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Fraser sighed, tapping the pen gently against his notebook. He hadn't even asked her a question, only said her name. He'd intended to release Francesca from her inadvertent and wholly unnecessary hypnosis, when, quite unprovoked, she had begun to share her feelings for him.

He glanced down at the page, reviewing his notes, while Francesca debated with herself over what they ought to name their second son. He had tried twice already to get her to desist, but this train of thought was apparently an express. No stops.

He scratched his eyebrow, and glanced over at Ray, who, as instructed, was sitting quietly and waiting to be asked to speak. In the dimness of the Lieutenant's office, he could barely make out his face even at this proximity, just the slight slackness of his mouth. His body language was unusual, mainly in that he was at rest, sitting back against the couch with his hands in his lap.

Fraser blinked and forced his eyes back to Francesca, and realized she had stopped talking. "Thank you kindly, Francesca," he said softly, "I'm going to pretend, until my dying day, that I didn't hear any of that. I'd like you to sit quietly until I tell you to wake up, and when you do wake up, you will have forgotten all of this."

"Anything you say, Frase." Her voice was dreamy, but little different from normal, much as the Lieutenant's and the Inspector's had been when he questioned them. Fraser moved to Ray's side, and crouched down beside him, so that he was looking up into his partner's face.

"Ray? Talk to me, Ray."

"Hey, Fraser," his words were slightly slurred, as though he'd been drinking, and Ray smiled as he said his partner's name, drawing an answering smile from Fraser. "What're we talking about?"

"Are you at the mall, Ray?"

"Yeah, Fraser. Looking at the rocks with you."

"Very good." Fraser glanced down at his notes, and carefully guided Ray through his version of the events at the mall. When he had Ray's unfortunately unhelpful testimony recorded, he glanced up at his partner again. The light filtering in through the shaded windows had shifted, lighting up the soft gold of Ray's hair, the curve of his forehead where no furrows of worry intruded, just this once. As he watched, Ray tilted his head back, and the light traveled down his face, touching closed eyes, the high points of his nose and cheekbones, before coming to rest on his slightly smiling lips, still a little parted. The light glinted off white teeth, guarding the entrance to the shadowed cavern of his mouth.

Fraser forced himself to look away. A survey of the room showed him the Inspector, the Lieutenant, and Francesca, all sitting still, all waiting for his word to release them. All still themselves, only a little suspended by the hypnosis. But Ray... he dared another look. Ray was still smiling, open-mouthed, perfectly at ease for perhaps the first time since Fraser had known him.

"Ray," he said softly, and Ray lifted his head, turning it toward him even though he kept his eyes closed. The movement cast his features into shadow, easing the constriction of Fraser's throat, letting more words loose. "Why are you so different?"

A broader smile flashed before Ray began to speak again, in the low, sleepy cadences Fraser was already, after perhaps ten minutes of exposure, half in love with. "I was a regular kid, Fraser. Just like everybody else. Til I was ten, and then I was somebody else, like I got body-snatched. Maybe aliens took the regular me away and put somebody else in my place."

Fraser frowned. This wasn't why they were here, he had no right, he shouldn't ask, "What happened when you were ten, Ray?"

A hesitation. He saw Ray's mouth work, silently shaping words he could not bear to speak, even with the ease of the hypnosis acting upon him. Then, quietly, "I never told anybody this before."

Fraser looked around quickly. He ought to wake them. Now, before--

Ray said, barely a whisper, "I fell in love with Steve McQueen."

Fraser froze, and unthinkingly, said the first thing that came to mind. "I beg your pardon?"

Ray smiled at that, unfathomably, and said, a little louder this time, "I fell in love with Steve McQueen. I mean, I was just a kid, but, God he was--"

"Ray," Fraser swallowed hard, and forced his voice to a calm, authoritative tone, "stop."

He stopped, of course. Under hypnosis, he was liable to do anything Fraser told him to. He knew what he ought to say, now: he ought to promise Ray that he would pretend, to his dying day, that he hadn't heard any of that. It was a courtesy he deserved no less than Francesca, and probably more. Ray hadn't been eager to share this secret, after all. Still, despite the circumstances, Fraser found that promise did not fall from his lips. For a moment he stared at Ray, still smiling in his unaccustomed serenity, and, for this one moment, unabashedly admitting to something Fraser had not dared to hope for. Then, as gently as he could, he said, "When you wake up, Ray, you will remember none of this."

Ray nodded dreamily, and Fraser said, "Everyone wake up, please."

The others all blinked and looked around in confusion, but Ray sprang off the couch as if it were on fire; by the time Fraser straightened up from his crouch, he was on the other side of the room, arms wrapped around himself, staring at the wall.

Fraser stood and cleared his throat. "Allow me to explain." He heard himself speaking, describing the process of hypnosis, the state of relaxation, the unpredictable results, his decision to take advantage of the situation and question all the witnesses. Ray didn't move, just stood there on the opposite side of the room, coiled like spring steel, staring at the wall. As he spoke, Fraser inched closer, and when he had reached the Lieutenant's desk, he turned his back to it and gripped the edge, anchoring himself. He couldn't go to Ray. Ray didn't even remember what had just happened. He was only startled, perhaps angry over having been subjected to hypnosis after refusing, even if it was an accident.

The Lieutenant was speaking. "So you hypnotized all of us."

Hadn't he just explained that? He might not have, for all the attention he'd been paying to the words coming out of his mouth. Oh, dear. "Yes, and I apologize. It would appear that the administration manual is a powerfully effective tool. I'll have to remember it for next time."

Francesca came to his side, standing too close, but Fraser was still distracted by Ray, standing frozen at the wall. "Fraser, um, by any chance did I happen to, uh, reveal my innermost personal thoughts?"

Fraser looked steadily at Francesca. They could hardly be her innermost thoughts, could they, when they were never more than a flirtatious glance beneath the surface? "No."

Finally, Ray moved, striding quickly from his place in Fraser's peripheral vision to somewhere behind him. Near the window, probably. Fraser didn't look. Accompanied by the sound of the blinds opening, Ray spoke, his voice not quite as casual as he probably wanted it to sound. "Did you get anything on me?"

No hesitation or Ray would know he'd said something, but Fraser still couldn't bring himself to look straight at his partner as he spit out the first near-truth that came to mind. "Well, it would appear that you were abducted by aliens at the age of ten."

The Inspector interposed herself, saying dismissively, "Yeah, but did you get anything important?" Ray, behind him, was still fiddling with the blinds.

"Other than that, no."

Ray left the blinds open, daylight flooding in to obliterate the dim, unreal space where his secret had escaped him. Fraser thought Ray had turned to face him; he could feel Ray's eyes upon him, watching, normal, reassuring. Back to work. What Ray didn't remember had never happened. That would be that.

 


Sitting across from Ray with their mostly-finished dinners between them, Fraser wondered how often they had these conversations that neither of them actually participated in. He himself was doing the talking, mouth running on autopilot as he related some utterly preposterous story about a fur trader he'd heard of once, back home. Ray nodded periodically, and occasionally smiled, but Fraser was certain he wasn't hearing a word of the story; he was just letting Fraser run on, for whatever reason he might have. And Fraser was doing exactly the same thing, with the added benefit that he needn't fear Ray asking him if he was paying attention, taking advantage of this moment when Ray most certainly wasn't paying attention to him to watch his partner, unobserved.

He couldn't help thinking about what Ray had said under hypnosis. I fell in love with Steve McQueen. There were a few different things it could mean, but only one that Ray wouldn't want to admit to. Still, he hardly dared to believe it was actually true, and Ray's hesitancy even under hypnosis, and his agitation afterward, likely inspired by the fear of having admitted exactly what he had, both suggested that Ray was far from eager to act on his interest in the Steve McQueen's of the world.

All the same, he'd said it. He'd known exactly who he was talking to, and as soon as Fraser asked him a question, he'd brought it up. He'd never told anyone else, but he'd told Fraser. I fell in love with Steve McQueen. It had to mean something.

Ray's chin dropped a little, and his eyes slid shut. Fraser frowned, and stopped talking. Good lord, he must have been in fine stultifying form; Ray had dozed off. "Ray?" he said softly after a moment's hesitation, another stolen opportunity to study his partner's face without fear of detection.

"Mmm," Ray replied, lips twitching into a small smile, and Fraser abruptly recognized the look on his face, the utter relaxation. Ray wasn't asleep; he was hypnotized. Fraser tried to remember what he'd been saying, and realized that though the words had been nothing special, he'd slowed his voice, evened the cadences, until his words were rhythmic and soft and soothing.

He ought to wake Ray immediately, but he was arrested by the sight before him. In the darkness of Lieutenant Welsh's office, he hadn't been able to see Ray's face clearly while he was under hypnosis, but nothing was hidden under the fluorescent glare of the diner's lights. He could see the lines at the corners of Ray's eyes and mouth that no amount of relaxation would erase, life's length-of-service decorations, displayed on that familiar face; by the same token, he could see the perfect open comfort of his features, the small smile, the ease in every contour. Fraser couldn't put a finger on what had gone away from Ray's face, but the visage it left behind was beautiful, and... happy.

"Ray?" he said again, softly, "Talk to me."

"Hey, Fraser." His words were clearer, this time, but still had a certain sleepy fuzziness to them. "What're we talking about?"

Fraser couldn't resist smiling. "I'm not sure, Ray." He looked down at the table. This was wrong, he shouldn't, he really shouldn't, he should wake Ray now, he definitely shouldn't ask questions. "Ray, you said something to me earlier..."

Ray's smile broadened into a grin, creating fans of happiness around his still-closed eyes. The beatific expression was a little disturbing in this strange context, and Fraser found himself shifting his glance back and forth from Ray's face to a spot just over his shoulder. Couldn't look. Couldn't look away. "Yeah," Ray said. "I remember. Meant it. Say it, mean it."

He hadn't asked a question. He wouldn't ask anything. "I'm not sure I understand, Ray."

Ray leaned forward a little, his posture all loose lazy curves, his hands still resting passively in his lap. "Yeah? S'a double bluff, just like you said. Don't want people to know you got a thing, you gotta talk about the thing. They'll always notice what you don't talk about, sooner or later, so you gotta talk about it. Nobody pays attention to anything I say. Got a thing for Steve McQueen? Say so. Love somebody? Say so."

Fraser managed not to say anything, this time, but sat staring at his partner in silence. Ray had said I love you, this afternoon. And judging from what he had just said, he'd meant it.

And I you, Ray. But there was no use saying it now; Ray wouldn't remember–-dear Lord, don't let him remember–-and there was no way of knowing what effect such a statement might have when Ray was so impressionable. After a moment, Fraser looked down, recalling one reason he had thought this moment would never come. "I don't understand, Ray," he said softly. "I thought you loved Stella."

Ray smiled lazily. "Sure, I love Stella. Always loved Stella, ever since I met her. Golden girl, fairy princess, and I was a fairy, I knew that. Didn't want to be, didn't have to be, with her, if I loved her, loved her so much. But she was so pretty, I could never touch her, even when I was touching her I couldn't touch her. Just like you, love you, can't touch you. Pretty Mountie snow prince. Even when I touch you I don't touch you."

He had the strange sensation of his heart stopping for a moment. Fraser couldn't think of what to say, so after taking a moment to compose his face to a polite mask--untouchable, just as Ray believed--he said what he should have said first. "Ray, wake up."

Ray's eyes flashed open, and he shook his head and sat back. Under the bright lights, right before his eyes, the change was almost painful to observe, Ray's face tightening back into its customary guarded planes, no longer easy and open, but watchful. It was the face of a man who'd been hurt, who was waiting to be hurt again, and if Fraser hadn't seen him look otherwise, he might never have recognized it. "Fraser? What the hell was that?"

Fraser looked down quickly, picked up his fork and poked at the last few wilted vegetables on his plate. "It... seems I accidentally hypnotized you again, Ray."

"You what? You accidentally--"

He could hear it, now, the trace of panic behind the irritation. Ray had been keeping his secrets a long time, and the thought of being in a state where he might share them unknowingly must be terrifying. "I'm sorry, Ray. You must have found the story very relaxing, I really can't explain it." Couldn't, wouldn't. Daren't.

Fraser risked a glance up; Ray was scowling fiercely at his plate. A moment ago he'd been smiling. Unafraid. A moment ago Ray had trusted him.

Ray shouldn't trust me.

He felt sick, suddenly, and set down his fork. "It happens," he heard himself saying. "Strong-willed people are frequently very susceptible to hypnosis."

Ray glanced up, and spared Fraser a short smile. It had been an accident, after all, and they were partners, and friends, and Ray did trust him. "Strong-willed, huh?"

Fraser nodded.

Ray raised an admonitory finger. "Just tell me you didn't do another one of those post-hypnotic things, okay?" Fraser groped mentally for something to say, and Ray's smile widened. "What, you thought I wasn't gonna hear about my little command performance? Hardy ha ha, Fraser, but don't you ever do that again. That's not buddies."

"I won't, Ray," he said, perhaps a little too fervently. "I didn't just now, and I won't." He wouldn't. Never again.

 


Fraser lay awake a long time, staring up at the ceiling of his office. It was never properly dark in here, or anywhere else in this city, so he could map the small irregularities of its surface, the faint familiar landmarks of many previous sleepless nights. Somehow, no matter how well he knew that terrain, he could never find his way through to anywhere but where he began.

Ray loved him. Or at least, Ray loved the perfect creature he saw when he looked at Fraser. He was only aware of that fact because he had betrayed Ray's trust, invaded his privacy, violated his very mind. Even under hypnosis, Ray spoke only of concealment, lifelong strategies employed to protect his secret. Ray's agitation on waking from hypnosis each time suggested that he did not want his secret discovered, had no interest in revealing it when in full possession of his faculties.

Fraser squeezed his eyes briefly shut and swallowed hard as he realized, again, just what he had done to Ray today. Twice. The hypnosis might have been accidental, but he had drawn out Ray's admissions deliberately, even if he hadn't asked direct questions. Worse, he had not confessed himself, and he knew that he would not; he was too much a coward to brave actually losing Ray's trust, even knowing how little he deserved it.

He considered the possibility of simply pretending none of this had happened, making some small advance to Ray in the hope that he would be willing to respond. Not only would he risk rejection and the total destruction of their friendship if Ray didn't wish to act on his feelings, but if Ray did welcome his advances, he would either have to enter into a relationship based on deceit, or admit the truth at that most inopportune moment. Whether he revealed his perfidy or attempted to conceal it, Ray's love would surely never survive disillusionment.

Fraser closed his eyes, and turned his face to the wall. No need to look; he was going nowhere.

 


Ray leaned forward, and banged his head gently against the steering wheel. Fraser blinked, and spared a sideways glance from his observation of the warehouse entrance they were staking out. "Ray?"

He sat up again, and did an odd little shimmy in his seat, shaking himself all over. "God, Fraser, we oughta be home in bed. This guy isn't gonna show, not tonight. Tomorrow, maybe."

Fraser almost didn't say it, but, as Ray had said, people eventually noticed what one didn't say. "Maybe he'll come tonight, relying on us to expect him to be too smart to try it, and therefore relax our vigilance."

Ray snorted, and shook his head. "Double bluff thing? You've been listening to Welsh too much, Fraser."

No, I've been listening to you. Fraser bit his tongue, and stared straight ahead. Focus on the job.

"Fraser," Ray said around a yawn. "Tell me a story."

Fraser looked over. Ray was sitting bolt upright, eyes wide, clearly making an effort at alertness. "Tell you a story?" It had been three days now since the day he'd hypnotized Ray, and in that time Ray hadn't let him speak uninterrupted for more than about thirty seconds, obviously afraid it would happen again, or perhaps simply sick of hearing about Fraser's adventures in the Northwest.

"Yeah. You know, one of them French Canadian trapper guides talking to a caribou or something. Don't you have some stakeout story to tell me about how the caribou always show up when you're least expecting them? It's too quiet, I'm going to fall asleep."

"Oh. I see. Well." Fraser scratched at his eyebrow. He shouldn't. He really shouldn't. If he started talking, if Ray started listening, the temptation to do what he must not would be enormous. But Ray was asking. Ray trusted him. Of course, Ray didn't have all the facts. "Well, Ray, in my experience, one's prey frequently does show up at the most inopportune possible moment."

Ray nodded and settled in, head tipped back so that he could watch the warehouse door with his eyes nearly closed. "Yeah? They got Murphy's Law in Canada, too, huh?"

"Rigorously enforced, I'm afraid." Fraser turned a little in his seat, so that he could watch Ray as he spoke. That way, he told himself, he could avoid accidents. "About twelve years ago, I was assigned to an urban detachment."

Ray wriggled in his seat, like a child settling in for a bedtime story, and a small smile crossed his face, gone too quickly, leaving Fraser suddenly starving for more. "Urban, Fraser? You?"

"Yes, Ray." His heart began to pound, but he kept his voice steady. Maybe it wouldn't work. It probably wouldn't work. Ray would never know what he'd been thinking, hoping. He'd just tell Ray a story, and nothing would happen. "Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan has a population of more than 30,000 souls."

The smile lasted a little longer this time, but Ray stayed quiet, venting only a small exhalation, not quite a laugh.

"As I was saying, about twelve years ago, I was assigned to Moose Jaw, and in my first week I was sent out to learn the ropes with Constable Murray. When I came to Chicago, American police officers sometimes reminded me of him; he was fond of very bad coffee, and we would frequently end up sitting in his Jeep at night, side by side, waiting for someone to do something ‘bad enough to be interesting' as he used to say." Ray's little smile had settled in place on his face, and his hands rested lightly on the steering wheel. Almost there. He ought to raise his voice, startle Ray ought of his daze, keep him alert.

Fraser lowered his voice, smoothing its rhythms as he went on. "Of course, Moose Jaw was a fairly law-abiding community, so there were nights," about three of them, in truth, before he cracked and begged for something else to do, but this was supposed to be relaxing for Ray, "when we would simply sit in the Jeep for hours on end; Murray would drink his coffee, I would drink my tea, and we would take turns going for refills and to stretch our legs. We would sing sometimes, to keep ourselves awake, though it seemed the only song Murray could remember all the words to was the National Anthem, and as I couldn't bring myself to sing it sitting down, an impasse was reached quite early on."

Ray's lips parted at that, but he didn't say anything, and Fraser waited a moment, watching. His posture had gone limp; the sound of his hands slipping from the wheel and falling into his lap was loud in the quiet of the car.

He couldn't seem to speak above a whisper, suddenly. "Ray?"

Ray's smile widened just a little. "Hey, Fraser." His voice was sleepy and amused. He was under.

Fraser felt the adrenaline rush that accompanied doing something extraordinarily foolish, and glanced toward the warehouse. Still quiet. He looked into the back seat, where Dief was lying down, head on his paws, observing him with an expression more puzzled than censorious. "Dief," he said, barely mouthing the words "watch the building. I need to talk to Ray, and I may be distracted."

Dief lifted himself up and shifted to the passenger side of the seat, taking up the surveillance with an unusual lack of argument; Fraser suspected that he'd hear about this later, but even the prospect of Dief's future expressions of displeasure could not deter him.

"Ray," he said softly, "I want you to tell me a story."

"Mm?" Ray tilted his head toward Fraser, showing him a little more of that contented face. "What kind of story? Like, once upon a time..."

"Yes, Ray." A story, that wasn't so wrong; as long as he wasn't pressing Ray for confidences he wouldn't normally share; this way, he was merely allowing Ray to pass the time in peace, just as if he were asleep, or listening to a story. "Tell me a story that happened a long time ago. Before you met me, before you knew you were different. A long time ago. Tell me a story about being happy."

Ray nodded slowly, head still tilted back against the seat, chin rising and falling with the movement. "Right. Long, long ago, not very far away at all." Fraser waited, breathless, biting down hard as Ray licked his lower lip, a slow thoughtful swipe of tongue. "Long ago. Sixth birthday. Dad got me tickets, took me to a Hawks game. Just me, not m'brother. Just me and him. Saturday game, inna afternoon. Hawks were great that year, last year before the expansion messed ‘em up. Watched ‘em play the Leafs, watched them just wipe the ice with those guys."

Fraser shifted into his seat, and tried to tell himself that there was nothing wrong in wanting more of this, just an innocent story from Ray's childhood. "Tell me about it, Ray. Tell me just what it was like, can you remember?"

"Mmmhm. Mum made me wear a sweater, said it would be cold at the Stadium. Dad held my hand, all the way from the train, and when we got to the Stadium he picked me up and carried me, even though I was a big kid, old enough to go to a game. He gave me the tickets, and I handed them to the guy at the door. He asked me who I liked the best, and I said Bobby Hull, and he laughed, said my dad started me right. Dad laughed too, sort of squeezed me, like a hug even though he was already holding onto me, and when we got halfway to our seats, he just started laughing again, and I laughed too, even though I wasn't sure why."

Fraser smiled, and leaned his head sideways against his own seat, watching Ray. He was drawn into the ordinary little story of paternal affection and the transmission of masculine sports-culture, entranced by Ray's words as surely as he had entranced Ray with his. And if the effect Ray's voice had on him wasn't precisely relaxing, well, he wouldn't think about that. Just hear the words, just love the sound and the smile, a man's voice blurrily reproducing a child's perceptions.

He saw the flicker in his peripheral vision an instant before Dief gave a warning growl in his ear. He looked out, just in time to see a stocky figure in gang colors slip through the warehouse door; their suspect had, indeed, taken his chances on a double bluff.

Fraser snapped his fingers before Ray's nose, saying, "Wake up, Ray, we've got movement." He bolted from the car, Dief on his heels, and heard Ray following, cursing as he dialed his cell phone to call for backup. Fraser didn't look back. They were here to do a job, after all.

 


He managed to avoid looking Ray in the face until they were back at the car, watching the suspect being bundled into a blue-and- white for transport to the precinct. When he did look over, he found Ray staring down at his feet. His mouth was twisted with disgust, and after an idiotic moment of blind guilt, Fraser realized it was self-directed. He had a moment of horrible premonition, too late to stop what was coming, as Ray looked up, meeting his eyes with a pained look. "Fraser, buddy, I'm sorry. I don't know what the hell is wrong with me, falling asleep like that on a stakeout. I'm--Jesus. I'm really sorry."

An apology, honest and unforced and sincere. It was what he'd really been wanting, when he'd planted that stupid post-hypnotic suggestion, but now he could hardly bear to hear it; it made him feel rather queasy. He hesitated too long, wrapped up in his own thoughts, and then Ray was looking down again, guiltier than ever.

"No, Ray," he said, quickly, too sharply. "No. It wasn't your fault." When Ray looked up again, frowning, he had to look away. "I–-" He tried, tried to form the words, but found himself saying instead, "I should have woken you. Sooner. I'm your partner, you ought to be able to rely on me, and I failed you."

He heard Ray snort, an amused little sound, and stole a look at him; he was smiling, shaking his head. The thought that he had at least succeeded in distracting Ray from his unwarranted guilt was a very small comfort. "Unhinged, Fraser. Look, no harm, no foul, right? We both screwed up, but we got the bad guy anyway, so we'll just forgive and forget all around."

No. Not true. Not Ray's fault at all, and unforgivable, but he nodded, and got into the car when Ray did.

Ray's route back to the precinct took them down West Madison for a couple of blocks, and Fraser waved, as if casually, in the direction of the arena. "Have you ever been to a Blackhawks game, Ray?"

Ray glanced up the street, scowling slightly, his face hard and alien in the headlights of oncoming cars. "Not at the fucking United Center, no. They tore down the Stadium, y'know? I loved that place, and they replaced it with this modern piece of crap, sold the bricks for souvenirs. The Stadium... that place had memories, and now, nothing. It's all gone."

Fraser could think of nothing cleverer to say than, "Ah," and for the next several hours focused firmly on wrapping up the business of the night's arrest.

 


Ray was giggling, and both of them had been awake too long, so that neither of them could remember what was funny; only, Ray was laughing, and Fraser was smiling fondly, watching him laugh, sitting in the car in front of the Consulate. The sky was a lightening grey, dawn was approaching, and when he and Dief got out of the car, Ray followed, walking them up the steps.

"Okay, Fraser," Ray said, leaning a little against the railing as Fraser leaned heavily against the door. "Now tell me what you're going to do today."

"I'm going to sleep," he said, obediently, because Ray had managed to impress that upon him in driving him back. He was not to work today. He was to sleep. Ray nodded, firmly, and then just stood there before him, eyes on his feet, and Fraser couldn't resist trying, just a little. "I'm going to go inside, and I'm going to write out a note for the Inspector telling her that I had a very long night liaising--we do seem to have beaten her back, at least--and then I am going to go into my office, and lock the door, and lay down on the cot and sleep all day."

Ray's eyes were shut now, face relaxed. Fraser didn't know for sure whether he'd hypnotized him, or whether Ray had simply dozed off standing up. It hardly mattered; he was as guilty if he had failed as if he had succeeded. He wouldn't say a word to check, wouldn't add another syllable to his crimes, wouldn't risk waking him. He would only look. It wasn't so bad to look, and Ray was so relaxed now, so calm and at rest, and that couldn't be bad, not really.

Without a notepad or a table or even a gearshift between them, Fraser's fingers itched to touch. His eyes feasted on Ray, the golden prickle of stubble on his cheeks, the fried fluff of his hair, the pale line of his throat; now his hands longed to follow, to explore the territory his eyes mapped. He shouldn't.

His hand rose, then, of course; everything he shouldn't, he did, with Ray, lately. His palm was a bare inch from Ray's cheek--he could nearly feel the scrape of whiskers against his skin--when Ray's muscles relaxed that last crucial degree; he started to fall, jerking abruptly awake, coming back to himself as he grabbed at the railing. Fraser yanked his hand back and simply stared at him, wide-eyed.

Ray's eyes, wide in the moment of waking, narrowed suspiciously, and though he knew it was the worst thing to do under scrutiny, Fraser froze. He'd done it again. On the steps of the Consulate, in broad daylight, he'd done it again, and...

Ray said, "You wouldn't, really, would you."

Fraser blinked, his mind a panic-stricken blank. "Ray?"

"You wouldn't sleep, if I left you here. You might try, but it's hard being out sick when you're not actually out."

Fraser blinked again.

"C'mon," Ray said, turning back toward the street. "Come home with me, you can call in from there and crash on my couch. That way I know you're getting your z's and not filling out forms for future Canadians or stuck playing statue or something."

He shouldn't, he shouldn't, he shouldn't... Oh, hell. He was tired. He was already so far gone. Ray was asking, and maybe he could say no, but he wouldn't. "Zeds, Ray."

Ray snorted, and started down the steps again. "Zed...? This is what I mean. You're completely unhinged. Got to get some sleep."

 


He woke abruptly, disoriented. A quick glance revealed him to be in the living room of Ray's apartment, lying on the couch, tangled in a blanket. The pillow Ray had given him--taken from his own bed--was mashed out of shape, and had fallen to the floor between the sofa and coffee table. It was probably that which had woken him. With a shaky hand, he reached out and set it against the arm of the couch, fluffing it back into shape before burying his face against the soft cotton of the pillowcase, hiding his face from the dim light of late afternoon that crept in around the edges of the curtains.

Every inhalation was saturated with the smell of Ray: sweat, shampoo, hair gel. He reached down his body to untangle his legs from the blanket, to settle himself again for a little more sleep, since the quiet of the apartment indicated that Ray had not yet risen. His fingers brushed the fabric of his boxers, over his hip, and he was suddenly intensely conscious of being mostly-undressed on Ray's couch, with his face buried in Ray's pillow. His fingertips pressed against his hip, wanting to move, wanting to slide in, to ease that ache, wanting to pull away, wanting not to want this, not when he couldn't have it, not when maybe he could.

Ray was asleep not twenty feet away. He had invited Fraser here, knowing what he knew: that Fraser had once invaded this same home, that Fraser had hypnotized him twice and once planted a post-hypnotic suggestion for his own petty amusement, that Fraser had failed him that night on the stakeout. Still Ray had brought him here, given him this blanket and this pillow and this space and this kindness, and he didn't deserve any of it at all, but he had it, for now. His hand shifted a fraction, even the touch of cotton against his fingertips seeming suddenly new and unbearable in this moment, surrounded by Ray, so close and yet--

A small noise from the bedroom made him freeze, brought him fully awake and crashing back to reality. He was on Ray's couch; Ray was asleep--please God still asleep--not twenty feet away, and he had been about to... Oh, Lord, he really was completely lost to this obsession. Fraser clenched his wandering hand into a fist, and used the other to push himself up into a sitting position, pushing off the blanket and then automatically reaching over to fold it neatly before setting it on top of the pillow.

He would take a shower. A cold shower. Then he would get dressed, say goodbye to Ray, in a note if he was still sleeping, and go back to the Consulate. As he stood, Dief, stationed near the door, lifted his head. Fraser winced. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "Let me clean up, and we'll go on home soon."

Dief whined reproachfully, and turned his head away as he settled back down. The knot of guilt in Fraser's stomach hardened, and he gathered up his clothes quickly, headed for the bathroom.

He meant only to glance through the half-open door, to assure himself that Ray was still sleeping, undisturbed, unaware. But Ray had taken off his shirt, leaving his back exposed to Fraser's view as he slept on his stomach, his head pillowed in the crook of one arm. He seemed to be as restless in his own bed as Fraser had been on an unfamiliar couch; the coverlet was kicked off the bed entirely, and a thin sheet, matching the case on Fraser's borrowed pillow, was wrapped around his legs, mostly hiding the grey knit briefs which appeared to constitute Ray's preferred sleepwear. Fraser froze, some small part of himself afraid of being discovered looking, but unable to tear his eyes away from the expanse of golden skin exposed to his gaze. Ray seemed to glow in the slanting light, bright against the pale sheets, as easy in natural repose as he had been in those pilfered moments of entrancement.

Fraser was barely conscious of slipping through the door, turning sideways to fit through the opening without pushing it farther, lest the hinges betray him. He didn't realize he'd dropped his clothes in the hallway until he was pressing his empty hands to his knees, hoping to keep them from popping as he crouched beside Ray's bed. His mouth was dry, his heart racing, and his fingers... his fingers were hungry. He peeled one hand away from his own skin, and reached out, setting it lightly on the bed beside Ray's outflung arm, touching the sheet he slept on. His hand crept closer by tiny degrees, until he could feel the heat of Ray's skin against his fingertips. Such a small thing, to touch him; he did it every day, casually, thoughtlessly, as Ray touched him, but never like this, never with so much skin, so much desire, so much intent. He closed the tiniest of gaps, set two fingers against the muscular curve of Ray's upper arm, and held his breath, waiting for the world to come crashing to an end. After a silent moment, he exhaled, and at that moment Ray startled away from him. Fraser pulled back his hand, as though he could deny what he'd been doing, as Ray rolled away, pushing himself up on one elbow and grabbing defensively at the sheet.

"Ray," he heard himself whisper, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to--" to what? He hadn't meant to do any of this, and just the same he had done it all, knowingly.

He bit his lip as Ray blinked at him, rubbing his face. "Fraser?" he said finally, as if he thought he might be seeing things.

"I'm sorry, Ray, I--I was going to take a shower." It was a stupid thing to say; obviously he wasn't here to take a shower.

But Ray rubbed his eyes and nodded, and said, "Right, sorry, lemme find you a clean towel."

Fraser closed his eyes, nodded, stood and turned and went back to the hallway. He picked up his clothes, and walked to the bathroom. He did not look around as Ray came out of the bedroom, and left the door ajar behind him as he set his clothes on the edge of the sink. Ray came to the doorway, and passed a towel through; Fraser accepted it without looking up, either at Ray or at the mirror where he--where they both--would be reflected. He couldn't bear to look himself in the face now, nevermind Ray.

Ray lingered a moment. "You okay, Fraser? Anything wrong?"

Fraser shook his head, the denial as automatic as it was untrue. "I'm fine, Ray. Just... disoriented. I'm not used to such late hours."

At the edge of his field of vision, Ray's reflection nodded slowly, with perhaps an edge of skepticism. He was hardly giving a convincing performance of normality at the moment, so it should be no surprise that Ray wasn't fooled. "Look, I think Dief's back teeth are starting to float, you mind if I take him for a walk while you're in the shower?"

"No, Ray. That would be--" He felt sick. He couldn't do this, couldn't keep talking to Ray, couldn't be in arm's reach of him, knowing what he'd done. "Thank you kindly."

Ray nodded again, and pulled the door shut behind him as he went away. Fraser stood frozen in the middle of the bathroom, listening to Ray speaking quietly to Dief, listening to their footsteps, Ray closing and locking the door behind them. He set the towel down, then, on top of his clothes, and turned to the toilet, lifting lid and seat together and sparing a thought for the fact that Ray still had the considerate bathroom habits of a married man. His knees folded gently, dreamlike, and with one hand still resting on the towel and the other braced against the cool porcelain of the toilet's rim, he gave a single hacking cough and then vomited. His entire body shook with the spasms that wrenched his stomach, and he closed his eyes against the sight of its contents reappearing. It was mostly bile; he couldn't remember when he'd eaten last. Ray had made a visit to the break room vending machines while they filled out paperwork in the wee hours of the morning, but he'd declined his proffered share of the snacks.

When finally the revolt of his alimentary canal came to an end, Fraser shifted his left hand from its white-knuckled grip on his clothes, and used it to flush the toilet. He felt a cool draft against his face as the wonder of modern plumbing whirled the mess away, and lowered his head to rest against the edge of the toilet. He ought to move. He ought to take that shower, or at least make shift to brush his teeth. He felt a few tears squeeze forth from between his tightly-closed eyelids, but forced himself to keep his breathing steady; a sob might renew his just-ended misery, might crack him apart when he was so tenuously strung together. He ought to weep, for everything he had done, everything he had destroyed, but he could not. He could not cleanse himself, for whatever comfort he might find in it. He could only kneel, like a supplicant before some silent god, and wish he had not done everything he had done. He had violated Ray's trust in a half-dozen ways, and told himself he couldn't resist, told himself he was compelled, told himself this was--

No. He wouldn't even think the word, with reference to his own actions; it was too foul a parody. He lowered his weight back onto his heels, clinging tight to the cool impervious porcelain under his hands as he began to shake. It was only a nervous system reaction to vomiting, he told himself. Not his self falling apart at the seams.

The sound of a key in the lock startled him into raising his head, and he had to move one hand to press against his forehead, to steady its sudden simultaneous lightness and pain. Dizzily, he slumped back against the edge of the tub. They hadn't been gone long, unless he'd somehow lost track of time; but then Ray wasn't responsible for taking Dief out for exercise--that was his own duty. Ray was only interested in protecting his flooring, and doubtless would wish to take a shower himself soon.

Dief started up a frantic barking as soon as the door opened, and as he listened the sound came ever closer, Doppler effect in full force, until Dief reached the bathroom door, where he pressed himself against the barrier, barks converting into inquisitive whines. He ought to try to reassure Dief, but the wolf would not believe that everything was all right--he had the ample evidence of his nose to tell him otherwise, picking up smells of sickness and distress from Fraser--and in any case, he'd have to open the door to even try to lie to him. Ray, now, he could lie to Ray from here. Fraser closed his eyes at the thought, swallowing hard. No. He could not lie to Ray anymore, even with the protection of a closed door.

He could hear footsteps approaching, Ray following Dief to the bathroom at a more sedate, human pace. "All right, Dief, Fraser's down the well, I get it." The footsteps stopped just outside, and from the sound of his voice, Ray crouched down to speak to Dief. "I got it, Dief. This is a human thing, I'm going to take care of it. Trust me." A human thing. He could cling to that comfort at least; lacking a human's capacity for duplicity, Dief would likely never understand what he had done. Even if he explained himself, he had one friend who would never know the depth of his depravity.

He heard Dief retreat a small distance, and then a soft tapping sound at the door. "Fraser?"

He opened his mouth, but couldn't think of what to say, and closed it again. His hand, suddenly too heavy to hold against his head, fell into his lap with a small sound.

"Okay, we got movement, so I know you're alive in there. And if you were hurt or something Dief wouldn't have backed off." A sliding sound, fabric against wood; he realized that Ray had shifted to sit against the door. "I don't know if you know this, Fraser, but saying you're fine while refusing to make eye contact and then shutting yourself in the bathroom and not even bothering to run the shower is, like, the International Chick Signal for ‘go buy me something thoughtful and then don't stop asking me what's wrong until I tell you'." Fraser opened his eyes, then, and stared at the door with a growing sense of horror. Ray couldn't possibly be that... no, he could be that kind and thoughtful. Of course he could. He had no idea why he shouldn't be. "So," Another sliding sound, and a paper bag crinkling. "If the door's not locked, I'm just going to slide this cup of tea and these scones through, and I'll sit out here with my coffee and donuts, and we'll have a little talk, okay?"

The doorknob jiggled, then slowly twisted, and the door opened just far enough to admit Ray's hand, holding a steaming paper cup of tea. He set it down on the floor just inside the door, then followed it with a small plate which, under a napkin, held two scones. He'd gotten the kind with toffee chips, and the tea smelled like heaven. Ray's hand withdrew, and the door closed again. Fraser listened to him blowing on his coffee, and scooted sideways, closer to the tea, and then reached out with both hands and slowly, carefully, lifted the cup to his mouth. He sipped slowly, tiny sips of the hot bitter drink clearing the foul taste of his mouth and slipping slowly down to heat his cold-crabbed stomach. His unsteady hands forced him to set the drink down again after a moment, and Fraser picked up a scone instead, breaking off a small piece to nibble on, scattering crumbs down the front of his t-shirt.

"Okay, Fraser," Ray said, clearly prepared to be patient. "So what's wrong? What happened?"

He set the scone down, too, its sweetness insufficient to counter the bitterness of what he had to say. "Ray, please... I'll tell you, but you have to let me speak. You can't interrupt me, or I'll never get through it."

A long pause from outside, and then the small thunk of Ray's head dropping back against the door. "Yeah. All right. I'll keep quiet."

Fraser resisted the urge to move further away from the door, and wrapped his arms defensively around himself. "I hypnotized you."

He thought he could hear Ray start to speak, and then remember he had promised silence. Fraser swallowed hard, and went through the careful motions of taking another sip of tea. "I hypnotized you twice, by accident, on Tuesday. I told you that. What I didn't tell you is that I... I elicited certain confidences from you, while you were under hypnosis, things you would not have told me had you been in control of yourself. You told me you fell in love with Steve McQueen when you were ten years old." That got a reaction, a sharp thump against the door, not intended as a message to him, he thought, but merely the result of Ray physically expressing his startlement. "Then, at the diner, you told me..." Tea, again. It was starting to be too much liquid in his empty stomach, which gurgled acidly at him. "You said you kept your secrets by engaging a double bluff, saying the things no one would expect you to say, if they were true. Your fondness for Steve McQueen was one example. You said... you said, if you loved someone, you would say so, so that they would not suspect it was true. I said I didn't understand, and you said you loved me."

Silence beyond the door, and Fraser closed his eyes, his hands curling into fists. "I resolved never to do such a thing to you again, but that resolution lasted only until last night. In the car, on a stakeout, in a potentially dangerous situation, under the guise of helping you keep awake... I hypnotized you again, and let you believe that you had fallen asleep, derelict in your duty, rather than confess what I had done. On the steps outside the Consulate this morning, I attempted to hypnotize you again. And just now... I didn't go into your room to ask you for a towel, Ray."

Fraser fell silent, staring down at his blood-drained knuckles, wondering if his face were as pale; he certainly felt light- headed enough to believe all his blood was pooling somewhere below his neck. He felt as though he had a wound somewhere, unseen, gushing blood. He wished, for an abstracted moment, that it were true; a nice, life-threatening medical emergency would save him from this quiet horror, after all.

He listened carefully, and found that if he held himself perfectly still and did not breathe, he could hear Ray breathing, just outside. He hadn't moved away, at least; his inhalations were slow and deep. Controlled. Fraser tried to think of what else to say. That he had betrayed Ray's trust was self-evident. That he was sorry, likewise, and he dared not beg Ray's forgiveness. He supposed he ought to vacate Ray's bathroom, and his apartment, but he did not think he could bear stepping over him to do so. He wasn't sure he could walk, either.

Finally, Ray's voice, very low, said, "You done? Can I talk now?"

Fraser swallowed, and braced himself for whatever Ray might say. "Yes."

But Ray didn't say anything; he pushed himself to his feet and walked away from the door, pausing near where Fraser thought Dief had settled, then walking on. Fraser listened to his footsteps, running shoes padding quietly against the hard floors, as he paced the apartment. He thought about vomiting again, but concluded that it would probably seem like an attempt at manipulation, a ploy for sympathy, and swallowed hard before taking up the scone again, slowly and methodically eating it, forcing his stomach to settle.

Ray's footsteps brought him to the door again, and Fraser lowered his head to his knees, pressing his fists against his stomach, listening as Ray stood there. Fraser stared at the door for a moment, but as the silence stretched, he clenched his eyes shut. There was a soft tap, just like the first one but higher up, and then the doorknob slowly turned, and the door opened, letting in cool air from the larger space of the apartment into the small confines of the bathroom. He didn't look up. He didn't think he could bear to see Ray's face, pained, angry, cold, polite, anything, but never again happy and trusting, not for him.

After a long time, Ray took a step inside, and crouched down beside him. "You wanna make this right?" he said quietly, and Fraser couldn't quite read the timber of his voice, and raised his head, looking into Ray's eyes. It was no help; Ray wore a neutral mask, intent but giving nothing away. "Do you want to fix this, do you want me to maybe be able to forgive you, or do you just want to get out of here and never see me again?"

Fraser's mouth worked for a moment; he couldn't quite believe what Ray was suggesting, that there was a way to repair what he had destroyed. "I want to make it right," he said finally, when he could make a sound. He hoped Ray saw that it was only difficulty speaking, and not indecision, which slowed his response.

Ray nodded, once, sharply. "Okay, then. You have to let me hypnotize you."

He was stunned by the utter perfect simplicity of it. Of course, it wouldn't fix anything, of itself, wouldn't absolve him of what he'd done... but it would give Ray the chance to even the score, however he saw fit. His heart quailed for a moment, at the thought of how Ray might choose to redress the balance, but that didn't matter; if he truly cared for Ray as much as he liked to believe, then he would do this, trust himself to Ray and let him do as he liked, give freely to him what he himself had stolen from Ray. "Yes," he whispered. "I will."

Another sharp nod, and Ray looked from him to the stack of his clothes on the sink. "Put your jeans on," he said quietly, "we're not doing this like this."

He turned away, then, walking out the living room, leaving the door open behind him. Fraser pushed himself carefully to his feet, steadying himself at the sink. He still didn't look at himself in the mirror--better not to know how he looked right now--and kept his eyes fixed on his hands. He tried not to think about what might happen in a few minutes. He picked up his jeans, shook them out, and stepped into them carefully. Once they were on and fastened, Fraser crouched down again, to pick up the tea and the uneaten scone, and set them on the edge of the sink by his clothes, where they wouldn't be kicked over by the next person walking into the bathroom.

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, he stepped out. Ray was standing by the couch, and Fraser went and sat down in its middle, beside the pillow and the folded blanket, and placed his hands neatly in his lap. Looking down at them, he composed himself for hypnosis, trying to relax, to reach the appropriate state of openness and receptiveness. He was frightened, he found, but he pushed the fear aside. Fear and resistance were unworthy; he would give himself to this. Ray deserved no less.

Ray walked away, to the desk, and came back. He held out his hand, tipped it to drop a pendant to dangle before Fraser's eyes. It was a shaped piece of Tiger's Eye, on a cord. "Okay, Fraser," Ray said, his voice low and even, almost as if he were under hypnosis himself. "Keep your eyes on the stone." It swung back and forth, and Fraser tracked it obediently. Ray said more, but Fraser never knew what.

 


He came to himself curled on his side, his cheek against the pillow and Ray crouching before him, his face only inches away. His eyes were wide, faintly frightened, his face tense.

"Ray?" Fraser said, his voice emerging small and hoarse. He realized after a beat that his face was wet; he'd been crying.

"I love you, Fraser," Ray said, and he sounded a bit hoarse himself. "You get that? No symbolic anything, no bluff. Just, I love you, okay? I'm not saying you didn't fuck up in a big huge way, here, but I love you."

Fraser could only stare for a moment, wondering if he could... but Ray had just said it three times. "I love you, Ray." He felt suddenly flooded with relief. It was true; he did love Ray, and he could say it, and that felt like a boon at this point. "And I'm sorry," he added, unable to stop himself now. "Ray, I'm so--"

Ray twitched a short, tense smile, looking down at the floor and back up. "Fraser, I know you don't remember it, but you used up your supply of sorries for the rest of the year just now. I don't want to hear you apologize for anything short of a felony until sometime after Christmas, okay?" Fraser nodded, trying not to think about why Ray was so calm, how Ray could possibly still be willing to love him, and to say so. Perhaps he would say that love wasn't enough, in the absence of trust? Ray still loved his ex-wife, after all. "Look, Fraser, I said you could make it right, didn't I? Well, you did. I forgive you. It was a dumb fuck thing to do, and you better never do it again or I will not be so understanding, but..."

Fraser could only nod, again. He couldn't take his eyes off Ray, just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Ray seemed to perceive that, his mouth tightening. He ran a hand through his hair, making it stand up even more wildly, and Fraser realized that the lamp was on, and the light from the windows had faded. He'd been under for some time. "Okay, so we had quite the little talk, Fraser. I asked you about exactly what you did when I was under, and." He looked down, mouth moving oddly, and Fraser realized after a moment's confusion that he was fighting a grin. "Hockey? You made me tell you a story about hockey?"

Fraser thought he probably ought to sit up, but settled for burrowing further into the pillow, pulling back the few centimeters he could without being obvious. "You looked happy when you talked about it."

Ray waved a hand dismissively. "Yeah. I get that. You told me all about it, all about why you did it and everything. It was quite the talk, like I said. Only I... uh. I got kinda mad at you, and I yelled. Forgot that you were under, sort of, or forgot who I was talking to--I was treating you like a perp, like I had to scare the truth out of you--and you started crying."

Fraser winced, feeling a blush creep over his cheeks. "I'm so--" he caught himself, meeting Ray's eyes briefly, apologetically. "I should have warned you; I can become rather maudlin under hypnosis."

Ray nodded rapidly, not meeting Fraser's eyes. "Yeah, I get that. Get you totally relaxed, all your boundaries down, and that's how you are, inside. You feel all of it. I get that."

Fraser kept the mental comparison to himself: Ray, inside, was fearless and beautiful. Not so himself, clearly.

Another small sigh, and Ray moved around to sit on the edge of the couch by his knees. Fraser opened his eyes, and looked over at him, his bowed head in profile, looking down at his own hands folded on his knees. Ray looked up and met his eyes directly. "You couldn't just get me drunk, like a normal person, huh?"

Fraser blinked. "I--" But he couldn't apologize, and he didn't know what to say. "I don't know what to say, Ray."

Ray nodded. "Yeah. We... we gotta find a way to have a conversation sometime when we're both there, y'know? And both in a state of extreme relaxation, because obviously we suck at talking sober."

Fraser nodded slowly. Mutual intoxication would be more honest, at least, than what he had done, and might make it easier to speak of the things they had to speak of, though there remained the problem of remembering what had been said afterward. Ray rubbed a hand over his face, then met Fraser's eyes again, squinting, looking at Fraser as though he'd never seen him before, and had to take his measure. "You feel okay, now? Stomach hurt?"

Fraser realized that it didn't, and shook his head. Ray nodded. "You hungry? Tired? Head hurt, anything like that?"

I'm scared. Fraser shook his head again.

"Okay then. We'll see if we can't just do this now, huh? That way we can wake up in the morning and just start fresh."

Certainly it must be best to get the coming conversation over with; he didn't think he could bear to have it hanging over his head. "All right, Ray."

Ray quirked a smile, and reached out, laying one hand over Fraser's, where it lay fisted against his chest. Fraser felt his breath hitch at the contact, and Ray's fingers stroked against his, an odd little touch like a caress, before closing around his wrist and tugging gently. "C'mon, then, buddy, sit up and let's get this show on the road." Fraser complied, but when he made to shift around and swing his legs down, Ray's grip on his wrist tightened, and Ray scooted closer, pressing his hip against Fraser's thigh.

"You're fine right there, Fraser." Ray's face was barely a hand's breadth from his own, and Ray's hand squeezed his wrist and then shifted down to tangle their fingers together--and they were sitting very close, and holding hands, and Fraser realized that Ray hadn't actually said anything about how they were going to achieve the desired state of relaxation.

Ray's gaze shifted downward slightly, seeming to fix on his mouth. Fraser licked his lips, and Ray released a sound a shade too hungry to be merely a sigh, and leaned forward, and they were kissing. Ray's lips were chapped, a little rough against his, and at first their mouths joined tentatively, their quickening breath mingling as each of them waited for some signal from the other. Fraser tightened his fingers, hard, on Ray's, their joined hands a little sweat-slick, and then Ray was in motion, driving him back against the back of the couch, his tongue demanding an entrance which Fraser readily granted, his free hand splaying across Fraser's jaw to angle his head more perfectly. Fraser moaned into Ray's mouth, welcoming the passionate onslaught as he raised a hand to tangle in Ray's hair. He could feel the heat of Ray's body, poised above him, but touch was still limited to their hands and mouths, and even that contact was almost too much. Not enough. He felt cold where Ray wasn't touching him, and burned where he was.

When Ray lifted his head, breaking the kiss, Fraser strangled back a whimper. Ray's ragged breath against his tingling lips was a torment. "Fraser," Ray said, closing his eyes, "do you actually want this? Kissing and--and getting naked and relaxed and all of it."

He tried to pull Ray closer, with the hand on his head and their twined grip, tried to lift himself into contact, to press his hips to Ray's and show him just exactly how badly he wanted this; but Ray resisted, and he had to speak. "Yes, Ray. I want this, all of it."

Ray's eyes opened, his gaze serious. "Because you don't have to, Fraser, if you don't want this, or if you don't want it right now, I still forgive you and I still love you."

That stole his breath, somehow, so when he opened his mouth to say, Yes, really, now, please, no sound came out. He felt his mouth working soundlessly, his eyes widening under Ray's steady regard, and he heard himself say, "Really?"

Ray drew back, then, as far as he could without risking falling off the couch. Fraser's grip on his hand tightened desperately, and Ray squeezed back and didn't let go. "Yeah, Fraser, really. Jesus--look, you told me everything, so I know I got you over a barrel here and you're ready to do anything to make this up to me, and that is not what I'm asking for here, got it? You hypnotized me, I hypnotized you; you lied to me but you came clean and that is it, Fraser. We're done with that. Trust me when I say you've had a rough day and I understand if you're not ready for this right now."

Fraser wondered, not for the first time in his life, whether it was entirely normal to be able to be this terrified and this aroused at the same time. "Ray, I want this." Ray tilted his head, waiting for a more persuasive answer. "I want you, you must know how badly I want you, and--and I'm scared."

Ray leaned forward a little. "Scared," he breathed, his eyes searching Fraser's and finding something he believed, "okay, okay. And we're not at the talking part yet, so..." Ray put his free hand to Fraser's chest, lightly, hooking one finger in the collar of his t-shirt. Fraser relaxed under that slight pressure, sagging back against the couch, tipping his head back and parting his lips as Ray lowered his head and kissed him again.

This was easy, this was right. He raised his free hand as high as Ray's hip, and hooked two fingers through a belt loop. Otherwise, Fraser was utterly content to sink into the cushions as Ray kissed him, losing himself in the wet heat of Ray's mouth. He was vaguely conscious that that moaning noise was coming from him, and Ray chuckled into his mouth as he shifted his weight, settling lower on the couch, bringing their bodies into blessed contact.

Ray's thighs, tight with the effort of supporting his weight in this position, were warm and hard on either side of his hips, and he could feel Ray, hard, against his belly. He flattened his palm on Ray's hip, tugging down, and dug his heels into the floor for the leverage to push up, grinding his aching hardness into the vee of Ray's thighs. Ray settled lower with a little groan, and the feel of his partner's weight resting on him, holding him in place, made this all a little more real. Fraser felt himself starting to smile against Ray's mouth, and then Ray's hand on his chest began sliding downward, sending his heart pounding ever harder under that touch. Even through his t-shirt, the press of Ray's fingers made his skin tingle, the muscles of his belly tightening where Ray touched.

He hooked two long fingers into the waistband of Fraser's jeans, and lifted his head, looking him in the eye again, though his eyes were now a little dazed, his lips shiny and kiss-swollen. Tugging lightly, Ray said, "You gonna freak out if we move this to the bedroom?"

Fraser didn't think he could push Only if you keep stopping past his own lips, and settled for shaking his head and following Ray to his feet with enough enthusiasm to make up for muteness.

Ray kept his fingers hooked in Fraser's jeans; holding hands as they still were, it made the trip to the bedroom rather like dancing. Ray led, moving surefootedly backwards, never taking his eyes from Fraser's, breathing hard through an open-mouthed grin that Fraser felt mirrored on his own face. When they reached the bed, Ray executed a very neat turn so that Fraser was backed up to it. When he felt the mattress as the backs of his knees, he dropped onto its surface, pushing himself quickly up onto one elbow as Ray remained upright, kneeling between his legs.

"Okay," Ray murmured, both hands gravitating to the hem of Fraser's shirt. "We'll just get rid of this, first." Fraser thought about pointing out that for someone who was determined to talk after, Ray was using a lot of words. That might have slowed him down, though, so Fraser simply sat up slightly, raising his arms as Ray pulled his shirt off over his head. His own hands mirrored Ray's movement, and Ray smiled approval as Fraser tossed his t-shirt to the floor.

Then Ray's fingers were hooked into his jeans again, and he asked the question with only a tug and an eyebrow. Fraser nodded, and Ray unbuttoned and unzipped while Fraser reciprocated, slowed down a bit by the combination of a button fly and shaking hands. There was a moment where each of them dropped their hands, divesting their own pants rather than hindering each other by trying to help, and following hard on its heels was a moment of silence as they took each other in. Fraser thought dizzily about how only a day before he had been so hungry just to see Ray smile, and wondered how he had gotten here from there. Ray laughed, and Fraser forced his gaze up, to his partner's smiling face. "Fraser, I can see you thinking. Stop that. Just--lay back and think of Canada."

Fraser nodded obediently as Ray lowered himself to the bed, crawling forward to stretch his body over Fraser's. One kiss, two, and the strength went out of his propping arm, leaving Fraser flat on his back, Ray braced above him, their bodies parted now by perhaps an inch of air, and nothing else. An upward motion tore a gasp from his lungs, his cock sliding too briefly against Ray's, an explosion of sensation, heat and skin and something he had no words for--together, rightness, something.

Ray flashed him a grin and was suddenly gone, sliding back down the bed, between his legs, and even though the long-fingered grasp on his erection was like a promise of heaven made tangible by Ray's lowering head, Fraser managed to gasp out, "No."

The single word's effect on Ray was instant and electrifying; he scrambled back up the bed to kneel at Fraser's side, a look of horror on his face, whispering, "Sorry, sorry, Frase, what--"

Fraser sat up, slipping his arms around Ray, pulling him close. "No, it's all right, I just--like this. Together." He pressed a kiss quickly to Ray's mouth, offering reassurance as Ray had offered him tonight.

Ray was nodding into the kiss, and muttered, "Together, right, of course," as they fell back to the bed, tangled together. Fraser rolled a little, pulling Ray on top of him, and this time Ray didn't hold back, settling himself against Fraser's body. He braced himself on one arm, reaching down with the other hand as he settled his hips between Fraser's thighs, lining up their erections against each other.

Fraser dropped his head back against the bed at that sensation, Ray's hardness against his own, desire mirrored and matched by desire. He could do no more than gaze up at Ray's face, intent as he stared down their bodies. Ray thrust once against him, and then he wrapped his hand again--around them both this time, adding friction to the already nearly perfect sensation. Fraser's hips moved of their own accord, and Ray lifted his eyes. Fraser was lost in that gaze, unguarded and beautiful, seeing him and loving him. Fraser ran his hand down Ray's arm, down his wrist, tangling their fingers together as he added his grip to Ray's, holding them together, stroking.

Ray closed his eyes, dropping his head to rest his forehead against Fraser's, and gasped love you against his lips. It was too perfect to last, and after a handful of thrusts he felt the pulse of Ray's climax, hard under his hand, wet against his belly. A breath or two later, he followed suit.

Ray let go first, reaching blindly across the bed for a corner of the crumpled top sheet. Rolling onto his side, he used it to wipe them both more or less clean before tossing it onto the floor and flopping onto his back. Fraser rolled close, reaching out for his hand, which Ray immediately held.

Fraser said softly, smiling, "So, about that talk..."

Ray smiled, and didn't open his eyes, and the breath left Fraser's body; it was that same lazy smile, eyes closed, not stolen now but given freely. "You ever gonna do anything like that ever again?"

Fraser didn't have to consider that answer, only gather the wits to say it. "No."

Ray nodded. "Then I don't think we have to talk about that." Just like that, because Ray, knowing everything, chose to trust him anyway.

Fraser laid his head down, then, but Ray opened his eyes, and he was once again all seriousness. "I just want you to know--I'd rather be with somebody who makes mistakes, than without somebody who doesn't. So if you're all right with being my secret boyfriend til we figure out how to tell people about this without anybody getting killed, then I got no regrets."

Fraser told himself firmly that he was just going to have to learn to believe in his good fortune, and let his kiss speak for itself.