Ray's hip, but Ray sat up before he could, Ray put his hand at the back of Fraser's neck. “You okay? Fraser, you okay?”

Ray had moved. He'd been told to do something during sex and he'd stopped, when it was important. When Fraser needed him to. It was something Fraser had never been able to do—even when things hurt, when they were terrifying, when the ugly feeling in his gut swallowed anything that had ever felt like pleasure. He'd done what she'd told him to do, until she told him to stop.

But Ray had moved.

“Talk to me, Benton-buddy,” Ray said, stroking feather-light along the shells of Fraser's ears. “Is it—is it the dude thing? The gay thing?”

The thought was preposterous enough that Fraser snorted, felt a little less dignified but a little more present in his own body. Ray's cock was beautiful, even though his erection was flagging. Fraser had never felt more certain of his skewed sexual orientation in his life.

“I liked it,” he said, not strong enough to lift his head but incapable of allowing Ray to think he was the problem. “You did what I told you and I liked it.”

“I liked it too, buddy,” Ray said. “I liked it a lot. And when I didn't like it anymore—because you got a pretty freaked look on your face—I stopped.” His thumbs framed the bumps of Fraser's spine, petting the thin hair at his nape. Suddenly he went still, tension flickering under his skin. “Wait. Was this a test?”

“No!” Fraser sat up with the force of his denial, the loss of Ray's hands less important than the need Fraser felt for Ray to understand this.

“Oh. Good.” Ray looked a little pink in the cheeks as he ducked his head. “'Cause, uh, I don't know if you've ever seen my grades, Frase, but I got a thing with tests, I'm. I'm no good at 'em.”

“Not a test,” Fraser said, reassembled his body into working pieces so he could reach Ray's mouth and kiss him.

Ray ceded control of the kiss at once, warm and caring and welcoming, letting Fraser take what he needed—give what he needed to give. “Good,” he said between kisses, and Fraser felt a sweet burning in his belly at the word, moved to mapping Ray's throat to hear him speak, “Good, that's good.”

“I don't want to test you, Ray,” Fraser said, curling his hand around Ray's beautiful maleness, stroking and petting until his erection returned to full force. Fraser couldn't think of his own need, could barely feel it in some distant way. Ray's pleasure seemed to echo in him—he saw Ray's nipples tighten and his own chest ached, felt the wetness Ray smeared into his hand and knew he was leaving a mess of his own against Ray's hip.

Ray clenched his teeth when Fraser stroked just under the head; he gentled his touch, tapped his thumb against the pearlescent drops gathered at the tip. Ray was uncut and fascinating, so sensitive to every shift of Fraser's hand—short strokes brought grunts of pleasure battling from Ray's throat, long strokes elicited deep, hitching sighs that Ray hid against Fraser's shoulder, sweetly embarrassed.

“You're beautiful,” Fraser murmured, nuzzling kisses over Ray's face. Ray huffed, which turned into a whine as Fraser circled the very, very tip of him, gathering bead after bead of fluid on the pad of his finger. “Look, you are. You are.”

Ray took a deep breath, and did as he was told—he looked, but not at himself. He looked at Fraser. Right at him, not through him, but inside, like he could, and saw, and loved. He smiled, strained but there, and arched his spine when Fraser's stroking faltered. “Wouldn't lie to me,” Ray murmured, the words barely on his lips.

“Never, Ray,” Fraser swore in an instant. His skin felt too full, paper thin, luminescent; he would say it a million times, a hundred million, until Ray believed him and beyond. “You're perfect,” Fraser said, and wrung him root to tip, excruciatingly slow. Ray writhed, moan drawn through his whole body. “Just like this. I've got you. You're so good, f-for me.”

Ray bit him—and as his teeth sank down Fraser's grip tightened, Ray's whole body jerked, hips bucking up into the pressure—and came. His emissions spurted all the way to his collarbone, splattered his ribs, his belly button, soaked Fraser's hand. Fraser hungrily bent his head, followed the pattern with his tongue and lips over Ray's heaving chest, Ray's hand clutching at his hair, Ray's bite mark stinging on his skin.

“Frase, Frase, Fraser,” Ray panted, laughing breathlessly, “you don't have to—who the fuck am I fooling, you'd put your mouth on anything, I—” He cut off with a hiss as Fraser followed the trail to its source, lapping so, so gently at his cock. “Too much, too much,” Ray said, legs squirming, belly concave, and Fraser pulled off with an unintentionally obscene sound. “Jesus, you're gonna kill me.”

Fraser couldn't remember a time he'd ever felt more alive, more sensationally aware of his own skin—and also so unutterably incapable of doing anything about it. He dragged himself back up the bed, collapsed at Ray's side, buried his face between the pillow and Ray's shoulder and tried not to think about the incapacitating weight between his legs, the crippling throb of it.

Ray hummed and turned into him, movements languidly post-coital, tucking his hand back into Fraser's hair. “Your turn,” he murmured, as if it wasn't a terrifying prospect. His eyes were closed, smile tugging at his reddened mouth. “I wasn't kidding about that blowjob, you know. Is that what you want?”

It wasn't—but how could he explain it to Ray? That it would mean Ray would be so far away from him, that Fraser might scatter into a thousand pieces and lose shards of himself between the floorboards?

Ray's eyes opened. His smile shifted and disappeared. Fraser snapped his own eyes shut, he couldn't bear it.

“Oh,” Ray said, somehow far away and closer than he'd ever been. “Oh. Fraser—”

Fraser tried to cover his face with his hands, but Ray caught his arms, lowered them to the bed. Fraser's eyelashes felt stuck together; he made himself look, look up at Ray, who kissed him immediately, a there-and-gone brush of lips.

“I've got this,” Ray said, kissed him again, “Tell me if anything feels weird.”

Fraser opened his mouth to protest—what, exactly, he wasn't sure—but Ray put himself between Fraser's legs, got a grip on Fraser's haunches, and lifted. Fraser tried to get his leaden legs to help but Ray had moved too quickly, shuffled up the bed and sat on his haunches beneath Fraser, lowered Fraser's back onto the slope of his knees. “How's that feel?” Ray asked quickly, one gun-roughened hand skimming down the small of his back, over the bullet scar. “Think, buddy, anything feel wrong?”

Thinking felt like swimming through a bog; for Ray's sake Fraser made himself focus on the smaller signals his body was sending him beneath the screaming wail of his untended erection. “What about this?” Ray asked after Fraser shook his head, hands shifting up to the inside of Fraser's knees, tipping him to an even steeper angle with Ray's knees supporting his spine. Fraser forced all of his attention to the bend of his back, searching for twinges, numbness, tingling—there was nothing to feel beyond a faint strain at being put in an unfamiliar position, his weight balanced between Ray and his own shoulders pressed into the bed. Fraser shook his head again.

“Good,” Ray said. Fraser tried to shift his sluggish thoughts to why—why this new position, how were his limbs positioned—when Ray pressed an open-mouthed kiss to the nearest bit of Fraser's skin available to him, and Fraser's mental faculties screeched to a catastrophic halt.

His—his most private entrance was so near Ray's face that Fraser could feel him breathing, could feel himself tensing but unable to hide. The thin, thin skin at the innermost part of his thigh still tingled with the glide of Ray's stubble across it. Worst—or best—his erection was immediate and impossible to ignore, heavy and dark red, leaking near-constantly with this shift in gravity directly onto Fraser's chest where he could smell it. Best—or worst—Ray was touching him everywhere, holding him up and keeping him still, close enough that when he bent forward to take Fraser into his mouth it wouldn't feel like the emotionally distant favor Fraser had feared.


Ray met his eyes, held them. Fraser felt aware of every breath he took, the now limited space his lungs had to inflate.

“Boo,” Ray said, and licked across his entrance, a long, wet drag over the clutch of his hole. Fraser bucked, thighs convulsed either side of Ray's head—but Ray held him strong, his arms wrapped tight around Fraser's hips to keep him from falling. Fraser flailed out a hand to grab Ray's head, meant to make him...make him stop, he was sure, only, only Ray moaned at the touch, and Fraser felt the sound as intimately as a human body could.

His breathing hitched as Ray licked him again, easy and indulgent, until Fraser started to shake. “You good?” Ray asked, lifting his eyes to Fraser's face, which only made Fraser thrillingly aware of where his gaze had been.

Trembles wracked Fraser's body; the shake of his head was barely more pronounced, but Ray stopped immediately, started to lower Fraser with a stricken expression. “Fuck, sorry, I should have—”

Fraser tensed his legs, crossed his ankles behind Ray's head.

“What—” Ray started.

“I like it,” Fraser said. His voice rasped, barely there, his breathing dangerously close to hitching. “But you're too far—you're too far away—”

“Oh.” Ray smiled, crooked and then wicked. “I don't know, buddy,” he said, and dragged an agonizing hand between Fraser's belly and the blunt head of his erection. His foreskin was pulled tight from arousal, the fleeting brush of Ray's knuckles against him maddeningly brief. “I'm pretty close.”

Fraser squirmed, too distracted by chasing Ray's hand to fight being settled back onto Ray's lap. Fraser's knees caught at his shoulders, tugging him down—Ray went easy, both hands skimming up his chest. He bent his head, licked the same broad stripe from the root of Fraser's erection to the tip; Fraser keened and jerked, simultaneously too much sensation and not nearly enough.

The first brush of Ray's fingertips across his mouth felt like an accident. Fraser still parted his lips, tried to lick them, chase the taste of Ray's touch—and met the pads of Ray's middle and first finger against his tongue. He moaned, too loud, too hungry, and sucked them in past the first knuckle before Ray could so much as gasp. “Good, that's—oh god, Fraser, you like that?”

Fraser gave another moan in answer, lifted his hips in a desperate attempt to find any kind of friction, please, his skin hurt from wanting; the brief touch of Ray's mouth left him keening.

“Yeah,” Ray answered like he'd heard Fraser speak, “I got you, I've got you, hang on, you're so—” He took Fraser in his mouth, searing heat and so, so wet. Fraser sobbed around Ray's fingers, hips bucking against his control—and Ray let him, softened his lips and took Fraser in past all understanding, over the brink of a cliff.

The first spurt of his orgasm didn't feel so much like relief as something yanked free, low in his belly—his vision was white, his body somewhere else—and with the second blurt of essence across Ray's tongue abruptly slammed into every sensation at once. His taught, tingling skin; the violent flush of his chest stark against the white droplets that escaped the clutch of Ray's mouth; Ray's damp fingers falling from his slack mouth, brushing across a nipple. He convulsed, wrung out and electrified.

His grip on Ray's hair had to hurt; he tried unlock his fingers only for Ray to make a small sound, lean into his hand. They were both breathing so, so hard, like Ray had climaxed all over again.

Fraser's limbs felt jellied and at least twice as long as normal. He was very grateful that Ray seemed content to move him, easing Fraser fully back onto the bed before straightening his legs. He stretched languidly into Fraser, sliding their bellies and chests together in a way that made Fraser feel oversensitive in the best way, tucking his face into Fraser's neck.

“Hoo boy,” Ray said. His voice sounded a little rough, a little used. Fraser's knuckles brushed against Ray's scalp. “'M gonna get a boner every time I get a hiccup for real, now. There's a, a, Pamplonian response I didn't figure on.”

“Pavlovian,” Fraser corrected absently, too caught up in cataloging the faint worry lines gone smooth on Ray's features to hear himself.

“Potato, tomato, potato,” Ray mumbled, nuzzling closer. His thumb stroked across Fraser's ribs, quick nervous sweeps that tugged Fraser's attention away from Ray's hair. “Hey, uh.”

When Ray didn't finish his thought, Fraser dredged up enough energy to turn them onto their sides—this was just as good, maybe better, because they could share the same pillow. Fraser had never shared a pillow before.

“So you really,” Ray started, and huffed at himself, made himself finish, “you really wanted to kiss me.”

Smiling came easy, easier than it had in a long, long while. “Yes, Ray. For quite a while.”

“Oh,” Ray said, oddly pink for someone who only recently had his tongue in unmentionable places. Then his face shifted, expression turned serious in a way that made some fizzling, distant part of Fraser want to curl up in a ball. “I don't want to fuck this up.”

Fraser held his breath, waiting for the rush of self-doubt to follow, as it always had before.

Ray shook his head against the pillow. “I know I don't got a good track record, but.” He tipped his chin up. “I'm gonna try. I'm gonna try really hard, Fraser. And if you catch me in a hiccup I want you to tell me so I can fix it, because this? This right here?” He tapped at Fraser's sternum, hard enough that Fraser felt it even after the touch was gone. “It's important. To me. You're important.”

Any air Fraser had thought himself in possession of evaporated in his lungs. Ray's nerve faltered, his eyes dropped, and Fraser snapped into action, pulled Ray to him in a tight embrace. “You're important,” Fraser said as fiercely as he could manage; his eyes were stinging, overwhelmed with feeling and too tired to express it properly—with charts or perhaps a ballad by Stan Rogers.

“I cherish you very deeply, Ray,” he said instead, and felt Ray shudder in a breath, felt him chase away the tremors in Fraser's back with gentle sweeps of his hands.

“Likewise,” Ray murmured and cleared his throat. His own eyes weren't so very dry when Fraser pulled back far enough to check.

“And as for my own—hiccups,” Fraser began in a rush. “I, I greatly appreciated your patience and your, erm, remedy.”

“You did, huh?” Ray said, laugh lines reappearing near his eyes with his smile. Fraser wanted to kiss every single one of them.

“I did, yes,” Fraser said, and settled for kissing Ray instead. He felt Ray startle, and then sink into it—understanding overriding expectation, a rewriting of the rules. As far as hiccups went it was minor, and he mastered it all on his own.

“Did you know, Ray,” Fraser paused to say, despite Ray's disgruntlement at no longer being kissed, “recent studies have shown remarkable success in curing hiccups with the act of manual rectal massage.”

Ray blinked at him. And grinned.