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It is probably too late for second thoughts, but Constable Gerard Way of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is having them anyway.

The constant, sharp Chicago wind tosses around the Canadian flag he's staring at, then takes a detour to tear past his collar and race down the sensitive skin of his spine.

"You have no new messages. Play saved messages, press one," his cell chirps in his ear.

He presses one.

"Hey, Gee, I might be out of touch for a while. Some stuff came up at work. If it's important and you can't reach me, leave a message with Pete, okay? I texted you his number. Don't delete it --"

Gerard snaps his phone shut, cutting off the sound of Mikey's voice.

Right. What the hell kind of work emergency requires a baker to be incommunicado? It's shady.

Gerard is a trained investigator, so he knows shady when it leaves messages on his voicemail. And his little brother isn't going to pull this kind of disappearing act bullshit without getting his ass investigated.

Gerard tries to keep in check the fear that hasn't really left him since he'd tried to call Mikey and not gotten an answer. Mikey has never been without his cellphone since they'd been invented over a decade ago. If you took him to the beach -- and Gerard had -- he would sacrifice going swimming just to keep near the damn thing. And even when they'd been fighting, Mikey had never not taken Gerard's calls, even if he was just going to sit silently on his end, the sound of his sulking almost audible over the line. But this sort of silence is new.

So Gerard isn't overreacting by submitting his transfer request and flying down here, he reassures himself, and reaches for the door of the Canadian Consulate. He pauses with his hand on the doorknob. Maybe he could have waited till the transfer was approved?

But you can't make crème brûlée without breaking a few eggs, and then setting the thing on fire.

Gerard finally tugs open the door and comes as close to being face to face as he could with a Mountie who has almost a whole head's height on him. Gerard thinks the man looks familiar, but with the way he's looming into Gerard's personal space, he can't narrow it down to anything. Aside from, potentially, his own worst nightmares.

"You must be Constable Urie!" the Mountie says, leaning down towards him and grinning hugely.

"Ah, no, Way --" Gerard says, stumbling back a step.

"Yes, way! I'm Constable Turnbull, I've been expecting you, come in!" The Mountie grabs the door to keep it from shutting, and ushers Gerard into the lobby.

"I'm sorry, I'm just looking for the liaison to the Chicago Police Department," Gerard says, staying out on the front step where it feels safer, despite the fact that it is still slick with rain water.

"You are the liaison to the Chicago Police Department!"

"What? But I'm not --" Gerard protests.

"Constable Fraser?" Turnbull cuts him off. "No, he's on an Adventure right now."

"But I'm not --"

"You must be Constable Urie," Turnbull says, and Gerard thinks he may have broken the other man, like a robot that's malfunctioned because he argued with it, when he realizes that Turnbull's talking to someone else. When Gerard looks over his shoulder, he sees another Mountie standing behind him, dressed in an identical red uniform. "Constable Urie and I were just talking about you!"

"Turnbull." A sharp voice comes from inside the Consulate. "Who is it? Is the caterer here yet?"

Turnbull practically grabs them and hauls them both inside. "It's Constable Urie and Constable Urie, sir," he says, turning and presenting them to an attractive woman, who is also vaguely familiar, and dressed, like them, in red serge, with short hair and sharp eyes. "Constable Urie, Constable Urie, this is Inspector Thatcher."

"Turnbull, I've been planning this dinner for three weeks, and you're telling me, at the eleventh hour, that we have two Constable Urie's and no caterer?"

"Ah, well," Turnbull begins, and Gerard can tell that Inspector Thatcher is very familiar with Turnbull when she doesn't hesitate to cut him off.

"Who are you?"

"Constable Urie."

"Then who are you?" she says, turning to face Gerard.

"I'm..." Gerard pauses. After coming this far, he needs to be at the Consulate if he's ever going to track down Mikey. He'd thought he'd just be able to ask whoever was in charge to let him stay, but one look at Inspector Thatcher, and it's pretty obvious he's not going to be able to play on her sympathy. "I'm a good cook, sir," he finishes.

"Good enough for me. Turnbull, take care of Constable Urie." She turns her sharp eyes on Gerard. "You, follow me."

At first Gerard isn't sure his gambit has worked, and is sure that Thatcher's leading him off to the dungeons or something, until she takes a turn off the long hall into a small, but gleaming, kitchen.

"There are ten people coming for dinner, including myself," Thatcher says, rattling off instructions and sounding more like she's giving marching orders than telling him about her dinner party. Gerard takes it all in, pushing down the urgent refrain of Mikey, Mikey, Mikey that's been dominating his thoughts for the past two days, which is when he abruptly remembers how he knows Thatcher.

"Muldoon," Gerard says, startled into speaking aloud.

"Yes," Thatcher agrees, "My part in his arrest is why I'm being promoted, and transferred out of this dump. Hence, the celebratory dinner, Constable, now please pay attention."

Gerard doesn't bother correcting her, because he's remembering how she'd appeared three weeks ago, half-frozen, with Turnbull in tow, talking about some insane man from the States who was trying to sell a Russian nuclear sub in the Northwest Territories. And then the legendary Constable Fraser followed her, sledding into their encampment with a near completely frozen Chicago cop. It took Fraser, the cop, his entire detachment, and some hastily parachuted-in reinforcements to secure the sub and arrest Muldoon, it was probably the strangest case Gerard has ever worked on, so far.

If he knew that the whole thing started Chicago, he'd forgotten, but it gives Gerard all the more reason to come after Mikey. Clearly Chicago is the kind of city where anything can happen.

*

Once alone in the kitchen at the Consulate, in as familiar territory as it gets, Gerard lets out a sigh of relief, only to suck it back in again when he turns and comes face to face with his dead grandmother.

"Fuck!" Gerard says. "You know I hate it when you sneak up behind me."

"Watch your language," Elena scolds. "Good lord, what kind of Mountie are you? In my day, being a Mountie meant something. Not haring off at the drop of a hat and cursing up a storm."

Gerard lowers his voice to a whisper, "Look, you know I need to find Mikey --"

"I told you -- Michael is fine!" she says, hands on her insubstantial, jeans-clad hips.

"You're just a figment of my imagination--how can you know whether or not Mikey is okay?" Gerard protests, deciding to ignore her in favor of the checking the poorly-stocked cabinets that line one side of the kitchen.

"Maybe this is why I've been left to wander the earth," Elena muses. "One grandson doesn't know how to leave reassuring voice mails, and the other can't even recognize a ghost when she takes time out of her busy afterlife to give advice."

"Speaking of advice," Gerard says, changing the subject. He's found that Elena, though just a hallucination obviously brought on by his multitude of unresolved issues, can ramble on just as long, and just as randomly as she ever had when she was alive. Normally it's comforting in a weird way, a little like she's not really gone, and so he just lets her talk while he does something else and tries not to look crazy. But not when he's supposed to be making dinner for ten people, and can only find a jar of red peppers and a half-empty bag of rice. Actually, his grandmother would know just what to do in this sort of situation. "I have to make a dinner for ten --"

"Ten people?" She asks, instantly alert and interested, "What have we got?" She demands, and rolls up her sleeves.

*

Frank is not going to his first day of work shirtless. He figures that will only make things worse, and they're teetering on the edge of pretty bad as it is. It's too bad this isn't one of those jobs where his tattoos can count as clothing.

"Where is my blue shirt with the collar?" Frank asks.

Dewees is weighing mixing bowls in his hands like he's the scales of justice. They aren't the mixing bowls Dewees keeps in the kitchen, so they must be something he bought -- and since Dewees doesn't actually cook in the kitchen, he's probably going to re-sell them. "I don't know, where are your balls?"

"How many times do I have to tell you how insensitive it is to associate consideration of clothing with femininity?"

"I don't know, about as many times as I have to tell you that I don't give a shit?" Dewees says. "And, for the record, I was asking where your balls were not because I was making some jibe about your masculinity, fuckwad, but because I was pointing out that I am no more the keeper of them than I am your shirts."

"So you didn't borrow the blue one last week to wear to the Bakery Equipment Suppliers' International Conference?"

Dewees grumbles, which means he did.

Frank shares an apartment above a storage facility with Dewees, who owns the storage space and the five hundred bags of flour or whatever secondhand kitchen supplies and equipment he's picked up for half price. It's half like living in a regular apartment, half like living in a warehouse. Frank likes it that way.

"So what the fuck am I supposed to wear?" Frank says. He's thinking of just getting back in the shower. He's not ready for this day.

"Okay, now can I call you a girl?"

"Fuck you."

"Fuck you, what the hell kind of first day is this? I've known you for at least thirty-seven first days, and you've never once given a shit about your shirt."

"It's because I always knew what I was getting into. I don't know today. I don't know what to expect."

Dewees takes a cursory look through Frank's closet, snatches out a black T-shirt. "Wear this," Dewees says.

"I can't wear that," Frank says. "What if I need to hide all my unique identifying marks?"

"It's a T-shirt," Dewees says. "You wore a T-shirt the last job."

"I was undercover being a computer tech the last job," Frank says.

"Oh, I remember," Dewees says, as though suddenly nostalgic. "Took me a while to figure out why you had a mini-tool kit in your pocket when I borrowed your pants, thought it was your lock-pick set. Weren't you undercover as a house thief the job before that?"

"We need to talk later," Frank says, "about you wearing my clothes."

"Hey," Dewees says. "You're the one who said I could move in, help you with the rent."

"Man, please, you practically lived here anyway, and you're paying yourself rent."

"So, I heard from Jamia the other day," Dewees says in response.

"That's low, bringing her up on my first day."

"She is your first day, Frank--she's like the first day of every one of your first days, and it's not like there's any way I couldn't bring her up," Dewees says. "She's in town for a job."

"That's nice and vague. You can tell me what she's doing; I can take it."

"I don't know what she's doing -- she's practically a spook. She just says, 'In town for a job.' Asked if I wanted to meet for lunch."

"And are you? Gonna meet her for lunch?"

"Oh my god, could you be a bigger baby about it? You know what happens when I meet her for lunch? She spends the whole time asking about you and how your career's going."

"Well it's not going anywhere if I can't find a shirt."

"She and I are most definitely discussing this shirt issue."

"It's not an issue," Frank protests. "It's entirely situational."

"Okay," Dewees says. "Okay, fine, tell me what the situation is and I'll use my amazing powers of deductive reasoning to tell you what to wear so you won't look like a girl or a freak."

"The 2-7," Frank says.

"Frankie," Dewees says, drawing out his name so it's at least four syllables, "you've been at the 2-7 before. You were there for four weeks with the b-side case."

"But it's the 2-7," Frank says.

Dewees sighs.

"Here," Dewees says, pulling from the recesses of Frank's closet a button-up shirt that Frank's pretty sure doesn't belong to either of them. "Wear this."

"Okay," Frank says, because maybe only something that isn't his is the only thing that's going to work.

*

Meanwhile, somewhere up by King's Creek, in snowy Canada

Buck's looking forward to a cup of tea and taking off his boots, which got filled with snow when he had to haul up one of the young Mounties who's unfortunately bad at using a shovel. Buck isn't sure how a person gets so bad at using a shovel, unless they're from a place where there isn't snow, and if that's the case, how he got into the RCMP in the first place is a mystery, because everywhere in Canada has snow at least some time during the season. Buck suspects the boy just has coordination problems, which was how he ended up shoveling himself into a snow pile, and Buck had to get his boots all full of snow to get him out. It's days like this that he really misses Bob Fraser the most. That man knew how to use a shovel, and having him as a partner would have saved Buck from teaching all these new Mounties things they should already know, like how to shovel. Twenty clueless new recruits and one who went horizontal in a snowdrift didn't make half a Bob Fraser, even his lesser half.

Buck sets the water to boil over the fire and looks around for Gerard, who is supposed to be leading the most dependable of the second tier recruits in a hike this afternoon to work on their observation skills in old snow. Anyone can track anything in fresh snow, and of all the things that don't stay fresh around here, the snow is first on the list. Buck sees potential in Gerard to be a good partner to someone -- not Buck; he's too old to be getting a new partner, and Gerard is too young to be saddled with someone like Buck, though they'd become close on the Musical Ride. Buck worries about him, though, because he has some trouble following the rules -- and not just the rules it's okay to break, but all the rules, all of the time, even the ones that would help rather than hinder him.

The tea whistles and Buck reaches for his teapot. He fills it and carries it over to his desk and sets it down on a pile of forms, and immediately picks it up again, though the water stain has already formed in the middle of the top few forms. It's then he realizes that he recognizes the handwriting on the forms and that he's just set his teapot down on a transfer request for Constable Gerard Way.

"Goddamn that boy," Buck says once he's read the whole form. Gerard is requesting to be transferred to Chicago.

Buck immediately wishes he'd trusted Gerard more. Sure, the information had been top secret, and sent down to him by higher-ups high enough to toss him out of the RCMP if they didn't like what he did with what he told them, but the information hadn't been meant for him in the first place -- he'd just stumbled across it. The wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong delivery of cake icing, when he got the phone call from the high higher-ups and someone with a codename came to clean up the whole thing. It's how Buck learned what mischief Gerard's little brother was messing around in, and it isn't learning to be a baker's apprentice in Chicago.

If he'd just trusted Gerard, though, he'd have told him. Told him something, at least. So that he didn't go running off to Chicago when he figured out something was amiss.

Buck calls the people who took away the not-frosting and he finds out what he thinks he knows is really what he knew, and that if Gerard goes to Chicago to find Michael, he'll cause more trouble than the higher-ups want -- and if Gerard does find him, well, then a whole lot more people will be in trouble, Michael first of all.

So Buck calls Meg Thatcher, because if Gerard up and went to Chicago, but put in his transfer papers first, that means that he's going to end up at the Consulate, which means he hasn't entirely lost his Mountie senses. He's seen a lot of Meg Thatcher lately, after that business with the submarine, and he doesn't just mean Meg naked in a tub. Not that he's thinking about that. Damn Gerard. That boy is trouble -- more trouble than a naked Meg Thatcher, and that's saying something.

"Meg Thatcher," Buck says, because it's always good to make a phone call and reach the person you're trying to reach. "Do you have my Mountie?"

"Your Mountie? I thought he was my Mountie. Not that I have a particular ownership of my staff. What I mean is --" Thatcher stutters to a halt. "Is he named Brendon Urie?"

"No," Buck says, because he doesn't have time for Brendon Urie right now. "Is there singing?"

"No," Thatcher snaps, like it's the most ridiculous thing Buck could have asked. He could have specified what type of music, but he had thinks that would just piss her off.

"Well, is there cooking?"

Thatcher's pause is thoughtful, a good sign. "Quite good cooking, in fact, from the smell of it." She takes a deep breath. "Shallots, rice vinegar, ….red peppers? Roasted red peppers."

"That's my boy!" Without a doubt. No Mountie can cook quite like Gerard.

"What's he doing here?"

"From the sound of it, making a risotto. Make sure he has enough fresh parmesan." Buck is relieved, though the relief only makes room for anger. Gerard Way has a few things he's going to have to answer for. After dinner.

"Buck."

"He has some problems with... following procedure."

"So you didn't approve his transfer?"

"I just found the damn thing on my desk. There's... some issues with this kid, and his brother."

"Issues?"

"I can't discuss this over the phone; they're issues of national security."

"Which nation?"

"The only one that matters. You know, I'm quite hungry and that food sounds delicious, let me... come down and retrieve him myself."

"I'll let him know to add another for dinner tomorrow."

*

It's possible Gerard has never worked so hard in his life. He's enjoying his first free minute since he's entered the Consulate by basically collapsing onto the kitchen counter, and rubbing his sweaty forehead on a damp dishtowel. There are more dishes to clean, still, but they can wait. He's just spent the last two hours preparing risotto, then serving it to Inspector Thatcher's guests, along with cocktails, and a hastily whipped up tiramisu. He should be planning his next move, how he'll find Mikey, and get him out of whatever trouble he's clearly in, but his mind has all the consistency of an espresso-soggy lady finger.

"Oh my god," a voice says behind him, "there are leftovers! Can I?"

Gerard lifts his head, and then has to peels the dishtowel off of it. Constable Urie hasn't waited for Gerard's permission, and is digging away at the platter of risotto with a silver spoon.

"Constable Urie," Gerard greets him politely, and wonders how much he'll need to let Urie eat before he can justify recruiting him to help with the dishes.

"Oh," Urie says, putting down the spoon briefly, "you can call me Brendon, if you want; I'm not good with formality, really."

"I'm Gerard," he says.

Urie picks up his spoon and then puts it down again. "Inspector Thatcher wants me to tell you she wants to see you first thing tomorrow morning."

"What's first thing?" Gerard asks, grimacing.

"Oh-six hundred," Urie says sympathetically, and then takes another giant bite of risotto. Then he swallows it in a huge gulp, and asks, "Did you mean to impersonate me so that you could take over my position as liaison to the Chicago police?"

Despite what the RCMP handbook says, Gerard's thirty years of life experience have taught him that this is one of those cases where honesty is not the best policy. "Of course not, Constable, it was a simple misunderstanding," Gerard soothes.

But against his expectations, Urie seems to slump in disappointment, and his heretofore picture-perfect posture is completely obliterated by the unmistakable body language of despair. "I guess it was too much to hope that someone else would want to do it," Urie sighs, and takes disconsolate bite of risotto.

"You don't want to do it?" Gerard asks.

Urie looks at him oddly, and his voice gains a little spirit. "Have you read the reports? About the pirates? The performance arsonists? The horse meat?! No one in their right mind would want to do it."

"It's entirely possible I'm not in my right mind," Gerard suggests. He wants to ask about the horse meat, but whatever Mikey is involved with, it probably isn't equine food products. He's pretty sure anyway; he's looked up Mikey's bakery on Yelp and it seems to have fairly good reviews, on the whole.

"Oh, thank God!" Constable Urie breathes out. "I mean, I'd heard the stories about you -- you were practically a legend when I was doing the Musical Ride -- but I wasn't sure --"

"What sort of stories?" Gerard cuts in angrily.

"-- and then Inspector Ross was all 'I think we need to go in different directions' and by 'we' he meant 'me' and by 'direction' he meant 'south' and you know what? Fine! But I am not going to end up getting shot by my own partner, or drowned by pirates, or seduced by gamblers, or --"

"Right," Gerard breaks in when Urie pauses for breath. "Wait, this Ross guy shot you?"

"No," Brendon says slowly, blinking at Gerard like he's entirely missed the point -- which Gerard guesses he has. "He just. Whatever, I don't want to have another partner, okay? Especially one who takes cases about missing parrots."

Gerard doesn't want another partner either, because that just never, ever ends well, and he isn't exactly craving a case about parrots, either. But he's not going to be here long enough to get caught up with partners, pirates, or parrots, and Gerard knows what it looks like when the universe is giving him a break. "Understood, Constable. I'll do it."

"Merveilleux!" Urie says. "You won't regret it," he adds, though he sounds a bit doubtful.

"Don't worry about it, Constable," Gerard says. Despite Urie's dire warnings, Gerard is pretty sure he can totally liaise the hell out of whatever Chicago cop he gets stuck with, find Mikey, and be back in Canada, soothing his boss with some gorgonzola lasagna in no time.

*

The six AM wake up call is less of a punishment than it could be, considering Gerard spends the night on a cot in an office two doors down from Thatcher's own office. Benefits of working in Chicago currently include not having to commute forty-five minutes to work via dogsled.

Thatcher's face is pinched, a mark of someone who's under-caffeinated, and her voice is sharp when she asks, "You are perhaps wondering, Constable Way, about why I would let you stay based solely on your risotto, delicious though it was."

"No, sir!"

Thatcher sighs, as though Gerard had somehow simultaneously disappointed her and fulfilled all her expectations. "Well, you should," she says crisply. "You may have filled out all the appropriate transfer paperwork, but you didn't wait for it to be approved, and you certainly did not have the permission of your commanding officer."

"But --" Gerard begins, but Thatcher raises her hand imperiously, cutting him off.

"I spoke with Buck on the phone," she informs him. "However, despite these circumstances, I cannot quite bring myself to censure you."

"Sir?"

"That risotto, Constable, was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten," she muses, almost to herself, then turns her attention back to Gerard. "In two days, I am getting my own transfer -- to Toronto -- and you will no longer be my problem, so I refuse to make you into one now. Especially in light of your particular talents. And," she says, "I can't wait to see what you do with breakfast. I want eggs, Constable."

"Thank you, sir," Gerard begins, "but actually, I came to Chicago on the trail of my brother, who --"

Thatcher raises her hand again, stalling him, "Why do I feel like I've heard this one before?" she asks, and once again does the hand of shut the hell up when Gerard tries to speak. "Nevermind, I don't care about your brother, I care about breakfast. And you've got some grocery shopping to do."

"Sir-"

"Turnbull will give you some of the petty cash and direct you to the nearest grocer."

"Sir --"

"Dismissed, Constable," she orders.

Gerard thinks that will be the end of it, but getting petty cash from Turnbull takes nearly half an hour, and, honestly, after that Gerard should know better than to ask him for directions to the nearest store, because it is practically another fifteen minutes just for Turnbull to explain it. From what he can tell, the store is either just down the block, or in a parallel dimension. So by the time he finally manages to slip out of the Consulate, the last thing he wants to do was chat with his fellow new recruit, who is standing on guard duty by the front steps.

But as soon as Constable Urie catches sight of him, he relaxes right out of parade rest -- which he isn't supposed to do unless there is a dire and immediate threat to the Queen.

Not that Gerard is a stickler for rules or anything, and has maybe been known to treat guard duty as a glorified cigarette break from time to time, but really.

"Constable Way," Urie greets him. "Are you going to the station?"

"First comes eggs, or so I hear." Gerard shrugs.

"Okay," Urie says, "but you'll need to be at the 2-7 by ten to meet Ray."

Gerard salutes in acknowledgment, and heads off towards the corner store. Or another dimension.

*

Frank is sitting in the 2-7, at the desk he's been told is his -- or he's trying. He keeps almost sitting down and then deciding to approach the desk at a different angle. He's not sure how it's supposed to look. That's the thing, he has to be decisive. People have a way of approaching things that are theirs, and they don't falter. Frank has to decide how to walk up to his desk first thing in the morning, how to leave his desk at the end of the night, how to sit at his desk when he's in the middle of a case -- and he knows that if he just thinks hard enough, he'll remember where he left the piece of paper with the phone number on it that he needs to call before he goes to his car. He's also going to need to figure out how to approach his car, but he can practice that from home. He can only practice the desk approach at his real desk.

"You forget how to walk?" Frannie asks over his shoulder. Frannie's a person who knows how to approach her desk, even when she's carrying three cases worth of files, even when it's not just her desk but the new girl's, Holly, who helps Frannie out when she's got to go to the Academy or when there's just too much for one person to handle. "We've got a gym, you know, down in the basement."

"Hi, Frannie," Frank says, sitting down in his chair and standing back up again because it doesn't feel right. "Do you know when Welsh is coming in?"

"Sure, sure, it's all about Welsh. He'll tell you the same thing about the gym, you know, and about how walking is like riding a bike, you never forget. Wait, are you joining the Tour de Force? Is that your new assignment?"

"Tour de France," Frank says absently, as he tries starting his desk approach from a sitting position, because maybe doing it backwards is the way to figure it out.

"You're going to France?" Frannie says, cleaning up pieces of paper from her desk and filing them efficiently away like she was brushing crumbs off a counter. "Now that's an undercover assignment I'd like."

Welsh walks in at that moment and Frannie rounds on him. "If you're sending Frankie to France, I want go, too."

"No one's going to France," Welsh says, and then he looks over at Frank, who's trying several different ways of leaning against the back of his chair. "What's wrong with you, Iero, you hurt your back? And why are you here so goddamn early?"

"I came to practice," Frank says.

"What, annoying me and putting dreams of international travel into Francesca's head?"

"I always had dreams of international travel in my head," Frannie says dreamily. "Canada, for instance."

Welsh immediately cuts her off. "No. No, no, no, we talked about this and we're not talking about not talking about this again until I've had coffee."

"Ok!" Frannie says, and Welsh just shakes his head.

"What do you want, Iero?" Welsh asks, because Frank's abandoned his getting to know his desk dance to stand at the door of Welsh's office.

"I wanted to know some more about my assignment."

"What more is there to know?" Welsh says. "It's not a big building and it's not that different from other police stations. Interview rooms, supply closets, bad coffee, lock-up." Welsh waves his hand around, indicating where each of these things exists outside his office.

Frank nods along, because it's true, it's not that different from other police stations. It's just those aren't the things he needs to know. It doesn't matter where the things are so much as how he knows where they are. "But who am I supposed to be?"

Welsh gives him a calculating look. "Yourself," Welsh says, though he seems uncertain, and so Frank tries again.

"But who am I undercover as?"

"Undercover? You're not undercover."

"But I have to be undercover!" Frank shouts. "That's what I do! I do undercover!"

Welsh sighs, and then stands up behind his desk. "Okay," he says. "You're undercover as Frank Iero."

Frank considers this for a moment. 'I'm undercover as myself?"

"I've had my coffee, now you've had your coffee, so we can talk about my international adventure," Frannie says, appearing next to Frank.

"Yes," Welsh says.

"Yes?" Frannie says.

"Not you, Francesca; I'm talking to Detective Iero here. You're undercover as yourself."

"Are you going to France?" Frannie asks. "I didn't know you were actually a Frenchman. No wonder you're a natural biker."

"Francesca," Welsh says warningly.

"But how am I gonna pull that off?" Frank exclaims. "No one's gonna believe that."

"No one's going to believe you're yourself?" Welsh asks. Frank nods emphatically. "Get out of my office, Iero," Welsh says, and Frank obeys. He wishes he'd come in even earlier. He's going to need a lot more practice if he's going to be himself.

*

Once Gerard is done making eggs Benedict and applewood-smoked bacon, he gets the address from Constable Turnbull, and looks up the directions online, congratulating himself on a lesson well learned. Until he realizes he's ended up at the wrong precinct. Gerard only discovers he's got the wrong place after speaking with the wrong receptionist (who seemed a little overly happy to see him), stumbling onto the wrong bullpen, and meeting the wrong Ray.

"Oh no," Ray Toro says, shaking his head sadly, "You're thinking of Ray Vecchio," he adds. "Less hair."

Gerard thinks he would have to have less hair, if it was being compared against Toro's aggressive curls. "Ah, I see, can you direct me to the correct precinct then?"

Toro frowns thoughtfully. "I think he's retiring and moving to Florida? And, like, bowling or something. But probably you'll want the 2-7. It's not far; I can print you out a map. Or do you just want the coordinates?" he asks, apparently seriously.

Gerard stares at him a little. Toro just tilts his head questioningly, sending one curl sliding across his forehead.

"A map would be fine," Gerard says finally.

"Are you sure?" Toro asks solicitously, as he sits down at his computer and begins typing. "I don't want to impose my urban preconceptions on you; I know the RCMP has its own methods."

"Maps are pretty universal, I think," Gerard offers.

"Man," Toro says, looking up him a little wistfully, "I always wanted a Mountie, you know? I've heard the stories --"

Gerard is beginning to think his predecessor must have some sort of reality TV show, with the way people know about him.

"-- and Fraser just always had the most interesting cases, you know? Me, I'm in vice, so it's all drugs or pimps, or sometimes drugs and pimps -- oh, here's your map." Toro hands him a perfectly ordinary printout of a Google map, and Gerard breathes a small sigh of relief. He's been half worried Toro would give him the topographical view or something. Only when Gerard reaches out to take it, Toro doesn't let go; instead, he leans across the desk and uses his height and his grip on the map to loom suddenly into Gerard's personal space. In a voice most people would reserve for sexual assignations, he breathes an offer into Gerard's ear. "I can help you, you know, if you're working on something."

"Oh," Gerard says, "probably you wouldn't be interested." He smiles the most innocent-looking smile in his arsenal -- well, Buck says it makes him look like a sharp-toothed imp, but Buck is crazy.

Ray leans, if possible, closer. "I would be fascinated."

"I'm investigating a bakery --" Gerard begins.

"A bakery?" Toro asks, slumping a little in disappointment.

"Called Angels & Cakes," Gerard confesses, with unintended honesty, giving Toro the name of Mikey's bakery. He's not sure why he's telling Toro about it. It could be because he's the first sympathetic ear Gerard's had since arriving in Chicago, but it might also be because his head is spinning a little from the abundant scent of Toro's shampoo.

Toro suddenly straightens again, his eyes widening in surprise. "Angels & Cakes? No kidding. I've wanted to go after them for months, but I can't get anything to stick. Can't get a damn warrant, either."

Clearly Wentz is a bit cannier than Gerard has given him credit for, if he's managed to con his little brother into his mess, and evade the local police. "What do you think they're into?" he asks, lowering his voice. "Human trafficking?"

"No," Toro says, looking at him a little oddly. "Just drugs so far. You know, I figure they're sneaking them out as cake ingredients, and selling them. But you think they're into human trafficking, too?"

He doesn't, he's just fishing for information, but he's the one who brought it up and backing away from these things can be tricky. "Well, they could have escalated," Gerard lies. "There've been one or two signs, you know."

"Hey, listen," Toro says, "this case is pretty much dead as far as I can tell -- why don't I give you a copy of my files? See what you can do."

Gerard looks on, amazed, as Toro begins rooting around in his file drawer. This is not the kind of luck that Gerard has, usually. He isn't the sort of person who goes down the wrong street, into the wrong building, the wrong room, up to the wrong guy, and strikes gold. What usually happens is that he does everything right and then gets kicked in the face by life. And yet here he is, getting exactly what he needs to start looking for Mikey from someone he met by accident five minutes ago. He takes it as a sign that his mission has received a stamp of approval from the universal powers that be, and decides not to question it. Or Ray Toro, who is now handing him his first lead in the form of a manila file folder.

"You are my favorite Ray," he tells Toro ardently, as he follows him over to the copier.

*

"So you're the new guy from Canada. Brandon," Frank says. He's trying not to stare, because the guy's really red, and there's something soft and open in his expression that Frank thinks he'd understand better if the guy wasn't in uniform.

"Brendon," the guy corrects, and shit, Frank can never get these things right.

"Nice to meet you, Brendon," Frank says, carefully pronouncing the name, and holding out his hand.

"It's Gerard, actually," the guy corrects, with this little sideways glance, like he's embarrassed that he's forgotten his own name, which, Frank thinks, he ought to be, no matter how long the trip was from Canada.

"Oooh-kay, Gerard, then -- you just tell me whatever you want to be called and I'll call you that, all right?"

"So, about Brendon."

"You want me to call you Brendon? Really, it's okay, just tell me which -- or I can alternate and, like, every other time call you one or the other. I might mess it up, though, call you something twice in a row," Frank says, trying to be as accommodating as possible even though this guy seems weirder by the minute.

The guy makes that little frown again. "Brendon's the other new guy. Constable Brendon Urie, from Manitoba. I'm Constable Gerard Way. I first came to Chicago..." he stops, as though he's forgotten again. "On a plane. Yesterday.

"Right," Frank says. "So why are you here and not this Brandon?"

"Brendon."

"Right," Frank says.

"We traded."

"You --" They stare at each other for a moment. Frank thinks he was wrong about the softness in the guy's expression. It's intriguing, the way his eyes are bright, the way his mouth keeps quirking, the way he won't stand still -- but there's nothing soft about it.

"Traded," Gerard says. "Constable Urie has a fear of guns."

"Ah," Frank says, pretending to understand, but he really doesn't and so he can't help asking, "what?"

"Well, you see, when Constable Urie was just a toddler, he encountered a series of remote controlled rifles which were set up as a training exercise for --"

"They let you become a Mountie if you're afraid of guns?" Frank interrupts, because this guy can't possibly be telling him the truth.

"I'm afraid it's Brendon's well-kept secret."

"Apparently not," Frank says. "You just told me."

"Well, I must... trust you," Gerard says, like he's pulling that out of thin air, too.

"Good," Frank says, though he doesn't sound sure about it. "Because you're my new partner."

Gerard's face lights up in a smile. Frank finds he's mirroring it, though he's not sure what he's actually smiling about.

"Are you afraid of any weaponry I should know about?" Frank asks, because he's stuck on this Mountie who's afraid of guns, which has to be some kind of joke.

"Knives," Gerard says plainly, and Frank stops in his tracks. He wasn't really expecting an answer other than, 'No, I like all weapons.'

"You're afraid of knives?" Frank asks, just for clarification.

"Well, of course, not cooking knives, unless they're being used as projectiles..."

Frank decides to change the subject. "What've you got there, our next assignment?"

Gerard looks briefly confused, and Frank thinks maybe he ought to ask the guy if he needs a coffee or something, because he seems to have trouble staying focused.

"Yes!" Gerard says, though despite his enthusiasm he still seems a little uncertain, and hesitates when Frank holds out his hand for the file.

"Angels & Cakes, ooh, they have good frosting, wow," Frank says, and he skims quickly over the file. "Wait, their kitchen manager was mugged? Honestly, who mugs a guy from a pastry shop, seriously? Looks like the case is a little old," Frank says, though it's to be expected when there is a gap in detectives and Mounties alike. "Are you ready? Let's go interview this guy, see if he remembers any details about his mugging."

"Are we walking?" Gerard says, and Frank stares at him again.

"Yeah, we're walking. To the car," Frank says.

"Ooh, you have a car?" Gerard asks, and Frank really needs to read more about Canada, because he thought everyone had cars there. He's thinking he'll suggest to Welsh the next time he sees him that Mounties should have some sort of training program to acclimate them.

Frank does have a car, but it is underused and under-loved. That's what happens when you're undercover -- you used other people's cars. Not that there is anything wrong with Frank's car in theory, and he doesn't mind keeping it in the garage, because, you know, a 1979 Pontiac Trans Am needs to be treated with care. And he takes it to the best mechanic and everything, but sometimes it just doesn't want to turn on. It's like a quirk, except it's the kind of quirk that makes other people say means his car doesn't work.

"Oh, your car!" Gerard says in a way that makes Frank think he's saying, "Oh, your car's on fire." But when he rushes out the door toward the Mountie to see what tragedy is besetting his car, he sees only that Gerard is peering into the windows, the red serge of his uniform reflecting in the shiny black of the car. Frank unlocks the door and Gerard gets in and says, "It's like a red velvet cupcake."

No one has ever says anything like that to him before. Frank thinks maybe it's because he's having so much trouble figuring out who he is -- Frank Iero, the not undercover detective, with this Mountie who can't tell if his name is Brendon or Gerard or how people get around in cars. But whatever it is, Frank isn't sure he's gonna be able to handle it. Frank might be able to have a Mountie, but that's gonna be another kind of identity crisis, because Ray Vecchio and Ray Kowalski had a Mountie, and Frank Iero is no Ray. But, whoever he's supposed to be, Frank can't be the kind of guy who has a car that looks like a cupcake.

"Now I want a cupcake," Frank says.

"Good thing we're going to a bakery," Gerard says. Frank looks at him just a little too long, as though he'd see what it was the uniform kept hiding, before he started the car, which must have been on good behavior for a guest because it started without so much as a sputter.

*

Gerard almost doesn't want to get out of the car when they pull up a block from Angels & Cakes, despite his desire to get more info on Mikey. Because, for one thing, he isn't in a hurry to meet the guy who's been despoiling his little brother for the past year, and for another, it is a seriously awesome car, and he's almost afraid it will disappear if he gets out, like a pumpkin carriage instead of a cupcake car. Frank, though, seems ambivalent about the car, which Gerard totally doesn't get -- he's going to have to work on convincing him of how cool it is, if they're going to spending a lot of time driving around in it. Which, actually, he doesn't know if they will. It's not like Frank has actually consented to coming along with Gerard on this case. Well, technically, he has, but --

Then Frank is turning off the car, not waiting for Gerard as he gets out and says, "Do you think they have chocolate cupcakes? I'm kind of in the mood for chocolate," and Gerard hurries to unbuckle his seat belt and follow him out onto the sidewalk.

The interior of the shop is lined with mirrors, and it's either a testament to someone's really dedicated narcissism, or the designer felt the need to make an already generous space -- for a bakery in downtown Chicago -- appear even larger. For a second it makes Gerard dizzy, and he can't quite get his bearings, seeing two of everything -- two guys at the counter, at least twenty small tables where people can sit and eat off of doll-sized china plates, and so much cake that Gerard thinks he might get diabetes just from looking at it all.

Then he manages to separate out the reflections from reality, and moves towards the counter, Frank one half-step behind him.

"I need to speak to Pete Wentz," he tells the guy at the counter, and he can almost feel the weight of Frank's stare on his back. Then Frank comes up beside him, and whispers, "The file says we're looking for some guy named Stump." He clearly doesn't want to correct Gerard in front of the guy, which Gerard can appreciate.

"Or Patrick Stump," he adds, a little reluctantly. From what he understands, Patrick knows most of Pete's business anyway, so he might theoretically be helpful. But he probably won't know if Pete has Mikey tied up in his basement.

"Um, I'm Patrick, actually," the man says. "What's this about?"

His eyes widen when Frank pulls out his badge and shows it to him.

"It's about the mugging you reported," Frank explains. "I know it was a while ago, but we've been short-staffed -- "

"Oh, that's okay," Patrick says. "I guess it wasn't a priority, right? He didn't take much, either, just my cell phone." He glances away for a second, breaking his eye contact with Frank. Frank frowns and looks down at the file, and Gerard realizes, suddenly, that he is going to end up seriously investigating Patrick's phone-mugging.

"Your wallet?" Frank asks.

"No!" Patrick exclaims. "Just my phone! It was really weird. I mean, it wasn't even an expensive phone, just a hand-me-down from my brother, from when he switched to a BlackBerry."

This is where, Gerard knows from experience, most of his law enforcement colleagues would get annoyed, and start making snide comments about wasting their time, but Frank looks intrigued.

"It says here that you were on the phone at the time of the mugging?"

"Yeah, with Pete, actually. After the guy took my phone, Pete called it in. That's why you wanted to speak to him, right?"

"Exactly!" Gerard says, trying to look knowledgeable... and like he's studied the file enough to know that.

"I'll get him," Patrick says, and then turns away to open a mirrored door, calling back something about cops, and Gerard winces, thinking he's giving Pete the perfect opportunity to do a bunk -- but then someone comes flying out the door.

And he has a knife.

*

It's an uneventful interview before the knife shows up, though Gerard seems bizarrely fascinated by the bakery and has been insisting on inspecting every inch of it like he's considering a career change. Frank's just waiting for Patrick to call for another potential witness, and then he sees the swinging door to the kitchen of Angels & Cakes fling open in a way that makes Frank alert, ready for danger. Patrick seems startled, too, like the door doesn't usually get pushed so forcefully open -- and Gerard, too. And then Frank sees it before it happens, the flour-dappled guy who's running through the door has a glint of silver in his hand, and all Frank can think is "fear of knives" and he's running to get between the pastry chef and Gerard. He manages it, just as Patrick's shouting at the guy running asking him what's going on, just as the homicidal pastry chef raises his arm and sends the knife flying, and he feels it like a punch in his shoulder, slicing through the material of his shirt, and it jams into his muscle when he falls.

He sees the blur of Gerard's boots running past him, taking down the pastry chef and tying him up with... is that the twine they use to tie up the cake boxes? Frank's ability to process thoughts is being hampered by the pain in his shoulder, which is washing up over him in waves now that the few blissful, pain-free moments of shock have passed. Patrick's rushing toward Frank, already calling for an ambulance.

Gerard, having secured the pastry chef, rushes over to Frank, checking the place where the knife is still buried in his shoulder, looking at Frank's eyes. "Did you just -- did you just take a knife for me?"

"Yeah, looks like," Frank says. "It's a small one, so... no big deal."

"A small --" Gerard says and stops. "Why did you do that?"

"You said you were afraid of knives," Frank grits out. Gerard sighs, mumbles something, and settles his hands on Frank's shoulders, looking at the wound.

Ray Toro shows up a suspiciously short time after they make the 911 call, fast enough that he almost beats the ambulance to the bakery.

"What are you doing here?" Frank demands as they're wheeling him out of the bakery on a gurney. Frank hates gurneys, the rickety way they shudder and creak, the way he feels every bump in the sidewalk through the stab wound in his shoulder. Every single time he's been in an ambulance, he's wished he was more injured, or more unconscious, so he didn't have to think about how weird it felt, claustrophobic and out of his control. "Are you on bakery patrol now?" Frank asks.

"I gave Gerard some info on the case."

"You gave --" Frank says, and then turns to Gerard. "And you didn't think to tell me that got this info from him?"

"I... didn't think it mattered?" Gerard says, though in that innocent way that might make Frank actually believe him if he doesn't already suspect, from their albeit brief partnership, that Gerard's tone is never innocent.

"There's always more than meets the eye when it comes to info from Toro," Frank says, and he and Toro glare at each other.

Then the paramedics are hoisting Frank into the ambulance. Their backup arrives at the same time, and takes the Patrick look-alike guy to the station.

"Man, this is why I wanted a Mountie," Toro tells Frank. "Less than a day on an old case and he gets a fresh lead."

"I'm the one who got stabbed -- can't it be my lead?"

"Sure, Iero," Toro says indulgently. "So can I borrow Gerard while you're out of commission?"

"You sure you want me to stay?" Gerard asks.

"You watch Toro, and make sure he remembers it's our lead," Frank says. "Ask him about the time he blew my cover!" Frank says. Frank flips Toro off before they close the ambulance doors.

There's something off about Gerard having already talked to Toro. As far as Frank's concerned, Toro hasn't been reassigned to the 2-7, so either Gerard went to another station, or he already knows Toro, and neither of those things fit in with what Frank was told to be expecting from a Mountie liaison. As much as Welsh had told him anything useful about what to expect. The thing is, Gerard seems to have an agenda that is less about liaising and more like answering a question that has been dogging him. Frank wants to know not only the answer, but what that question is in the first place.

"I need to lie down," Frank says to the paramedic.

"You feeling dizzy?" the paramedic asks, dropping the gurney so Frank's horizontal.

"No, I just need to think," Frank says, and he studies the shiny chrome of the ambulance roof.

*

"Poor guy," Ray says, shaking his head, coming over to stand by Gerard.

"Should I --" Gerard says, as Frank's ambulance pulls away. "Should I have gone with him?" He's still kind of stunned that Frank took a knife for him. He's seen acts of heroism between partners before – heard of them, at any rate – but he's never experienced it before.

"Nah," Toro says. "Frankie's pretty familiar with the hospital."

Toro sounds fairly blasé about the whole thing, which is either a testament to being a cop in this city, or tells Gerard a lot about Frank. Gerard watches the ambulance pull away with a wave of guilt, and worry, and has to shove it down, hard, to keep himself from running after it. For an emergency vehicle, Gerard thinks, it could be moving faster.

"So, let's go talk to the witnesses. A new lead in ninety minutes." Toro says the last bit to no one in particular.

"Our lead," Gerard says, though he's not thinking about Toro. Of course, what he should be thinking about is Mikey, and he takes a second and a deep breath to settle himself before he heads back into Angels & Cakes.

The witnesses are basically just an extremely shaken Patrick, and a squirrelly patron who'd been munching through a plate of danishes. He unsurprisingly denies having seen anything, and scurries off, leaving Ray and Gerard with Patrick. The other chef who'd been on shift had left before they'd thought to check on him, but Patrick vouches for him. Apparently he's new, Patrick's twin brother Donnie, hired only a week back.

Patrick is urgent in his defense of his absent twin, and the head chef who'd thrown the knife. He keeps repeating things along the lines of, "Donnie's a little troubled, and he has the self esteem to match, I'm sure he's just too shy to talk to you," and "I swear Alex doesn't throw knives, usually."

Gerard doesn't buy it, especially regarding the brother -- partly because Patrick can't hide his guilty expression very well, and partly because, well, he'd do the same for Mikey. And innocent guys don't run from crime scenes. He and Toro keep prodding Patrick, hoping to get an idea of Donnie's whereabouts from him, but they haven't gotten anything by the time Toro's partner, Mick Steele, returns from having taken Alex to the station to be processed.

"Sorry I'm late," Steele drawls, and he's eyeing Gerard with an assessing look that tells Gerard that no one's above suspicion with this guy. "What'd I miss?"

Toro looks at him with fond exasperation, and fills him in. "We're trying to nail down some details about a possible witness."

"What about this guy?" Steele asks, gesturing at Patrick, who flinches.

"I've got his statement." Toro shrugs. "Unless you can think of anything else?" he prompts Patrick.

Patrick shakes his head violently.

"So where's this other witness?"

"There was another chef in the kitchen, a guy named Donnie," Gerard explains, and Steele's narrowed eyes are back on him again, and Gerard can't tell if the fierceness of the expression is meant for him or the errant witness. Guy probably isn't happy about Toro handing off the case to him, after all.

But all he says is, "If he was in the kitchen, did he see anything?"

"He ran," Gerard points out.

"But probably not, no," Toro admits.

"May as well not bother with him then," Steele says, the tone final, another avenue shutting right down.

To top it all, Pete, it turns out, has not been in the bakery at all, and took the morning off, only leaving Patrick with a recently discovered – and too brief -- voicemail for explanation. Gerard spares a moment to sympathize with Patrick. You never can tell what's going on from a voicemail.

"Does he do that often?" Gerard asks Patrick, not really bothering to hide his annoyance. Toro and Steele have already abandoned him in favor of a low-voiced argument in the corner, so Gerard's taking the opportunity to get any information that might lead him to Mikey.

But Patrick just smiles in apology and Gerard gets the impression that it probably isn't the first time Patrick has ended up apologizing for Pete. "Well, off and on. Usually it means that he's about to come up with a really good recipe. Like, last time he started disappearing, we added spiced pear éclairs and pomegranate tarts to the menu."

Gerard makes a mental note to try to get those recipes out of Pete, along with his brother's whereabouts, and tells Patrick he'll be coming back tomorrow to see Pete.

"Don't let him leave!" he warns, trying to be stern, but Patrick just hands him a tiny parcel tied with a silvery bow for Frank.

*

Frank's half-wearing the hospital gown, and alternately fidgeting with the bandages and the IV. He knows its impossible for his stitches to itch yet -- he's still so numb in the area he can't feel his shoulder -- but it feels like his stitches are itchy, and the needle is itchy in his arm, and he's thinking about calling a nurse to see if maybe there was itching powder on the knife, or he has a previously unknown powdered sugar allergy, when a Mountie appears in the door. He thinks they've given him a lot more pain medication than they says, because the Mountie's taller than Gerard, and has white hair.

"Constable Way?" he says.

"No, Iero," Frank says.

"You're a constable?" the Mountie says. "Why aren't you in uniform?"

"I got stabbed," Frank says, because that seems the best response, considering.

"You're not a Mountie," the Mountie says, coming closer.

"If you say so," Frank says a little blearily.

"He's Detective Iero," Gerard says at the door.

"Constable! I heard you were stabbed."

"No, it was Frank here."

"Frank stabbed you?" the guy says and then turns to Frank. "Looks like we might need to work on your aim, son."

"Frank stepped in front of a knife that was being thrown at me," Gerard says, finally clearing things up. "Buck Frobisher, this is Detective Frank Iero."

"Pleasure to meet you, son. Talk to me later if you're still thinking of joining the RCMP. We'll have to talk about citizenship first, though."

Frank uses the hospital phone to call Dewees for a ride home as soon as Gerard steps out of the room to confer with the Frobisher guy.

"Seriously, you're at the hospital already?" Dewees says. "You've been on this assignment for half a day. Also, can you walk? I've only got the delivery van."

"I need you to drive my car."

"Fuck you, you know she doesn't like me."

"I've had too many painkillers and I'm not leaving her at the hospital. Also, Gerard is never allowed to drive her again."

"You let the Mountie drive her?"

Frank's quiet on the line.

"Fine, I'll come in; you make sure you get your release papers."

"Release papers are for when you're jail, asshole," Frank says.

"Same difference," Dewees says and hangs up.

*

"Who was that guy?" Frank asks, nodding in the direction of the other Mountie disappearing down the hall. "Your CO?"

Gerard sits gently on the edge of the bed and regards Frank curiously. "My what?"

It's a testament to how much pain medication Frank is actually on that he can't remember what CO stands for. "Your boss," he finally says.

Gerard seems to consider the question too long, and Frank almost thinks Gerard doesn't know what the word "boss" means either. Maybe Mounties don't have bosses. Finally, Gerard says, "Well, technically, not at the moment."

It sounds pretty vague to Frank, but he's willing to let it go for now, especially if the answer is no. Because if it had been yes, he wasn't sure if he should be offended that Gerard's boss thought Frank had tried to stab him, or alarmed that Gerard's boss was trying to recruit him. If he wasn't Gerard's boss, technically or at the moment, Frank didn't need to give it any more thought.

"So what's going on with this Pete character?" Frank says, and Gerard gives him a complicated series of looks, from skeptical to friendly to depressed.

"Pete wasn't there," Gerard says morosely.

"Probably the guy with the knife spooked him."

"He wasn't the one who got stabbed!" Gerard says in a sudden outburst. They stare at each other again.

"So what did you and Toro find?" Frank asks, because he's not sure why they're staring, so he's not sure when it should get awkward.

"We didn't get a lot out of Patrick about him, other than that he's your typical temperamental artiste, who has a way with fruit fillings." Gerard stops and Frank realizes it's because when he thought he was looking at Gerard, he was actually looking at the back of his eyelids. "You rest for a while, Frankie," Gerard says. "I'm going to go talk to Sergeant Frobisher, but I won't be gone long, okay?"

He realizes that Gerard's just called him Frankie, but before he can process the fact that he's using his nickname and Frank kind of likes it, he's asleep.

*

Dewees is casing the joint, except it's a hospital room, so there's not really any way for him to be subtle about it. Frank's grateful there isn't anything to steal, except that it's Dewees and he could change his mind and join the hospital equipment repo business instead of kitchen surplus anytime. If he can carry it or if he can fit it in the van, Dewees would try to sell it. Frank's glad at least that nothing in the room could fit in the Trans Am.

"What the hell happened?" Dewees asks, looking at the bulge under Frank's shirt that's his bandages, the clear bag of his bloody shirt (he should just throw it out, but he liked this one), and the sheaf of papers Frank has with instructions for caring for stitches and long-term effects of knife wounds, like this is his first trip to the hospital.

"Got stabbed," Frank says.

"And that's exactly the answer I was looking for," Dewees says. "The brief, uninformative one. 'Got stabbed.' How 'bout I drive your baby straight to Al's Salvage Yard?"

"You wouldn't dare," Frank says.

"I would. It's a bitch having you as a friend. I have to make a real effort to care."

Frank sighs. "We were interviewing a suspect. Someone came out of the kitchen with a knife."

"Ooh, what kind of knife?" Dewees asks.

"See, that's why you're a sucky friend."

"It's professional curiosity."

"Gerard says it was a pastry knife."

Dewees makes a pained face. "White handle or brown? How long of a blade?"

"I don't know, man," Frank says.

"Oh, you're cranky. Okay, fine, let's get you home, I'll tuck you into bed, and then in the morning you can dictate the case report to me. Gimme your keys."

Gerard walks in at that moment and Dewees looks at him for a moment, hollers, and then tries to duck under bed.

"Uh," Gerard says. "Am I interrupting?"

"This is my buddy Dewees," Frank says. "He's afraid of uniforms."

"I'm not a cop," Gerard assures him.

"No, like, literally uniforms," Frank says. "Sashes, brass buttons... it's a long story."

"I can imagine," Gerard says. "I can take it off." Gerard actually reaches for the top of the buttons.

"No, no," Frank says. "No nakedness. He'll be fine, just give him a minute. Fucking stand up, man," Frank says to Dewees.

"It he still wearing it?" Dewees says from under the bed.

"Yeah, he's still wearing it, asshole, just stand up and keep your eyes closed."

Dewees does, but he bumps the table and then the heart monitor on his way up.

"Pleased to meet you," Dewees says, eyes closed, extending his hand in the completely wrong direction. Gerard approaches him and tries to grab for his hand, but Dewees swings in the other direction. "Hello?"

"Here," Gerard says, and reaches into one of the cabinets, pulling a hospital gown out and sliding his arms in, putting it on over his uniform. "I am now officially breaking dress code," Gerard says.

Dewees opens one eye experimentally. Gerard looks ridiculous, like an escaped mental patient, but Dewees seems to find the breach in uniform acceptable. "Hi, I'm James."

"Pleasure to meet you; I'm Gerard Way."

"You're Frank's Mountie? What kind of a pastry knife was he stabbed with?"

"Platinum, three-inch blade, fine tip. Are you a cook?"

"No, just an equipment professional," Dewees says.

"Interesting!" Gerard says. "We should talk about --"

Frank jangles his keys. "You want me to drive you home?" Gerard says, all his attention suddenly on Frank.

"No," Frank says, too quickly, and Gerard looks at him, wide-eyed and innocent.

"I need to borrow Frank's car anyway," Dewees says, getting Frank off the hook. Frank fucking owes him and he knows Dewees is going to collect.

"I'm sorry my uniform scared you," Gerard says earnestly.

"We all have our crosses to bear," Dewees says. "Come on, Frank. Need me to get the wheelchair?"

"Fuck you," Frank says, but stumbles on his feet. Both Dewees and Gerard lunge for him, but he catches himself. "I'm good, I'm good." Both men look at him dubiously.

"I'll go get your wheels," Dewees says and heads off down the hall.

"So, Dewees," Gerard says.

"Sorry about the uniform thing, really," Frank says. "It's totally genuine."

"No, I could see that," Gerard says. "A uniform can be a powerful symbol." He seems to swallow back something else and says, completely polite, "Is he your boyfriend?"

Frank chokes on a laugh and ends up coughing. He watches as Gerard's eyes go wide and Frank tries to shake his head, but he's still coughing.

"I didn't mean," Gerard says. "I mean that I'm totally supportive of your identity and I want to be sensitive to you lifestyle choices or however you'd best like to --"

"Dewees," Frank says, his voice still a little choked with smaller coughs. "Dewees is not a lifestyle choice."

"Oh," Gerard says, looking concerned and confused.

"I live in the apartment above his warehouse," Frank says. "He wears my clothes more often than his own. I guess that makes us roommates?"

"Sure," Gerard says.

"You have roommates up in Canada right?" Frank's only asking because Gerard still looks a little like he doesn't understand.

"Of course," Gerard says. "Constable Urie was just telling me today he was looking for one."

"Tell him to get someone who wears a different size shirt," Frank says. Gerard nods dutifully. Hey, it's good advice.

Frank assures Gerard he'll come by the Consulate the next day, once the pain meds are out of his system and he can drive. Frank wants to talk about the case, but Gerard insists it can wait until tomorrow, and promises Frank he'll go over it if Frank promises to rest.

"What's up with you and the Mountie?" Dewees says the moment they're in the car. Dewees backs up and the car makes subtle protesting noises.

"Don't ride the clutch," Frank says.

"I'll fucking ride you," Dewees says. "It's only a ten-minute drive, I'm sure she can take it."

"I don't like you talking about my car like she's a sexual object."

"Jesus," Dewees says. "You want me to pull over right here so you can do her slow to apologize? She's a car. And I'm just trying to get her and your sorry ass home. As I recall, I was not the one who got stabbed."

"I wouldn't have gotten stabbed if it hadn't been for Gerard and his fear of knives."

"That's what I'm saying," Dewees says. "Wait, he has a fear of knives?"

"Not really," Frank says.

"Shit, man, you really are drugged. But this is what I mean. The Mountie seems to know you. Like, you," Dewees says, gesturing up and down like he was talking about Frank's aura.

Frank has to admit Dewees is kind of right. Except for not understanding why Frank didn't want him to drive the Trans Am, Gerard had a weirdly accurate read on Frank after less than a day working together. That had never happened, not with anyone Frank has worked with. It's not like he's a big mystery or anything… it's just -- that was what made Frank good at being undercover. He was hard to get a handle on, and he used it to his advantage. He felt out of his depth with Gerard, like Gerard existed on some other plane where he could see further than Frank, see more than what people usually saw.

"What are you even undercover as?" Dewees asks, screeching to a stop after deciding at the last minute not to run the yellow light.

"Don't do that," Frank says. "That's not good for her brakes."

"Seriously, man, do I need to put you into relationship counseling? Half the time she won't even fucking start -- don't think I've forgotten all the times you've called me at the ass crack of dawn to give you a ride somewhere -- and now you're protecting her virtue like she's some sort of motherfucking princess."

Dewees is right about that, too. Frank hasn't felt so protective over his car for ages. He thinks, in the back of his mind, about Gerard saying it was like riding in a cupcake.

"I'm undercover as myself," Frank says.

"That's deep, man," Dewees says, and squeals the tires as he takes off when the light turns.

*

When Gerard gets back to the Consulate, the phone at the front desk is ringing like crazy, and no one's around to answer it. It's after hours, so Urie isn't still on guard duty, but he can't have gone home since he's staying at the Consulate for the time being, just like Gerard. Buck, of course, had insisted on staying in a hotel for the night, saying something about Thatcher's siren song that Gerard has chosen to mostly ignore. And it's not so late that he doesn't expect to see Thatcher or Turnbull still. Turnbull especially doesn't strike him as the type of guy to head home as soon as he's off the clock. But wherever they might be, it's clearly not within earshot of the phone, which is still ringing.

Gerard gets to it on the fifth ring, "Ambassade du Canada, Canadian Consulate, how may I help you?"

"I need to speak with Constable Urie." The voice on the other end of the phone is abrupt, almost to the point of rudeness, and after the day Gerard has had, it sets him immediately on edge.

"May I ask who is calling?" Gerard asks, hoping his good manners will rub off on the other guy.

"This is Inspector Ross, put Urie on," Ross demands, and Gerard is not impressed. Isn't this the guy who shot at Urie, and then threatened him with pirates before sending him off to Chicago? Gerard has had a pretty crappy history with his own partners, but until today, he has managed to avoid getting any of them injured, or sent out of the country, and he's not really in the mood to play nice with someone who has.

"Constable Urie has been unavoidably detained by pirates," Gerard says into the phone, "Please leave a message at the click," and then hangs up the phone.

There's a pause, and then the phone begins ringing again almost immediately, and it's probably his imagination, but even the tone of the rings sound annoyed.

He grins and picks up his shopping bags -- he'd stopped on the way back from the hospital to get what he needed for polenta. He's just setting off down the hall toward the kitchen when Brendon rockets around the corner and crashes into him at full speed, and Gerard just barely manages to keep them both upright by bracing himself against the wall. The framed picture of Queen Elizabeth wobbles, but holds.

"Sorry," Brendon pants. "Did you hear the phone?"

The phone has stopped ringing, so Gerard just says, "I'm sure whoever it was will leave a message if it's important," and hands Brendon a shopping bag. "Here, you can help me grate the cheddar."

"Ooh, cheese," Brendon says, and follows Gerard obediently to the kitchen.

*

Buck's trip to Chicago takes less time than all of the previous trips to Chicago combined, though Buck figures that's because it's faster to travel by airplane than train, dogsled, and skiff. But it feels almost as much as a trek to make it from his hotel to the Consulate during the morning rush hour. Chicago is as noisy, crowded, and impolite as ever, and the skyline is so packed with buildings Buck's not sure how everyone in the city doesn't die of vertigo. He already misses the white expanse of snow, and he thinks about Benton and that Kowalski fellow, momentarily amused that he's in their city and they are in his vast empty wilderness.
When he knocks, Constable Brendon Urie opens the door. "Good morning and welcome to Canada. Bonjour et bienvenu au Canada."

"You're not from Quebec, Urie," Buck says, and then he hesitates a moment, because maybe he missed something in the last three years. "Are you?"

"No, sir, but in my new position here at the Consulate, I feel it is my duty to properly represent Canada, and since we are a bilingual nation..." Brendon pauses, and Buck thinks he's going to finish his sentence, but he starts up in French. "Non, monsieur, mais dans ma nouvelle position ici au consulat, je n'estime que c'est mon devoir de correctement représenter Canada et puisque nous sommes une nation bilingue..."

"Get out of the way, Constable," Meg Thatcher, bless her, says as she pushes Brendon, still speaking French, out of the door. "Hello Buck," she says. "My consulate's a mess. Come in."

Buck wanders into the kitchen after Thatcher has caught him up on the comings and goings of the Consulate and then excused herself to make an urgent phone call from a Toronto realtor. There's a Mountie checking ingredients against a recipe index like it's inventory time. Buck thinks the Consulate's going to burst at the seams if it gets another official or unofficial reassigned Mountie, even one to help out in the kitchen -- then he realizes who it is who's shaking a jar of cinnamon sticks close to her ear like its a delicate instrument with the softest sound.

Buck clears his throat.

"You need some ginger tea," she says, without turning around, "for whatever's caught in your throat." She turns around and points a finger at him. "And I swear to god, Buck Frobisher, if you tell me it's your heart, I'll come over there and punch you in the nose."

"Elena," he says. "Nice of you to visit."

"Oh, you knew I'd be here, don't even try to fool me," she says, putting the cinnamon sticks back in the tray and making a note on her index card.

"Why'd you let your grandson come to Chicago?" Buck asks, because he might as well get straight to the point.

"Which one?" she says, opening up two jars of rice and running her fingers through them, pinching a few grains of each.

"You know which one I mean," Buck says. "The one who's the most likely to get into trouble here."

"You ever try to get him to stop doing something he's set his mind to?''

"As a matter of fact, I have," Buck says. "It was the last three years of my life when I was on the Musical Ride."

"It's worse when you're dead," she says. "Even worse than that when it has to do with his brother."

"Surely he'll listen to you," Buck says. "You were always the one who managed to make him see reason."

Elena sets down the rice jars and turns to look at him, her hands braced against the counter like she's afraid the weight of what she's going to say will knock her over. "He doesn't think I'm real."

"Heavens above, he can see you but he doesn't think you're real? What's the matter with the boy?"

"He thinks I'm a figment of his imagination. Because he misses me, he thinks he's conjured me up."

"I'm sorry," Buck says. He truly is.

Elena puts the rice back up in the cabinet and takes down three jars of beans. "It's not so bad; he talks to me even if he thinks he's just talking to himself. He listens, sometimes. And Michael can see me."

"Mikey, at least, thinks you're real?"

"Oh, of course he does -- that boy always had better sense than his brother. Honestly, thinking he's imagining the ghost of his grandmother." She turns to him again. "And we both know why you can see me."

Buck suddenly feels the blush creep across his cheeks.

"Oh, look at you, blushing for an old woman, Buck. If only old Bob Fraser could see you now."

Buck coughs again. He misses Bob. He's missed Elena, too.

Gerard comes into the kitchen before Buck can think of anything else to say. Gerard stops and Buck sees him see his grandmother, and then turn his attention to Buck, who fails miserably at acting like he doesn't see her at all. Buck looks to Elena, because he could try and convince Gerard that he can see her, too, but Elena shakes her head. Now is not the moment. Buck goes over to the kitchen table and sits down.

"Were you talking to someone, sir?" Gerard asks. Elena looks at him and sighs.

"Just my stomach," Buck says. Elena rolls her eyes. "It's quite hungry and I was asking it what it wants."

"Let me make you something, sir," Gerard says. Buck isn't going to say no.

"Make him my blue corn pancakes, he always liked that," Elena says.

Gerard looks at her skeptically. "Do you like blue corn pancakes, sir?" he asks.

"I do, son, I surely do," Buck says. Gerard reaches for the cornmeal to begin the recipe and Elena winks at him, whispering the instructions to Gerard.

*

Welsh isn't too keen on the idea of letting Frank do the interrogation when he technically should still be on sick leave, but getting stabbed undeniably makes this Frank's case and so Welsh okays it. Frank thinks it doesn't hurt that Gerard is there, eyeing every one of Frank's twinges like Frank's about to start bleeding out.

"You watch him," Welsh says to Gerard on their way out of his office and toward interrogation room two.

"Yes, Lieutenant," Gerard says solemnly. Frank knows Welsh means for Frank to watch his temper with a guy who is obviously unstable enough to start throwing kitchen knives at the cops, but Gerard says it like there's a life debt at stake.

"Okay, you ready?" Frank says, his hand on the door before he and Gerard step in.

"Just one thing," Gerard says, and Frank stops, because he'd meant it as a rhetorical ready, but Gerard clearly lived in his own world of words. "If he has any more knives..."

"He's been checked over," Frank says.

"If he has any more knives," Gerard repeats, "I want you to get out of the way."

Gerard looks like this is the most serious thing, and so Frank stifles a laugh, and arranges his face into the most earnest expressions he can manage. "Okay," Frank says. And he's about to turn the handle to the interrogation room when he stops and looks at Gerard, because something's just occurred to him.

"You get out of the way, too, right?" Frank says. "If there is for some reason another thing with a knife?"

"I always duck when there are knives," Gerard says, like this is something he really wants Frank to memorize.

"Okay, then," Frank says, "I'll remember that for next time."

He opens the door before Gerard's guilt can follow them in. The perp's sulking in his metal chair, his elbows propped up on the table.

"If you have any knives," Gerard begins before Frank can get a word in, "I would ask you to surrender them. Please place them on the table in front of you."

The guy gives Gerard a look like he really wishes he had a knife, and if he did, it would be hilt-deep in Gerard's chest.

"Let's talk, Alex," Frank says, slapping down a file folder on the table, opening it up, and sliding it toward the guy. "That's your rap sheet. I'm pretty sure you didn't submit that with your resume when you applied for the job at Angels & Cakes."

"I'm a baker," Alex says. "I didn't need a resume."

"So you're a baker," Frank says. Gerard is standing in the corner like there's something else in the room he's watching. Frank guesses he doesn't have to worry about their rhythm, about whether or not he and Gerard can run a successful interrogation together, since Gerard is just going to space out. It's okay; it isn't like this is Frank's first solo run. "So what kind of baker throws knives at the cops?"

"I don't like cops," Alex says tersely, "My hands get all shaky around cops, see?" He asks, holding up rock steady hands, "I can't pipe the icing."

"Don't bullshit me!" Frank bangs his fists on the table, and leans over, getting into Alex's personal space.

"You're not who I thought you were," Alex says after a moment, looking almost petulant.

"You thought we were... other cops who you should throw knives at?"

The guy just scowls at Frank.

"So that's all you're gonna give us?" Frank says. "You thought we were someone else?"

More stony-faced scowling.

"Where's Mikey?"

Frank thinks for a second that it's the guy, but he realizes its Gerard, still looking somewhere else like gazing out a window.

The guy looks visibly shaken.

"Is that who you thought we were? That we were with this Mikey guy?" Frank says, but he might as well not be in the room anymore.

"Where is he?" Gerard's leaning on the table in a weirdly casual way and the perp's basically starting to wilt.

"I don't know where he is," the guy says, "He's not there to bake the cakes, I don't ask!"

"And Pete didn't tell you anything?"

"His face told me enough," Alex says. Gerard just kind of stares at him and then the perp folds. "I only saw the end of the fight," Alex says. "Mikey and Pete came out of the kitchen, Pete's face all bloody, and Mikey was shouting about the bowling alley. That was it, I swear. He wasn't going to wait for the bowling alley."

"Candlepin?" Gerard says.

Frank pushes his chair back and stands. That's it; this is officially the weirdest interrogation he's ever been in.

"I swear, I don't know," Alex says, like Frank's standing is the last straw, like he's about to get whaled on.

Gerard looks at Frank and nods, as though Frank was a part of this thing the whole time, and makes for the door.

"We'll see," Frank says, trying to make it seem like a looking threat. "If you're lying, I'll take you bowling."

The guy whimpers. Frank casts a look over his shoulder as he steps out and closes the door. As soon as the door's closed, Gerard's leaning in to Frank's space. "I'm really glad there was no second attempt at knife throwing."

"You want to tell me what that was all about?" Frank asks. Frank pushes into Gerard's space until Gerard leans back.

"What?" Gerard asks. "Of course I was going to ask him if he had any knives."

"Not that," Frank says, and Frank just keeps going with the pushing, moving chest and shoulders and insistent hands into Gerard's space, until Gerard's almost back up against the wall. "Who's Mikey?"

Gerard's face shutters. "Just someone Patrick mentioned."

"Who you forgot to mention to me," Frank says. One more step forward, and his feet are on either side of Gerard's.

"You had just been stabbed!" Gerard says, but it's obviously a poor excuse and they both know it. "I don't really know any more than just the name. It's more like a hunch," Gerard says.

Frank can respect hunches. And he's willing to give Gerard a little leniency when it comes to cooperation and interrogation techniques and stuff. "I didn't like going in there blind," Frank says.

"I'm sorry," Gerard says, "I should have talked to you about my strategy. I was hoping the element of surprise would be on our side."

"Certainly was there for me," Frank says, except this is the point where he should be stepping back, and he's not. They've reached equilibrium, but he still feels like if he kept pushing, something else would shake out. "Why's the guy so afraid of bowling?"

"You've clearly never been bowling." Frank steps back like he was never that close. Gerard doesn't seem to have noticed anything off at all, like he gets crowded up against walls by infuriated, confused partners all the time. "I need to be back at the Consulate this evening for the dinner shift," Gerard says, looking at his watch.

"And we can talk tomorrow about trying to canvas bowling alleys for guys named Mikey? Sure," Frank says. "How about I give you a ride back to the Consulate and we can talk while you're peeling potatoes or whatever."

"That's very kind of you, Frank," Gerard says. "But are you certain you can drive in your condition?"

"I'm fine," Frank says dismissively. "My car practically drives itself." Frank's shoulder is hurting, actually, but the options are to let Gerard walk back to the Consulate and miss the chance to talk about the case, or walk back with him, and Frank doesn't walk anywhere. He swallows a pill when he thinks Gerard's not looking. "Gimme a minute to talk to Welsh, okay?" Gerard nods and stays standing where Frank had pushed him, like he's just waiting for another detective to come along and disregard his personal space.

"Can I lie down?" Frank says, closing the door to Welsh's office behind him. Welsh sweeps his arms, like his floor is Frank's floor.

Frank always thinks better when he's on his back. It's from years of being sick as a kid, all that bed rest, the way the world gets quiet and makes sense when Frank stares at the ceiling, like it's a giant blank slate where he can lay out all the pieces that get tangled up in his mind. He doesn't need quiet or light or dark -- he just needs to be horizontal. It may be odd, but it's convenient, because everywhere has a floor and a ceiling, or if he's outside, everywhere has ground and sky, so Frank counts it as a strength that he is able to do his best thinking with limited resources.

"Is this the painkillers talking, Iero?" Welsh asks.

"Something's strange with Gerard," Frank says, arranging himself on the floor so his feet are under one of the chairs. Frank can feel Welsh peering up over his desk, probably to make sure Frank isn't about to be unconscious.

"I'm sure there are many things strange about Constable Way," Welsh says. "My experience with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has given me this insight."

"It's just... he seems like he's looking for something," Frank says. "I feel like if I just think about it long enough, I'll figure it out."

"We're all looking for something," Welsh says. "You're not gonna have any great insights on my floor -- trust me, I've tried. Go discuss your case with him. I'm sure the more you learn about him, the less he'll puzzle you."

Frank wants to say that he doesn't think that's ever happened to him before, but it's the Lieu, so he doesn't argue. He's about to pull himself up when there's a knock on the door and Frannie comes in without waiting for an answer. She's three steps in, holding out a folder for Welsh when she trips over Frank's knees and falls, arms windmilling, against the edge of Welsh's desk.

"Oh my god," she says. "Did you know there was a detective on your floor?"

"It's only Iero," Welsh says.

"Oh," Frannie says, squinting down at him like she hadn't had time to really notice who was tripping her. "Hi, Frank, how's the Tour de France?"

"Injured in the line of duty," Frank says.

"I heard about that!" Frannie says. "Let me ask you this, who throws knives at people on bicycles?"

"Bring this to Inspector Thatcher, will you?" Welsh asks Frank, and hands him a manila envelope that sounds like it's full of wing nuts.

*

The Consulate only looks quiet from the outside, Frank finds out, and the envelope full of wing nuts is only the beginning. There's the guy he eventually finds out is Constable Urie, who follows him around trying to give him a tour of the Consulate in English and French. There's someone Gerard refers to as Turnbull who is following Gerard around with a casserole dish full of something that smells like manicotti. There's Gerard's CO, who greets Frank with a resounding, "So you've finally decided to emigrate," and then just barely manages to avoid slapping Frank on the shoulder where he was so recently stabbed.

There's a lone woman, who's stacking a series of boxes at the foot of a Mountie who's holding a similarly large stack of papers. And there's Gerard, who tries to duck behind Frank as soon as they're in the door.

"What?" Frank asks, but Gerard's ducking behind him, tugging Frank's shirt like he's trying to use him as a shield to go over to the kitchen. Gerard's fingers are uncomfortably warm as they brush Frank's skin where his shirt's riding up.

"Constable Way!" the Mountie standing behind the boxes of paper shouts, having seen Gerard despite his clever attempt at hiding. Frank just steps aside, and Gerard stands himself up, brushing his hands together like he was picking something up off the floor.

"Inspector Schechter!" Gerard says. Frank looks at him like its possible that he insulted the guy with a rhyme, but the rhyming Mountie guy just hands the huge pile of papers back to the woman, who takes them with a startled sound, and advances on Gerard.

"Constable Way, you told me that you were visiting your brother," the guy says. "And that you had family leave approved."

"Yes, sir," Gerard says, looking shifty.

"Family leave does not encompass an international transfer," Schechter barks.

"We are technically in Canada now, sir," Gerard says. Schechter looks murderous.

"Let me take care of this one, son," Buck says, stepping forward. "A word, Inspector," Buck says, and Schechter looks like he wants to argue, but Buck takes him by the elbow.

"I have a package for Inspector Thatcher?" Frank shouts, because everyone seems like they're walking away on other business and he just wants to get Welsh's errand done.

"I'm Thatcher," the woman holding the stack of papers says, and then looks around for a place to put them, abruptly handing them over to the guy with the manicotti, who suddenly looks like a deranged office worker turned waiter.

"This is from Lt. Welsh," Frank says, handing her the envelope.

She takes it and tears open the top and looks in. "Oh, thank god, it's about time," she says, and without further explanation hands them to Constable Urie and adds, "Put three of these on the sink upstairs -- you'll need my wrench."

"Yes, ma'am," Constable Urie says. "Oui, Madame," and then heads up the stairs.

"Who are you?" Thatcher says, though without sounding as mean as Frank thinks she looks like she could be.

"Detective Iero," Frank says, "Chicago PD."

"Oh, so you're the one Constable Urie's liaising with," Thatcher says. "I'd introduce you, but I've just sent him upstairs to repair a leaky sink, which, I assure you, is a much more urgent matter, especially where the hall rug is concerned."

"Uh, Inspector?" Gerard says. Frank is really quite amazed at how Gerard seems to not only be the center of all this chaos, but is causing the majority of it.

"What is it, Constable?" she says. "Shouldn't you be making dinner?"

"Yes, sir," he says. "I just wanted to inform you that Constable Urie and I have... traded assignments."

"Traded?" Thatcher says. "I don't want Constable Urie cooking dinner."

"He means at the 2-7," Frank says.

Thatcher looks like she's about to get seriously angry when she suddenly throws her hands up. "It's Inspector Schechter's problem as of tomorrow," she says. "Take it up with him; I'm just staying for dinner."

"Reassigned!" the Schechter guy shouts, as Buck makes some attempt at appeasing noises. Thatcher shrugs like she's happy enough to be handing this too over to Schechter.

At that moment, the unmistakable sound of water exploding in a tiled bathroom stops further conversation. "Everything is fine!" Brendon Urie's watery voice calls from the top of the stairs. "Tout est excellent!"

*

Thatcher, Schechter, Turnbull, and Constable Urie spend the better part of an hour upstairs, repairing the sink and cleaning up, although from the sound of it, Constable Urie ends up doing most of the cleaning up. Frank sits in the kitchen chair and watches as damp Mounties reappear in drier clothes, as the papers and boxes Thatcher had been handing over to Schechter get hauled back into someone's office, as Buck whistles and paces his away around the lobby as though waiting for a taxi that never seems to show up. Gerard provides commentary to Frank that Frank is only half listening to about the various ways to bring out the flavor of an onion depending on cooking method and preparation time.

Schechter seems more at a loss by the time he comes into the kitchen than when he first saw Gerard hiding behind Frank. He takes a seat next to Frank and says, "I missed the introductions, but I'm assuming you're from the Chicago PD?"

"Frank Iero," Frank says and holds out his hand.

Schechter shakes it and says, "Brian Schechter. I've just been transferred here from my temporary assignment in the Northwest Territories for a temporary reassignment as Inspector Thatcher takes a reassignment in Toronto."

"That's a lot of reassignments," Frank says.

"The Northwest Territories was only temporary because you didn't tell them you wanted to stay," Gerard says from behind a steaming pot.

"I didn't want to stay," Schechter says. "And this is only temporary because apparently the Chicago Consulate has a reputation for being... complicated."

"So you'll have to tell them whether or not you want to stay here, too." Gerard says, chopping carrots.

"Shouldn't you be done with the mirepoix yet?" Schechter says.

"I like taking my time with the onions," Gerard says.

"Just like you're taking your time telling me why you've been reassigned here when this Consulate is already up to the maximum capacity of Royal Canadian Mounted Police?"

"It's not up to the maximum," Gerard replies absently, checking a spice bottle with what looks like all of his attention, "Turnbull is leaving tomorrow, with Inspector Thatcher."

"I've met Turnbull, he doesn't count." Schechter argues, "And you still haven't answered my question."

"Frank, could you get me the marjoram from the spice cabinet? The third cabinet left of the stove," Gerard says instead of answering his boss, his hands full with perfect circles of carrots that he is adding to the steaming pot.

Frank's getting a sense for why Chicago's Canadian Consulate has a reputation.

The marjoram isn't hard to find, considering everything is labeled with bold letters and what seems like hand-drawn pictures of the spice in the jar -- not that Frank would have been able to tell you what marjoram was from a picture. He tries to hand it to Gerard, but Gerard mimes opening the lid, as though words fail him while he's stirring. When Frank unscrews the lid, he recognizes the smell from Sunday afternoons in his grandmother's kitchen. He hands the open jar to Gerard, who shakes it cautiously, vigorously, then cautiously again over the pot.

This isn't really what Frank had thought of when Gerard told him he had kitchen duty, and there are far too many people around for them to be talking about the case, so Frank is a little bit at a loss for what he is supposed to be doing, other than handing Gerard spices and trying to remember everyone's names.

"Thanks, Frank," Gerard says, turning a beaming smile at Frank as he hands him back the jar. Frank grabs it with the wrong hand, making his shoulder ache -- and Frank thinks that maybe taking it easy for an evening isn't so bad at all.

"Sergeant Frobisher told me you were stabbed earlier today," Schechter says, and there went Frank's hopes that the whole Consulate didn't consider him The Detective Who Got Stabbed.

"Yeah," Frank says. "It was nothing, really."

"Oh, you get stabbed all the time in your line of work?" Schechter says. Frank can see how he's either going to like this guy or he's going to drive him crazy. At least he's a little more down to earth than Buck, who is still pacing and whistling in the lobby behind them, but had been joined by Turnbull, who is whistling the harmony.

"I've only been stabbed a couple times before," Frank says. Gerard freezes, a bottle of white wine held just at the rim of the stock pot.

"You've been stabbed more than once?" Gerard says.

"I do undercover," Frank says. "Sometimes things go wrong."

Gerard's only response to this apparently horrifying revelation is to gape open-mouthed at Frank, and then emphatically return his attention to cooking, pouring wine into the pot.

"Did today's stabbing have anything to do with Gerard?" Schechter says.

"Hey!" Gerard says.

"Is this something I should be concerned about?" Frank says. "Does Gerard have some sort of a bad luck curse?"

Schechter and Gerard exchange a look that Frank doesn't like the look of at all.

"No," Schechter says. "Not as such."

Gerard busies himself wiping his hands on the kitchen towel.

"Frank, would you be so kind as to do me a favor and ask Sergeant Frobisher if I might use one of his bay leaves? We're apparently out," Gerard says.

Frank knows Gerard's just trying to get him out of the room, but he can't help the question. "Why would Sergeant Frobisher have bay leaves if there are none in the kitchen?"

"Standard RCMP issue," Schechter says. "Bay leaf protects against witchcraft."

"Also, a vital ingredient in cream of white leek soup," Gerard says.

So Frank goes into the entryway where Buck is nowhere to be found. "Hello?" Frank calls.

"Hello! Bonjour!" Constable Urie says, coming down the stairs. "Welcome to the -- oh," he says when he sees Frank. "You just came from the kitchen. I thought you were coming in from outside." He pauses, and then starts in French. Before he can get too far, Franks holds up his hand.

"Look, I don't speak French, so can we skip the bilingual thing."

"Are you certain you're not just doing it for my benefit? It is no trouble for me to provide everything in both French and English. Et-vous," Brendon starts. Frank holds up his hand again.

"Seriously, I don't speak French, so it's just more confusing for me." He can't imagine what it would have been like if he'd ended up with Constable Urie for a partner at the 2-7. They'd never have gotten anything done unless they only started taking cases from the French Quarter.

"Okay," Brendon says, though he still looks uncertain. "How can I help you?"

"Gerard sent me out here to find Sergeant Frobisher," Frank says.

Brendon looks stricken. "I'm sorry, I believe he went out."

Frank immediately feels the desire to apologize to Brendon because the kid looks close to tears. "No, it's okay, he just needed a bay leaf," Frank says.

"Oh!" Brendon lights up again, and pulls from an inner uniform pocket a vial with three bay leaves. He opens the cap and hands one to Frank.

"Thanks," Frank says.

"Those things are damn useful. I almost got possessed once," Brendon says. "Lit one of those on fire and turned in a circle three times, but it was a close thing." Frank tries to smile through the horrified look.

"Right," he says. And then he has an idea. "Listen, can I ask you a personal question?"

Brendon shrugs, like there's no difference to him.

"Why'd you come here?" Frank says. "To Chicago? I mean, don't get me wrong, I like my city and all, but it seems like it's kind of stressing you out."

Brendon shrugs again. He looks a little bit like a kid too used to stress. "Had a bad break-up," he says. "Wanted a change of scenery." He suddenly seems emboldened. "I hope you aren't offended that I traded assignments with Constable Way. Honestly, I wouldn't have been much use to a guy like you."

"Give yourself a little credit," Frank says, not even trying to be nice. He means it. "You had the guts to become a Mountie. More than I had."

"You're a cop," Brendon says, like it's obviously better.

"And I spend most of my time pretending to be someone who's not one," Frank says. "That's gotta tell you something. Thanks for the bay leaf." He turns and walks back into the kitchen.

He hears the last snatches of "but it's not like that anymore" before both Gerard and Schechter fall silent.

"Got the bay leaf," Frank says. He hands it to Gerard, who gives him a beaming smile, too bright; Frank turns away a little because he doesn't deserve it. Gerard tosses it into the soup pot and stirs and stirs.

"How is Inspector Frobisher?" Schechter asks. "Did he seem like he was keeping occupied?"

"Keeping occupied by not being here," Frank says.

"You didn't see Sergeant Frobisher?" Schechter sounds concerned.

"Got the bay leaf from the kid who speaks French. Brendon," Frank says, trying to keep good faith at remembering everyone's names.

Schechter stands so fast his chair scrapes against the tile. "I need to talk to him."

"Don't give Brendon a hard time, all right? He stopped the French when I asked."

Schechter gives Frank a weird look. "I meant Sergeant Frobisher," Schechter says and storms out.

"You know him from back in Canada?" Frank says when Schechter is gone.

"Of course, Frank," Gerard says. "Everyone in Canada knows everyone else."

At Frank's open-mouthed response, Gerard just grins.

Frank laughs. "I like you," he says.

Gerard turns the thousand-watt smile at him again. "I like you, too, Frank. Tell me you're staying for dinner."

"Sure," Frank says.

"You're not going to ask what it is?"

"My mom taught me better than that," Frank says. "You don't ask what's on the table before you accept an invitation. Though now I've accepted, so you can tell me. Is it that the soup thing you told me about?"

"Well, no. Actually," Gerard says, "it turns out that leeks are a key ingredient in the cream of white leek soup and we're all out. So I'm making a barley stew." Gerard takes a spoon out of the drawer, dips it into the pot, and hands it to Frank. Frank puts the spoonful into his mouth.

"That's incredible," Frank says, trying to hold back the moan he really wants to make, because this is so much more than just incredible. "Where'd you learn to cook -- in school?"

"My grandmother," Gerard says, in a sad voice that Frank knows means the grandmother is no longer around. Then Gerard's face clears and he says, "I think we should talk to Pete," and suddenly they're back to the case. It's exactly what Frank had been thinking and when he says so, Gerard just looks at him for a long moment, his eyes crinkling with happiness.

"I wanted to ask, though," Frank continues, because he's still thinking about the Mikey thing, and it's itching at him like something important he's forgotten, like every time he's locked himself out of his apartment, the feeling he gets in his gut as the door swings shut.

Gerard turns to him, expectant, a little mountain of salt in the palm of his hand. "Yeah?"

"Constable, is dinner almost ready?" Thatcher looks like she's on the last half of a rampage, and the cuffs of her surely expensive pants are soaking wet.

She seems to cheer up considerably when she smells the soup. Before Gerard can answer her, Frobisher whistles his way through the Consulate's front doors. "Bread!" he says triumphantly, handing over his armful of baguettes to Brendon. Somehow he manages to catch them all even though it looks like he tossed a bunch of twigs in the air like a game of pick-up sticks.

"The table's set!" Turnbull says, coming into the kitchen a moment later.

"Well done, Turnbull," Thatcher says. Frank gives them a weird look because they've been sitting at the table this whole time and it's not set, but Thatcher opens her hands and if she were one of Frank's aunts, she would have smacked him in the head.

"Constable Urie, let's bring the bread into the dining room," she says, emphasizing the last part.

"Frank," Gerard says, before he follows the parade of Mounties into the other room. "Will you hold the tureen while I pour the soup?"

Frank's not sure he can hold a tureen with his shoulder still aching him like this, but when Gerard pulls it from one of the cabinets full of china, Frank sees he just needs to hold it steady.

"See, we're even a team in the kitchen," Frank says. Gerard gives him a look that's obscured a little but the steam coming from the soup between them.

If Frank was undercover, the Consulate would be the place he would spend most of his time, because it has the potential to reveal the most about Gerard. The problem is that Gerard isn't Frank's mark. He is his partner. But he is made of mixed signals and intensity, and Frank's not sure he can decode whether it's the good kind of intensity or the kind that means he's just a few moments away from remembering why he hasn't had a partner in years.

Gerard is throwing a wrench in the whole no partners thing, but despite having been stabbed on their first day together, Frank isn't feeling like his partner bad luck is lurking around the corner. He is too busy being distracted by Gerard and trying to understand why it's so hard for him to look away.

Frank thinks at first that maybe it's because Gerard's wearing red that Frank can't stop looking at him. He's redder than a giant tomato, redder than a fire truck, and Frank just always ends up arranging whatever he's looking at so Gerard's in the frame, because it's too weird when he's not, like a red glow just out of the corner of his eye, a red exclamation point waiting to be seen.

Later, Frank thinks it's because he knows that there's something else underneath all the red, something that looks a little shyer and softer, something that wasn't always wearing a uniform. Not that Gerard isn't an awesome Mountie; he's as super-powered and as weird as all the other Mounties Frank has ever met or heard of, sure -- but there's something else Frank can feel there, like when he looks at Gerard, he sees a seam, where uniformed Gerard is knit into something else, something that isn't a perfect fit.

Frank watches Gerard move around the Consulate's kitchen like he already knows where everything is and has for years. He moves easily through the chaos, and Frank watches him like he's an anchor.

Frank finds the Consulate completely distracting. Not just in a way that makes it hard for him to keep track of his thoughts, but in a way that makes it hard for him to keep track of himself. It's like being on a roller coaster in slow-motion; it's like he could see everything that's going to happen, but that doesn't make it any easier when his stomach dips and whirls, when his center of gravity is being shaken up like a snow globe. The easiest place to be is in the kitchen, because no matter what incomprehensible argument Schechter is having with someone, what information Brendon is translating into French, what story Buck is telling, Frank can focus on what Gerard has going at the stove, the steam rising from pots, the sizzle of something grilling or roasting, butter browning, sugar caramelizing -- like it's a single clear note in an otherwise cacophonous room.

He isn't sure how Gerard does it, cooks that much without it distracting him, and Frank wonders if it's some sort of meditation for him, some sort of clearing of his mind the way that Frank needs the ground underneath his back to really think sometimes.

Later -- when the kitchen's quiet; Buck asleep in the rocking chair; Schechter back to his office, everyone off somewhere else -- Gerard sits down with a cup of tea and says, "You didn't have to stay through all that. We could have caught up later. I didn't think after dinner would be so bustling."

"It's okay," Frank says. "I mean, I didn't mind just sitting back and watching. Actually, I'm a take-charge kind of guy, for what it's worth."

Gerard doesn't say anything, but when he looks back up from stirring his tea, there's color high on his cheeks.

"When you transferred here, did you leave someone?" Frank says to fill the silence, but he only makes it worse. "I mean, did you have a partner, back in Canada?"

Gerard shakes his head. "I was between assignments," he says. "Did you have a partner before they gave you a liaison?"

"Nah," Frank says. "I work best alone." But then, because Gerard looks stricken, Frank says, "I don't do well with partners," which only makes it worse. "I got my partner shot," he adds, and as soon as he says it, he feels guilty, like he's been keeping it a secret. "A while ago. The last time anyone let me have a partner."

That last time was actually his first real assignment. Jamia Nestor had five years on the force on him, and there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Frank was the reason she got shot in that standoff in Edgewater. He'd been quickly reassigned to undercover, and when it had turned out he was good at it, everyone was happier, because it meant Frank could always do it on his own. Jamia, for reasons Frank still didn't understand, had been instrumental in getting him transferred to Chicago, where the force had a real reputation for providing the best undercover.

"I'm so sorry." Gerard asks quietly, "Did she die?"

"Nah, she's in Jersey," Frank says.

Gerard nods like it makes any sense at all, and Frank wants to explain, feels like he owes it to Gerard for bringing it up.

"My partner asked for a transfer," Gerard says.

"Did he tell you why?"

"Not then," Gerard says. Quiet falls between them again. "So, Pete," Gerard says.

"Pete," Frank says. "I'll come by and pick you up and then we'll go to Angels & Cakes and track this guy down."

They're still looking at each other, Frank looking for that seam that divides the Mountie from whatever else is in there, and Gerard is looking back. Frank wonders what it is he sees.

*

"Is it me," Frank asks, as they stand in the kitchen of Angels & Cakes, "or is that guy a little shifty looking for a baker?" Frank leans into Gerard's space, and Gerard leans back, like they're conferring about strategy. Pete continues to look shifty. There's a big purple bruise blossoming across his cheek and up under his eye.

"Right?" Gerard says, and maybe he's a little too enthusiastic in his agreement, because now Frank's looking at him a little oddly.

Still, he can't help but be pleased that someone else besides him sees past Wentz's bizarre charm to the sinister, brother-seducing man underneath.

"Patrick says you two are detectives," Pete says to them smoothly, as though his wide, toothy grin would cause them to overlook his enormous black eye.

Gerard isn't having it. "What happened to you?" he asks Wentz, using his very best bad cop voice. "Did my brother finally wise up and punch you in the face?"

Pete just looks at him, a little bemused. "If your brother's Mikeyway, then I guess, yeah."
Gerard feels Frank go still next to him, but it's the stillness of water in a pot the moment before it boils.

"Your brother," Frank says.
"Oh, shit," Pete says, and his awkward wince, combined with the black eye, made him look truly funny for a second, and Gerard might have snickered, except for the heat that Frank is starting to give off.

"Gerard," Frank says. He sounds calm, too calm -- maybe a minute, tops, from figuring out that Gerard isn't here for a mugging, for a stabbing, or for cake.

"You're his brother, aren't you? The fucking Mountie," Pete says.

"Hey," Frank says, as though Pete's curse snaps him out of his scrutiny, and Gerard feels like he's just had a windfall of luck. "Watch your mouth. You can't use that kind of language in front of a Mountie."

"Not that that's ever stopped you," Elena says, appearing before Gerard just as he'd been about to lunge for Pete, so that he ends up reeling back and bumping into Frank, who steadies him with a firm grasp on his arm. "I like this boy, Gerard," Elena continues blithely, pointing at Frank. "You should consider keeping him."

"See?" Frank is saying. "He doesn't like it, so watch it or I'll give you another black eye to match."

And something in Gerard's feeling warm and pleased that Frank is taking his side, and threatening to do to Pete what Mikey had, except there's something not right about the whole thing -- something that Gerard's morbid glee is making him overlook.

"I hope you realize that your brother didn't punch him in the face," Elena says, looking at him thoughtfully, talking over Pete, who's raising his hands and saying some appeasing bullshit to Frank.

"I don't know that," Gerard says, and set his jaw stubbornly, even though -- well -- he sort of does.

And then Gerard realizes that he's replied to his dead grandmother aloud, in front of a room full of people, one of whom is potentially evil, and the other who is a police detective.

But Pete just continues like nothing happened and says, "No, I meant it, I really am sorry that I assaulted your virgin ears, or whatever -- can we move on?"

"Yes, we can," Gerard says, seizing control of the conversation and firmly ignoring Elena, who is now muttering about idiot grandsons -- which is okay, because clearly she means Mikey.

"Now tell us what the fuck is going on," Frank says to Pete. He may be defending Gerard, but he's not actually looking at him.

"We can move on to where my brother is," Gerard says.

"I haven't seen him since we fought," Pete replies shiftily.

"Definitely shifty," Frank mutters, shaking his head.

And Gerard sees the ploy now. If Pete and Mikey really had fought, no one would expect Pete to know where Mikey is.

"They hell you fought," Gerard says. "What did you do, walk into a door?"

Pete's eyes widen momentarily, and Gerard knows he's right.

"Bingo," Frank says, keeping up his whispered commentary.

"See? I told you." Elena adds, "Michael is fine --"

"You're the one who says he punched me to start with -- "

Gerard ignores her. "Where is Mikey?"

Pete raises his hands. "Dude, I really don't know!"

"That's it," Frank says, stepping forward suddenly, and pushing Gerard back behind him a little as he does so. "So far, you've lied to the cops about your injury, and hired an assassin to make your little froofy cakes. Spill it, or I'm taking you to the station where I will have all the time in the world to come up with ways to make you talk."

"Look, I didn't know that Alex was a homicidal wackjob -- "

"And," Frank interrupts, getting right in Pete's face, "I want to know about the bowling."

Pete goes stark white. "I'm not talking. Now get out of my bakery!"

Gerard swears he sees Frank's hand flicker toward Pete's pocket for a moment, and a white flash of paper, but Pete doesn't react, and then Frank's hand is back in his own pocket, and he's rocking back on his heels, nodding briskly at Pete.

"Fine," he says. "We're done here."

"We are?" Gerard says, wanting to protest.

"We are." Frank turns on Gerard and Frank's at a full rolling boil.

*
"Okay, listen up," Frank says, pulling Gerard outside by the sleeve. Frank's fingers brush over Gerard's hand and it's weird and incongruous, warm and thrilling, and it jars with Frank's rising fury. Gerard looks up at him, and Frank can't tell if it's about the touch or the demand in his sentence. "I have one question, really, and it leads to all the other questions."

"Frank," Gerard says. Frank decides to approach like he's being asked a question in return, rather than like he's about to be placated, which is more what he thinks is actually happening.

"I get that you're all about this element of surprise thing," Frank says. He realizes his hand is still on Gerard's wrist and he drops it. "But this is too much surprise. This is too much. That whole part about this Mikey character being your brother? We have a name for that in the department and it's 'conflict of interest.'"

Gerard looks away, back into the window of the bakery, like he's still watching Pete. "Hey," Frank says, and Gerard's attention snaps back.

"It's not important that he's my brother," Gerard says.

"I have a feeling you've been lying to me a lot," Frank says, proud of the shred of patience still in his voice, "but that's the first time I've been sure it's a lie before it's even all the way out of your mouth. Of course it's important that he's your brother."

Gerard's face softens, and just like that, it seems like the fight they were about to have isn't going to happen. Frank takes a step back, then another.

"Mikey is..." Gerard says, and then stops, looks back at the bakery window, then back at Frank.

"I gotta go back to the station; you want me to drop you off at the Consulate?" Frank says. The guy's obviously pretty messed up about his brother. Family makes you do stupid things. Frank's done a bunch of stupid things that had nothing to do with family, so he figures he can cut the guy some slack.

"Yeah," Gerard says, still looking distracted by the bakery, and Frank thought, the sooner they got away from this Pete character, the better.

*

"Are you staying long in Chicago, sir?" Gerard asks. Buck hears a catch in the "sir" that he doesn't like -- not of duty or respect, but of playing nice to stay out of trouble, or, in this case, get what he wants. Damn the whole Way family.

"Be nice to him," Elena says.

"I am being nice," Gerard says, and then throws a furtive look at Buck. "I mean, I am trying to be welcoming, sir."

"I think she meant me, son."

'Who?" Gerard says. Buck and Elena look at each other, and Elena shakes her head.

"Sounds like you need some rest," Buck says, trying to give Gerard an out, which Gerard readily accepts with a nod. Buck's not sure how he went three years on the Musical Ride with this boy and never realized with what frequency Gerard lies.

Elena tilts her head at Buck, shakes her head at her grandson, and turns and walks off to the kitchen, with an air of needing some rest herself. Gerard watches her go, and then snaps his attention back to Buck.

"I am staying," Buck says, "for a week or two. Not because I don't believe in Inspector Schechter's ability to keep a leash on you," he continues, and Gerard's eyes widen. "In fact, if there's anyone who can, it might be him. You did sneak away to Chicago under my supervision, however nominal it may have been. But there are some things I would like to see through."

Gerard looks as though he thinks Buck is talking about watching Gerard's behavior for signs of further insubordination. It's not what Buck means by the things he needs to see through, but he's happy to let Gerard think that. He's not going to be able to get away with that with Elena, though, so as soon as Gerard mumbles his apologies and reassurances and slips off to his office, Buck calls out to her.

"Elena? Are you still around?"

"Of course I'm 'around'," she says. "You think I don't know how to eavesdrop? So are you going to tell me the real reason you're staying?"

"I think you already know it," he says. Elena just huffs and goes back to looking through kitchen cabinets.

*

"You ever get a weird feeling about something?" Frank asks Dewees. He's looking at himself in his bathroom mirror, side to side, considering his face.

"I am full of weird feelings," Dewees says. He's scrubbing something from the floor in the hallway with a bucket of water that smells like lemons and cloves. "I have a weird feeling that this is some sort of industrial strength maple syrup," Dewees says, dunking the washcloth in the bucket and scrubbing again.

"What's it doing in the hall?"

"I have a weird feeling about that, too," Dewees says cryptically. "How's your case?"

"Weirder than maple syrup in my hall," Frank says, still turning side to side in the mirror, stretching his jaw, messing up his hair.

"My hall," Dewees says. "Also, get out of the mirror."

"I'm just --"

"I know what you're just," Dewees says. "You think I haven't seen you starting up enough jobs to know the first stage mirror-stare?"

Frank shuts the bathroom light, steps widely around any possible place where his shoes might stick to get to his bedroom, where he flops spectacularly on the bed. "I don't stare at the mirror," Frank says, staring up at the ceiling.

"For someone who spends that much time pretending to be someone else, you'd think you'd know your own tells."

Frank does -- or he thought he did. He knows his own speech rhythms, how he tugs at his lip when he's nervous, how he taps his fingers on his thigh when he's impatient. He didn't know about the mirror thing, though.

Dewees looks up from scrubbing. Frank thinks for a moment that Dewees is about to launch the sopping wet towel at him, but Dewees just wrings it out over the bucket. "I don't mean the tells that give away your cover," Dewees says. "I mean your tells. The ones that are you things. Frank things."

"How are those not tells?" Frank asks, getting up from the bed. "I'm going to the 2-7, I need to bring them my doctor's note or whatever from the ER," he says before Dewees answers. "I'll be back later tonight."

"That's another one," Dewees says quietly, and it's almost lost in the sloshing sound the bucket makes when Dewees drags it over to another, stickier part of the floor. "Avoidance."

Frank doesn't make it all the way to the 2-7, though. He finds himself parked in front of the Consulate, questions burning in his mind. Questions about Mikey and Pete and how it was only just occurring to him that Gerard had acted like he knew who Pete was, in a way that you know people you don't approve of in your brother's life. Frank knocks on the Consulate's front door, but no one answers, and after a minute, he knocks again. This is the first time no one has rushed to the door to greet him and welcome him to Canada -- or, if it's Constable Urie, to say things at him in French that he doesn't understand. He figures the Brendon kid must at least get some time off, but Frank is sure Gerard had told him to swing by at this time, so he has to be in there somewhere. Frank knocks a third time, and then tries the handle. Of course, it's unlocked.

"Hello? Anyone home in Canada?" Frank isn't getting anywhere with only half his body across the national border, so he steps all the way in. "Gerard?"

He checks the kitchen, then the sitting room, and is about to go up the stairs when he hears raised voices from behind a door down the hall. It's pretty clear whose raised voices they are the closer he goes, and any thought of knocking on the door disappears when he hears what they're saying.

"So now you don't need to fill out any paperwork either?" Schechter sounds pissed.

"This isn't about the paperwork, Brian." Gerard says. He doesn't sound any friendlier.

"No, this is about how I'm your boss and it would be good if you started acting like it."

"You want me to suck up to you like Constable Urie?"

"Constable Urie is the one thing about this place that isn't making me want to throw myself into oncoming traffic," Schechter says. Frank thinks things have got to be pretty bad if Brendon's the one who Schechter wants to keep around. "And I just want you to keep me updated on what you're working on."

Frank's just outside the door now, and even though he's just waiting for the right pause in the conversation to announce himself, he still feels a little guilty about eavesdropping.

"I told you about the case," Gerard says.

"You told me about a case," Schechter says, "The case that you might be working on if you were actually being a liaison to the 2-7 and not using them as a cover to run your own investigation."

Gerard doesn't respond, which Frank knows isn't good at all. He's hoping Gerard will actually answer, because he wants to know what Schechter means. Frank wonders if maybe Gerard hasn't wanted to tell him about the bowling alley or the bakery or something because it had to do with his brother .

"I'm worried about Mikey, too, okay?" Schechter says, and that takes Frank's theory out of the running. There's another pause, and Frank's totally eavesdropping now because this would be a perfect time to interrupt. He hears a shuffling behind the door, a chair scraping back against the floor, and he runs off in the other direction so whoever coming out doesn't realize that Frank's been standing there the whole time.

Frank's just made it to the kitchen when Gerard calls out behind him, "Frank!" all cheery, like he wasn't just in a pretty bitchy-sounding fight with his superior officer.

"Hey!" Frank says, trying to fake like he was just outside. "I knocked, but --"

"You're welcome anytime," Gerard says. "Sorry I didn't hear the door."

Schechter sees Frank a second too late and his shout of Gerard's name catches in his throat. He draws himself up and says, "Constable, we weren't finished," still harsh and a little skeptically, like he fully expects Gerard to shimmy out the nearest window. "We need to go over your I9081-B report."

Frank isn't sure what an I9081-B report is, or why it makes Gerard's expression fold into a frown. "Can we do it later? I've kept Frank waiting." Gerard says to Frank, "You ready to go?"

Frank stares at Gerard.

"Go where?" Schechter says, and that was going to be Frank's question. He has the air of a parent about to explain the terms of being grounded.

Frank looks at Gerard, hoping for a signal about what he's supposed to say, if there's some reason Schechter isn't supposed to know where they're going, wherever that is.

"We're going to talk to Inspector Toro," Gerard says.

"At the 2-7?" Schechter asks skeptically.

"Off the clock," Frank says, and Gerard doesn't wince, so he figures that was okay.

"Just let me know when you're back," Schechter says with an impatient huff, and turns and storms off, taking the stairs two at a time.

*

"You gonna tell me what that was about? What's with you two, anyway?" Frank says, and he's facing Gerard now, eyes locked on him, so he misses that Schechter has paused in the hall, and turns to hear him, "He acts more like your ex than your boss. Bad break up?"

"No," Gerard says haltingly, because suddenly he feels like his history is something more like fiction, made up of equal parts blindness and convenient truth. He was never sure what Schechter was feeling, back when they worked together, too happy having someone who looked out for him, to want analyze it too closely. Until it all fell apart. And he's been working off the assumption, for a long time, that the full time occupation of saving Gerard from himself was too much for Schechter. That the price of watching Gerard fall again and again was too much. It was the last favor Schechter did for Gerard, the shock of losing their partnership had pushed him to get his head straight. "We were partners," Gerard says finally staring over Frank's shoulder at Schechter.

Schechter breaks Gerard's stare to blink, long and slow, his eyelashes fluttering down on his cheeks. When he opens his eyes again, he's not looking at Gerard. His gaze is trained on Frank, who is missing, thankfully, all of it.

Or not, because then Frank asks, "The partner that asked for a transfer?"

"Uh, yeah," Gerard says, cutting his eyes to Frank. When he looks back for Schechter, he's gone.

 

*

"So, where are we going?" Frank asks, because he realizes as they're walking out to the car that he still doesn't know.

"I just needed to get out," Gerard says. Gerard doesn't say anything, but he follows Frank out to the car and so Frank thinks he really means that they're going out somewhere. Frank hopes it really isn't to visit Toro; he's not in the mood. "Can we just... go for a drive?"

"Sure," Frank says. He looks over at Gerard, who's pressing the palms of his hands to his eyes, and leaning back in the seat like his head is killing him. Gerard sighs and straightens up, like he hadn't meant to do that at all, like showing he had a headache was some sort of invitation to attack. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Gerard says, but he blinks fast, and his fingers tap on his knee, just twice. It's a tell -- Frank just doesn't know of what yet.

"Anywhere you want to go?"

"I just want to listen to the engine. Is that stupid?" Gerard's covering his eyes with his hands again.

Frank pats the dashboard. "There is nothing stupid about listening to this girl's engine," Frank says. "She's complicated as hell, but when she goes, she goes."

They drive outside of the city, just far enough so Frank can actually get her above fifty. Listening to the engine, no music, no talking, is nicer than Frank remembers, something he hasn't done in ages. He looks over at Gerard every few minutes and he's slowly relaxing, like the car sounds are the only thing working on his headache.

Gerard doesn't seem to want to talk about what happened with his boss, either just now or in the past, and Frank can understand. He doesn't like to talk about Jamia even with people who know the whole story, and he can see why Gerard wouldn't want to dig into a story he would have to explain all over again to someone new.

So Frank drives, and let's Gerard stay quiet, and then remembers the thing that's been burning a hole in his pocket.

"So," Frank says and it's the first thing either of them has says in more than twenty minutes but it doesn't feel all that weird at all. "We'll go bowling tomorrow?"

"Bowling?" Gerard says.

Frank pulls the business card he lifted from Pete and hands it to Gerard, whose eyes widen, and then Gerard smiles at him, made sharper by headlights of a car coming around the corner.

"You picked his pocket?" Gerard says, "Is that why you wrapped up when we hadn't gotten anything?"

"He wasn't gonna talk," Frank says. "So I let his pocket talk for him."

Gerard reads the card, and flips it over on the back, where it looks like Pete's scribbled a phone number. "The Bowling Basement," Gerard says. Frank even knows what part of town it's in, and he'd take them there now, if he thought they'd find anything after hours. Gerard's beaming at him. "How did you know how to do that?"

"What, bowl?" Frank says. "I'm a terrible bowler."

"Pick pockets," Gerard says.

"Now that's a good story," Frank says, and takes another turn toward the road with the best straightaways.

 

*

The bowling alley makes Frank's eyes hurt, but it thinks it might also be because he skipped coffee this morning. It was a whole bad habit he got into whenever he was on a new case, staying up late thinking about a lead or a suspect or a feeling forming in that place just under his ribs that was never wrong, falling asleep on the floor instead of his bed, waking up late because he forgot to set his alarm, skipping breakfast -- skipping coffee -- which made him stupid and slow. Then he'd finally get himself together in the middle of the day, get all worked up about the case, repeat the cycle over again. It was always worse when he was undercover, because he'd have to save his good thinking time for when he was alone so he didn't blow his cover by spacing out and answering to the wrong name. Not that Frank has done that in years, but, still, it could happen. He isn't undercover, though, in the bowling alley, so he figures it's okay if he's a little slow. He hadn't really thought that there would have been people bowling at eleven in the morning, either, though, so maybe he shouldn't trust his judgment entirely.

Gerard seems oblivious to the noise. He's looking the place up and down like he's never seen a bowling alley before.

"What are you doing?" Frank has to shout three times before Gerard answers.

"Looking for a trick wall."

"Can I help you fellas?" A tall guy in yellow sunglasses comes over and mostly addresses Frank, although he keeps glancing at Gerard. "Your friend afraid of bowling? Every once in a while we get someone with a phobia or something, like, afraid of pins."

"We're in the market," Frank says, taking a risk.

"In the market for what -- pins?" Yellow Sunglasses guy lifts up his sunglasses, looks down at Frank, and drops his sunglasses onto his nose again. Frank just waits it out. "You got the wrong bowling alley," he says finally. "We don't sell nothing but fun."

"I heard this was the right place," Frank says.

Out of the corner of his eye, Gerard has climbed up onto one of the team tables and is lifting up ceiling tiles. Frank tries to shift so that he's standing in a way that he can grab Sunglasses Guy's attention before he turns around and starts yelling at Gerard for climbing the furniture.

"I don't know what you heard about my bowling alley, but I run a clean business."

"That's what I thought about the last bakery I went to." Frank's pleased when he sees his comment has hit its mark. Sunglasses Guy stiffens. Gerard hops down from the table at that moment and comes over with a scorecard, which he hands to Sunglasses Guy.

"Can you read the code?" he asks.

Frank tries to ask, "What code?" but Gerard has such a look of determination that Frank swallows the question.

"It's a scorecard," he says. He doesn't sound very convincing about it.

"It's a scorecard written out in code," Gerard says. He hands Frank the card.

Gerard's probably right. Frank hasn't seen many scorecards filled out in what looks like a scrambled newspaper puzzle. "I found this wedged in between the ceiling tiles," Gerard says, eyes narrowing.

"Wow, I really need to have a talk with our cleaning service." Sunglasses Guy says blandly.

"You said I was in the wrong bowling alley if I was in the market," Frank says. "So what kind of bowling alley am I in?"

Sunglasses guy hesitates. "The leaving messages kind of bowling alley. Though we do do birthdays," he says.

"So who left this scorecard?" Gerard asks.

"I don't know," Sunglasses Guy says. "Normally people just leave messages at the desk."

"We'll need to take this," Frank says, trying to see if turning the upside-down text upside-down actually made a difference.

"Taking it is the easy part," Gerard says.

As they're leaving, Sunglasses Guy says, "Listen, if you want to leave a message for someone who you think might be coming here, just call and ask for Gabe."

"Who's Gabe?" Frank says. Sunglasses Guy lifts his sunglasses up again and winks at Frank.

"I thought you said you didn't read code," Frank says.

"I don't need to understand the code to take dictation," Gabe says.

Gerard thanks Gabe for the scorecard copy and immediately begins studying it as they're on their way out.

"You gonna tell me how you found it?" Frank asks.

"Luck," Gerard says absently.

"Not because Mikey used to hide things in the ceiling when he was a kid?"

Gerard turns on his heel so fast that Frank practically walks into him and for a moment they're both doing a dance so they don't end up stepping on each other's feet.

"How did you know that?" Gerard says.

"People don't just reinvent themselves even when they're trying to keep a secret," Frank says. Gerard's eyes linger on Frank's face for a moment and then Gerard turns back to the scorecard.

"Well, he certainly invented a complex code," Gerard says.

"Probably not his," Frank says. Gerard stops walking again. If this happens every time Frank says something, he's gonna suggest that they not walk and discuss the case at the same time.

"You're right, you're exactly right," Gerard says, and he folds the scorecard away and puts it into his pocket.

They're on the street outside the bowling alley when Toro shows up, and Frank's not even surprised, though he is going to check the car for a tracking device later. Frank lights a cigarette and tries to remember how he's supposed to stand when he's smoking a cigarette outside when he's undercover as himself. It's easier just to watch the traffic, to let Gerard and Ray talk about whatever they're talking about while Frank tries not to think about what it means that Gerard is working with two cops in two different divisions, or why Gerard seems to know a whole lot more about the case then he's letting on, or why Frank cares, really, that Ray and Gerard seem to be hitting it off. Or that Gerard went to see Ray first before he came to the 2-7. Thatcher had been pretty clear about Brendon Urie having been initially assigned to the 2-7 before Gerard took his place, but if Gerard was so comfortable bending the rules this way and that, who's to say that Gerard isn't liaising with two Chicago cops. Or that he doesn't have some other angle he's working altogether.

Frank's saved from having to spend too much of his energy trying not to think about any of those things by the arrival of a familiar tall, blond guy in dark sunglasses and a black hoodie.

"Look, it's Bob the Dog Detective," Ray says.

"I take other cases," Bob says in a gruff voice that means it's not the first time he's had to point that fact out, nor will it be the last.

"But you find people's lost dogs," Ray continues.

"It's a noble cause," Frank says, though his smirk betrays him, as always. Bob looks like he's considering throwing Frank over his shoulder and walking out with him to beat him in broad daylight.

"You're a private investigator?" Gerard says, going over to Bob and holding out his hand. Bob looks for a minute at Gerard's hand then he looks over at Ray. Ray shrugs.

"Yeah," Bob says, finally shaking his hand. "Bob Bryar."

"Constable Gerard Way, Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

"Figured that out from the uniform," Bob says.

"Your finest detective skills at work," Ray says.

"It's hard to find a lost dog," Bob protests. "It's not like they all just come running when you call their name."

"But I bet its pretty sweet when they do," Frank says. Bob looks even closer to just picking Frank up off the ground.

*

Gerard likes Ray Toro, he really does, with an almost soul-deep, kindred spirit kind of instant attachment, but he has to suppress a pang of frustration when he and Frank run into him outside of Bowling Basement, because what he really wants to be doing is talking to Elena about the code in Mikey's note, which he thought she might have recognized, going from her reaction when he'd found it. But he can't just start talking to Elena in front of Toro, Frank, or the Dog Detective, so he's reduced to twitching impatiently.

He ends up tuning out most of the conversation, because he's so focused on the note in his pocket. Not being able to look at it or take it out makes it feel heavy -- like a five-pound weight, instead of a folded slip of paper. He tries to picture it before his eyes, the strange hatched markings, the little dots, and he thinks he pretty much has the first line at least, captured in his memory, image superimposed on his wide open eyes when Mikey comes down the street and starts towards the bowling alley.

Gerard feels his whole body stiffen, and the image of the note falls away. Dimly, he can hear Frank teasing the Dog Detective, but all of his senses zero in on the figure of his brother coming toward him.

And then Mikey sees him, and freezes for a second in silent recognition, eyes wide and surprised. Then he turns, and sprints back down the street.

Gerard doesn't even hesitate, and flies down the street after Mikey almost before he's realized that Mikey is running. He hears Frank yell something to him, but he doesn't stop, can't stop, to turn to see what he's saying. He's too worried he'll lose sight of Mikey, who is clearly in better shape than Gerard has ever known him to be, if the speed he's going at is any indication.

Mikey is the only thing he focuses on, even as he hurtles over recycling bins, and shrubs, and around parked cars and pedestrians.

And then Mikey rounds a corner -- and then he isn't there anymore when Gerard turns the corner himself, too many paces behind him. He doesn't stop running, though, and cuts through the side street, unwilling to face the fact that he might have lost him. He's diving through the too-narrow spaces between parked cars to make sure Mikey isn't hiding there, swiftly scanning behind dumpsters and in the shadows of door lintels.

Why would Mikey be hiding from him? Okay, granted, Mikey could be pretty squirrelly sometimes, but Gerard is his brother. And when Mikey had seen him, he'd run from him. What the fuck. Gerard unconsciously slows his pace as he allows the doubts to overtake him. Does it mean that Mikey isn't in trouble, doesn't need him at all?

Or does it mean that he's in even more trouble than Gerard has thought?

Gerard doesn't even realize he's gotten himself lost until he comes out on a street he thinks he recognizes... from Toronto. And okay, the streets were pretty similar, right down to the potted pine tree and the corner Starbucks. Only in Chicago, he has no idea which street has a Starbucks, and a potted pine. Or which way down it he'll need to turn to get back to Frank.

"Oh my god," Frank pants, surprising Gerard, "We've stopped, right? I don't think I can run anymore."

Gerard turns to see Frank standing right behind him, bent over, leaning his weight on the hands braced on his thighs.

"You... followed me?"

"Yeah," Frank says, squinting, "Was I not supposed to? Because that would have been really good to know before I had that heart attack trying to keep up.'

"Sorry," Gerard says uncomfortably, "We can stop now."

"Lost him, huh?" Frank asks, "That was Mikey, right?" and Gerard really, really has to stop underestimating him.

"Yeah," Gerard says.

"Fucker runs fast," Frank says, and they both stand there panting, catching their breath.

*

A few moments later, Ray and Bob come running down the alley.

"What the hell?" Bob says.

"Who were we chasing?" Toro asks. Bob's scanning the street like he's trying to remember where he parked.

Frank's ribs are still aching. "I was chasing Gerard," Frank says. He rests his hands on his knees, breathes in deep, and stands up straight again.

"But who was he chasing?" Toro says, sounding puzzled. Gerard isn't saying a thing, and it makes Frank happy that it's privileged information.

"I gotta run. Tell Mick I said hi," Bob says abruptly. "Later, Frankie," he adds, and takes off.

"I keep trying to convince him to take the exam," Toro says, watching Bob take off down the street. "He'd be good on the force."

"Bryar? Bryar the Dog Detective? Really?" Frank says.

Ray seems to finally come back from wherever he was. "So what was up?" Frank looks to Gerard, but Gerard is frantically dialing his phone.

"Mountie business," Frank days dismissively. "You gonna tell me how you know Gerard? You guys worked on a case together before or something? I didn't think they gave vice Mounties."

"They don't," Toro says, "not after the unfortunate noodle incident of '08."

"So you just, what, hit it off when you met yesterday?"

"Pretty much," Toro says. "When he showed up at the precinct..."

"Wait," Frank says, "he went to your precinct? Not the 2-7?"

"He says he was looking for the 2-7. So I gave him directions. And," Ray says, his expression suddenly shifty.

"And?" Frank demands.

"A case. He said he had a lead on it already!" Ray says.

"He said he --" Frank says and then stops. He doesn't want to get this all over Ray. He looks at his reflection in the greasy window; he thinks back to looking at the mirror and the way Dewees had pointed it out. "Sorry, just getting my story straight," Frank lamely redirects, but Ray nods like he's following. "Hard to remember when to be myself," he adds.

"I'm sure," Ray says, though he's never been undercover a day in his life and Frank knows it.

"Did he meet Mick?" Frank asks. Even Frank hasn't met Toro's new partner.

"Nah, not until, you know, when you got stabbed. Mick was running late that morning."

"Does he even have to file casework?" Frank asks.

"Nah," Ray says. "New guy gets away with everything."

*
Somewhere in the Northwest Territories…

Ray Kowalski has a lifelong habit of not wearing his glasses that he isn't going to change just because he's freezing his ass off in the Yukon, clinging to a dog sled, and hurtling over the most featureless terrain he's ever seen. There really isn't much to wear his glasses for -- it's pretty much white everywhere he looks. It reminded him of one of those Bugs Bunny cartoons, where he runs around on a blank sheet of drawing paper, just Bugs and lots of white space. Only in Ray's case, the blank drawing paper is really fucking cold.

So when Fraser says, as suddenly out of a silence as featureless as the snow, "Ray, do you see that?" Ray thinks he must have gone nuts.

"See what, Fraser? All I see is white."

"Just up ahead, two o'clock," Fraser replies obligingly, sounding really excited, considering he's pointing at -- well, snow, as far as Ray can tell.

"Oh, that," Ray says dryly, but Fraser predictably either doesn't notice or ignores the sarcasm and turns the sled toward two o'clock. Ray clings tightly to the sled as it turns, and has the brief thought that at least this time when Fraser tears off after something shiny, he doesn't have to worry about keeping up.

Ray doesn't see the wreckage of the downed plane until they're right up next to it, practically, the dogs jumping and sniffing around the tip of the broken-off wing.

"What is it, Ray?"

"A loose fucking end," Ray says, examining the partially soaked through label on the little tub of frosting. He can just barely make out the word Angels. Damn.

"Butter cream," Fraser says in a musing tone behind him, and Ray turns just in time to see Fraser lick some of the frosting from the jar he's holding.

"No, Fraser, no, don't -- don't --"

"But there's something a little odd about the taste..."

"Oh man, of course you licked the frosting. The first time you actually lick something edible -- no, don't do it again! Aw, jeez."

Ray half shuffles, half falls towards Fraser and yanks the frosting out of his hand, "Do not. Lick. The frosting."

"Ray?" Fraser asks, sounding dazed. His pupils are already widening.

It is going to be a long fucking night.

*

"So? What does it say?" Gerard says finally, tapping his fingers on the table impatiently.

"Stop fidgeting," Elena replies, glancing up from the scorecard.

Gerard forces himself to stop tapping, and flattens his hands carefully on his thighs. "That's not what it says," Gerard prompts again, after a moment.

"I've been thinking," Elena says.

"Can you do that?" Gerard interrupts.

"What? Of course I can think," Elena says huffily, narrowing her eyes. "If I couldn't think, could I decode this note?"

"Well, I thought I might actually know what it says subconsciously or something."

"Gerard Way," she scolds, "if I really thought you were as stupid as you sounded just now, I would have told your mother to abandon you on the hillside when you were born."

"Fine!" Gerard says, not wanting to continue arguing the point with himself. "What are you thinking then?"

She purses her lips. "If Michael didn't have time to go into the bowling alley, then who left the note?"

Gerard stares at her. "Wait, you mean, that note was for Mikey?"

"Likely," she says, looking concerned.

"What if it's important?" Gerard says, "What does it say?"

"And we're back to that." Elena sighs. "Well, it's just a simple atbash cipher, with the letters written in negative space, so it was easy enough to work out, but it doesn't make much sense. Do you have a pen?"

Gerard fishes around in his pocket, and then hands his pen to her, and then remembers that she can't actually take it when she gives him an arch look.

"Right," he says. "Okay, I have a pen."

"Write this down."

Gerard is still staring bemusedly at what he's written when Frank comes in and sits down beside him.

"It smells like snickerdoodles in here," he says in greeting.

"On the cooling rack," Gerard tells him, smiling back at Frank.

"You doing a crossword puzzle?" Frank asks, looking at the scribbled-on paper in Gerard's hand.

Frank tips his chair and then reaches his arm out and snags one of the cookies, blowing alternately on his fingers and the cookie to cool them down.

"Sorry, still too hot?" Gerard asks.

"I like 'em better when they fight back anyway," Frank says. "So, what've we got?"

Gerard hands him the paper with a shrug. "It's decoded, but not really helpful."

Frank starts reading, "Trip north went south. Unexpected complications were not unexpected. Meet Donnie at the fifth A on fourth S after main at three."

"It sounds like a riddle," Gerard says.

"Donnie..." Frank muses. "You think he's the guy who was hiding in the kitchen when that guy threw the knife at me? Not a lot of guys called Donnie."

"The fifth A after the fourth S after main," Gerard says. "The fifth avenue after the fourth street after Main?"

Gerard gets up to retrieve the newest batch of snickerdoodles just before the oven timer beeps. Frank says, "That's freaking amazing, your baking sixth sense." Frank watches Gerard check the cookies for done-ness. "So does that mean an alley on Fifth Avenue?"

"There can't be that many, can there?" Gerard asks Frank over his shoulder as he grabs the baking sheet full of cookies.

"This is Chicago," Frank says but he's frowning. "Gerard, are you sure you want me with you for this?"

Gerard turns around too fast and one of the cookies flies off the sheet and skitters across the kitchen floor. "Why wouldn't I?"

Frank looks away from him for a second, his eyes darting off to one side, before he looks at Gerard again. "Well, you know. This note... it's pretty sketchy, right? I mean, it was written in code and stuffed in the ceiling in a bowling alley. And," he says, pausing slightly, "unless I miss my guess, it's supposed to be for Mikey, right?"

Gerard freezes, still clutching the baking sheet, even though he's beginning to feel its heat through the oven mitts. He doesn't want to turn away to set it down, because he won't be able to see Frank then.

"Yeah, probably," he admits slowly, watching Frank for clues.

Frank doesn't look pissed, though, he just blows out a frustrated breath, and scrubs his hand through his hair uncomfortably.

"Look -- look, okay, put the damn cookies down and let's talk about this."

Gerard puts the tray down on top of the burners, and starts to move the cookies to the cooling rack with the spatula, which is trickier than usual, because his hands are shaking a little bit. He hasn't quite expected Frank to zero in on the fact that the note looks pretty bad for Mikey, but he should have, really. Frank seems to be pretty quick on the uptake where Gerard's tricks are concerned.

Finally he runs out of cookies and sit back down across the table from Frank, the note, and the abandoned snickerdoodle lying between them.

"So here's the thing," Frank says, "I don't want you to think I'm not on your side, or anything, but your brother... he seems like he's into some pretty shady stuff here."

And this is what Gerard has been avoiding thinking about. It was simple, when he had just thought Mikey was missing, or in trouble. Now he doesn't know what Mikey is doing, or if it would have been better for him if he had never come looking for him in the first place. If he gets Mikey arrested... or worse...

"And I'm a cop. If this is as bad as it looks," Frank continues, "you might not want me coming along. Because I can let some stuff go, let you take care of it, but there are some things I can't ignore."

"I trust Mikey," Gerard says, trying to sound as confident as he had been that morning.

Frank looks at him steadily for a moment, and nods. Then he picks the snickerdoodle up off the table and takes a bite, "I could try lying down to see if something comes to me," Frank says and hands the rest of the cookie to Gerard.

"Are you fainting? Is the room spinning?"

"Nah," Frank says. "Just gotta think."

"On the ground? Are you having a psychic vision?"

"Everything looks different from here," Frank says. And then his eyes meet Gerard's and -- yeah, everything looks different. Further away, and clearer, and Gerard's face looks different today, artistic, sharp, like there's something underneath that Frank can't see when he's looking at him head-on.

"I will have to try it," Gerard says.

"Save it for when you really have something you want to think about," Frank says. "Otherwise the perspective is wasted on too ordinary thoughts."

Frank's not thinking about the case yet, though, he's thinking about the way Gerard's clasping and unclasping a fold in his jacket. It's a tell, but like all Gerard's tells that Frank's observed so far, Frank doesn't know Gerard well enough to know what it's a tell of, so it's pretty much useless info filed away until he has better context. Depending on the person and how Frank's working with them, it's usually a week before he knows their tells, but all it takes is being in the same situation twice so he has two reactions to compare, which, with Gerard, doesn't seem as likely to happen as it might with anyone else.

Gerard's uniform looks different from this angle, too, like Frank can see all the pieces, see how to take them apart.

He tries to un-think that, but he'll probably have to stand on his head, shake the thoughts full circle.

"Anything?" Gerard says, peering down where Frank is sprawled on the floor.

Frank shakes his head, sits up. Nothing about the case -- but he has a plan for how he's going to find out what he's still missing.

*

As far as official buildings go, the Canadian Consulate is one of the easiest ones Frank has ever broken into. Frank figures he can slip away and go exploring one night when he he's there for dinner, when everyone is distracted by food or storytelling or paperwork, but the risk is that he'd run into Schechter, who might grab him by the collar and throw him out when he figures out Frank isn't just lost looking for the bathroom. Or Brendon, good kid that he is, would probably still try to give Frank a tour of bilingual Canadian history.

So the best course of action is to go back at night -- and coming back at night is really breaking in at night and Frank maybe should have re-read the chapter on illegal border crossing in the Chicago PD manual again, but ignorance works for him a lot of the time and he sees no reason to change now.

The kitchen is, of course, going to be the easiest place to get in. It has small, old windows that a penknife and a little wiggling can get Frank through, and he's small enough not to not lose a leg to a bad landing in the sink.

Frank isn't really sure what he's looking for -- or, rather, he knows what he wants to find but that doesn't mean it's going to be where he thinks it is. He wants something that might not even be tangible, some understanding, and he's not sure he's gonna find that in a file or an entry in a date book. Still, it's worth looking.

The one obstacle, which he initially thought was going to be some sort of security system, was the fact that the Consulate isn't empty at night. Gerard is living here, and Frank's not sure what that's about, whether it's a normal part of reassignment until he can find an apartment, or if it's something more like Frank suspects, that it's a mark of Gerard's reassignment being something less than permanent. He wishes Gerard would give him a straight answer if he asked, but he doesn't think that would happen, and so Frank doesn't ask. And hey, maybe it's personal stuff -- but it seems like there's a fine line between the personal and the case and, if Frank's on the case, then he needs to know what Gerard knows, skeletons in his closet or not.

Frank had better not find any skeletons in the closet while he's looking.

Frank's done enough breaking and entering to know that you have to be systematic and sometimes that's really boring. There are generally places you can rule out: closets, for instance, depending on if you're looking for files or packages. Normally Frank would have ruled out the kitchen entirely, but considering how much time Gerard spends there and how at home he feels, Frank figures he is just as likely to find something useful there as if he were going through Gerard's room.

There's nothing like insight in the kitchen or the pantry, and Frank wonders if maybe he should have brought Dewees in case there were some telling inconsistencies in the pantry stock. Dewees is bad at the systematic part of breaking and entering, though, and Frank doesn't see a reason to bring a civilian into the situations, even one as well-exposed to law-bending as Dewees.

There's no getting into Schechter's office, despite Frank's determined lock-picking, and if he's learned one thing from a bunch of undercover screw ups, it's knowing when not to push something. If Schechter's door is that resistant, there's a reason, and Frank doesn't need to force it to find out that Schechter sleeps standing up on the other side, or that he's booby-trapped it. Not that he thinks people really booby-trap their offices, but he's also never looked for personal evidence in a pantry before, so he's open to considering the Canadians don't follow the other rules.

Frank keeps his steps light, because this is an old building and floorboards creak, and maybe Gerard's a light sleeper. This is the real reason he's come, if he lets himself really think about it. The big mystery isn't hidden anywhere else in the Consulate. It's Gerard. And it's not like Frank thinks seeing him sleeping is going to answer any burning questions, but seeing someone unguarded while you rifle through their things can get you a long way.

Gerard isn't a light sleeper. Opening his door creaks and Gerard doesn't even shift. He's sleeping on a cot, which looks just a little more comfortable than the floor, but not by much. The side of his face is pressed into a folded blanket, which must be a pillow -- Frank thinks he's going to bring one of his own next time he visits and just donate it, because who doesn't at least keep extra pillows around? His mouth is open in a comical O like he was about to blow out a candle, but his eyes are soft and relaxed and Frank stands there for way longer than he should, just looking at Gerard. It's the first time he's seen Gerard out of uniform and Gerard's bare shoulder under a t-shirt is shocking, and he's so still. Gerard is never still, even when he's supposed to be, even when they're in the car or interrogating a suspect. Gerard's still and asleep and Frank's watching him and it makes something sudden and wild flutter in his stomach in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with breaking and entering.

It turns out Gerard doesn't have anything Frank doesn't know about scribbled in his notebooks.

"Frank?" Gerard says, still mostly asleep. Frank freezes and Gerard shifts on the cot, but his eyes aren't open. He takes a deep, sleepy breath and Frank can see his legs stretching under the blanket on the cot.

"Am I dreaming?" Gerard asks.

"Yeah," Frank says.

Gerard nods, and settles back in the cot the same way he was sleeping when Frank came in.

Frank goes down the stairs, checking that he hasn't left anything disturbed, any evidence, and then he climbs back out the kitchen window and closes it as he lowers himself back to the street.

No evidence of a big conspiracy is always a good sign; it's not like there were sheaves of notes Gerard was talking about something sketchy, no frosting or faked transportation logs. But Frank's still got a feeling of unease, and the most useful piece of information he's taken away from his evening trip to the Consulate is that Gerard needs a pillow.

Dewees is awake when Frank comes back to the warehouse.

"Find anything?" he asks, starting a pot of coffee in the kitchen.

"What are you talking about?" Frank says.

"Oh, so you weren't on some secret middle of the night breaking and entering adventure?"

Frank just empties his pockets of the lock picking kit.

"So where'd you go?" Dewees asks.

Frank shrugs. "The Consulate," he says, because it's not like Dewees won't find out, and anyway, Frank wants to talk about what he did -- or, rather, didn't -- find.

"Wow, Frankie, I'm impressed," Dewees says. He turns the coffeemaker on, wraps his -- or is that Frank's? -- bathrobe tighter around him, and sits at the kitchen table. "You could be extradited. You find anything?"

Frank shrugs again.

"Hey, doesn't your Mountie live there?" Frank does not look up at Dewees. "Oh my god, you broke in to watch him sleep, you freaky stalker!" Dewees says, pointing a tremulous finger in Frank's direction.

"So this is the thing that really drives me nuts," Frank says, redirecting. "I know he knows more about this ridiculous case than he's telling me."

"Have you tried asking him when he was awake?"

"Have I tried asking, fuck you. I've tried asking!" Frank says. "And I can tell he's only giving me half the answer."

"And so you thought..." Dewees says, getting back up to check on the coffee, which is only half brewed, but he pulls the pot out anyway, and they don't have one of those pots where you can pull the thing out mid-drip. A stream of coffee drips into the heating plate as Dewees pours them coffee, filling the kitchen with a burned coffee smell that sticks in Frank's throat. "You thought that watching him sleep would give you some answers?"

"No," Frank says, but he's starting to lose track of what side of the argument will let him win. Dewees looks at him over the rim of his coffee.

"Tell me specifically what it is that you suspect he knows that he's not telling you," Dewees says. "We can figure this out like the seasoned professionals that we are."

Frank wants to argue about Dewees being a professional anything, but he takes a sip of the coffee, which is warm and rich and settles something inside of him and this is why he brought it up to Dewees in the first place.

"Fine," Frank says, though Dewees already knows Frank was never going to try to talk his way out of it. "I think he knows what his brother's involved in."

Dewees lets out a slow breath. "And you're not comfortable with him coming here to rescue his brother from the clutches of this city's evil?"

"It's not -- it's not the whole story!" Frank says.

"Okay, so, imagine that I went to Canada because my brother was involved in some sort of evil bakery scheme and I was worried about him. What would you do?"

"I'd come up there and kick your ass -- you hate your brother," Frank says.

Dewees is looking at him, though, like he's already answered the question. "So you think he's telling me he's here to rescue his brother, but he's really here to just get him and take him back to Canada so he can kick his ass?" It's interesting, but Frank still doesn't feel like it's everything.

"Tell me this one thing, Frankie," Dewees says. "Are you upset that there are things he's not telling you? Or are you upset because he's not telling you?"

"Huh?" Frank says, unable to unpack what it is Dewees means by the riddle. Dewees just sips his coffee and shakes his head.

*

 

Meanwhile, back in the Yukon...

It's two days before Ray can get to a phone, and when he does, he has to actually scale the telephone pole to get to it. Un-fucking-believable.

No one answers when he calls his old extension, so he has to redial, and gets Frannie.

"2-7," she says, sounding bored.

Ray cuts her off before she could say anything else, "Yo, Frannie, I need to talk to your brother."

"Ray?!" she cries, sounding shocked, "I thought you were in Canada."

"I am in Canada, Frannie --"

"Is Fraser with you?" She asks.

Ray glances involuntarily down at Fraser, who is playing happily with the dogs, instead of, say, waiting below to catch Ray when he inevitably falls, like Ray asked him to.

"Yeah, he's here," Ray says, and then continues quickly before Frannie can get a word in edgewise, "but he can't come to the phone right now, and I really need to talk to Vecchio, so could you put him on already?"

"You don't have to bite my head off," Frannie huffs, "because he's not here."

"Well where is he?"

"Florida," Frannie says, "Or he will be soon. That's why you're calling, right?"

"What? Why would I care?" Ray curses, and almost falls off the damn telephone pole.

"Right?" Frannie is still chattering into his ear. "Why Florida, of all places? I think California --"

Ray takes in a deep breath, and tightens his grip on the pole, "Listen, Frannie, never mind Florida -- who have they got replacing him?"

"Frank Iero," Frannie says, "I think he's French."

"They got Frankie? Great! Perfect! Thank fucking god, I love that kid, put him on," Ray says.

"He's out with the new Mountie," Frannie says, "who, by the way, is adorable, let me tell you --"

The line crackles and Ray thinks he can't possibly have heard her right. "Listen, Frannie, I'm losing you. Just tell him the guys from Cooperstown have started up again. You got that Frannie? Cooperstown. They're setting up operations in a new bakery, Angels -- something. He'll know what I'm talking about."

"Got it," Frannie says, "the angels are setting up a new bakery in Cooperstown."

"What?" Ray yells into the phone. "No!"

The sound of a deep voice bellowing crackles through the line, and Frannie gives a little squeak and says, "Gotta go, tell Fraser hi for me," and hangs up.

"Fuck," Ray curses into the dead receiver, and then curses again when he looks down at the ground.

Fraser is now rolling around in the snow with Dief, honest to god, laughing out loud, and it breaks Ray's stupid heart because he knows that whatever reprieve he's had is over.

He's going back to Chicago.

*

When Frank walks into the 2-7, Frannie thrusts a message into his hands so forcefully that he stops and Gerard runs into him.

"What's this?" he asks, shaking the note at Frannie.

"What does it look like?" she says, impatiently. "It's a message. Read it."

Frank does. "The angels are setting up a new bakery in Cooperstown.'" He looks down and reads it again. "Frannie, what does this even mean? Who's it from?"

"He says you'd understand."

"Who says?" Frank says. He hands the message to Gerard, since, if it's some kind of code, he figures Gerard would be the one to figure it out. Gerard looks at the message very closely.

"Ray," Frannie says.

"Toro?" Frank asks.

"Who's Toro?" Frannie asks. "Is he a bullfighter? I want to go to this bakery -- where's Cooperstown?"

"It's in New York," Frank says absently. "Baseball Hall of Fame. Ray Toro," he says.

"How did a bullfighter get into the Baseball Hall of Fame?" Frannie asks.

"I think he means Detective Toro," Gerard says. Frannie gives him a smile she reserves only for Mounties.

"Ah," Frannie says. "No, it was Ray Kowalski," Frannie adds. "He called from Canada and left that for you."

Frank takes it all in. Ray Kowalski called with a message from Canada. A message he can't make heads or tails of. "Oh, man, Kowalski, unbelievable," Frank says.

"Do you understand the message?" Gerard says, sounding concerned.

"No," Frank says. "Not at all." He takes the message back from Gerard and sits down at his desk.

Welsh calls out for Frannie, something about how he doesn't like shortbread. Frank's never heard so much about bakeries in his life. "The angels are opening a bakery," Frank murmurs to himself. "It's got to be some kind of code."

"Maybe it's just slightly hidden," Gerard says. "Let's take it apart -- what does Cooperstown make you think of?"

Frank shrugs. "Besides bad hot dogs in the parking lot of the Baseball Hall of Fame? Oh," he says, standing so suddenly he knocks his keyboard almost off his desk. "Cooperstown." He sits back down and starts typing. He pulls up a file, scans it, and then looks up at Gerard, who's reading over his shoulder. "It's a case Ray and I worked on, a few years back."

"You worked with Detective Kowalski?" Gerard says, a little bit of awe in his voice.

Frank shrugs it off. "Undercover," he says, because it's different, it's not like he worked with Ray Kowalski. Frank's cover, Roger Vinter worked with Sam Spry, Ray's cover. And wow, was Ray a master at undercover work. Frank had practically been taking notes every second on the way Ray held himself, the confidence with which he slipped into his cover. Frank needed a week at least to become whoever he was to become, and longer to shake it off, but Ray managed to turn it on and off like a light, because he was always mostly himself. It was like he was a chameleon: same basic shape, different colors. And Frank was more like Play-Doh, always something else.

"I'd just come off a rough job," Frank says.

"Had you gotten stabbed?" Gerard asks.

"No." Frank shakes his head, wondering if Gerard's ever going to get over his stabbing trauma. "But it was like I'd been stabbed, you know, like I had this injury I was walking around with that wasn't healing, except it was inside my head."

Gerard nods very solemnly.

"There was this catering business," Frank says. "Bringing in ridiculous revenue, more than they could make if they catered every wedding and retirement party in the state every single day of the year. Ray and I went in, posing as another caterer they were running out of business, trying to make a deal. Ray got in good, figured out what they were up to. But in between, when you're still undercover but you're not actually with the people you need to be undercover around, well, there's not a lot to do but wait. And talk."

Frank's surprised that Gerard isn't interrupting, but he's seen people like this before when he starts talking about Kowalski, and he never knows if it's because of what they've heard about him, because they have a story like this of their own, or if it's just something in Frank's voice sounds when he talks about him. He figures he probably sounds different, because no one ever made him feel as down to earth as he did when he was talking to Ray Kowalski.

"So Ray and I talked. We told stories and talked about being guys who were good at undercover and I told Ray about the bad case I'd been on, the bad cases, the injury up there in my mind."

For a second, Gerard looks like he wants to touch Frank's head, and Frank's going remind him it wasn't a real injury, but then Gerard drops his hand and Frank just continues with the story, although this is the part he's never very good at telling because it wasn't like it was one particular thing Ray had said to him. It was everything Ray said, and it made Frank feel whole again in a way he hadn't for a long, just the way Ray understood him. "Anyway, Ray got me, and it helped, and it made me a better cop, after."

Gerard nods very seriously, and now Frank's lost the thread of the story. He's just looking at Gerard and they're nodding at each other like they really understand something neither of them can find the words for.

"So," Frank says, trying to find whatever it was he was trying to say. "The Cooperstown gig, they were running drugs in the food. Giant containers of frosting laced with drugs that they'd take over the border, the product and the delivery system all in one." Frank says. Gerard's eyes go wide. "So if they're opening a new bakery..." Frank's thinking it through as he's talking, and it hits him as he says it exactly what Ray's message means and how it's about this case, this very case he and Gerard are working on right now.

"The angels," Gerard says, coming to the same conclusion. "Angels & Cakes."

Frank's thinking about how to reach Ray when he doesn't know where he is in Canada, how Ray knows about the case, who he needs to call in New York to get the scoop on what happened once he left Cooperstown, but what comes out of his mouth is a question that freezes Gerard to the spot. Frank says, "What in the world is your brother involved in?"

"I need to go back to the Consulate," Gerard says. "Actually, you should come with me," and just like that, Frank follows, just like he's been doing this whole time, because maybe this time he'll actually get the answer he wants.

*

"Listen," Buck says, taking an emphatic bite of the custard that Gerard has pulled out of the refrigerator and set in front of them. "It's time you boys knew the whole story since you're practically knee-deep in it."

Gerard had taken Frank to the Consulate with the intention, as far as Frank could determine from what little Gerard was saying, of asking Schechter something. When they'd arrived, Schechter was nowhere to be found. Buck, though, was waiting at the door for them, like he'd known they were coming. He'd asked Gerard if there was anything to eat and then he'd started in on this.

"We know the story," Gerard says.

"Oh, no, you don't," Buck says. "This goes way beyond you and your brother and that short guy with the tattoos, what's his name."

"Wentz," Frank says.

"Yes. It goes way beyond Wentz. This is excellent custard," Buck says to Gerard, gesturing with his spoon.

"Thank you," Gerard says absently. "So you know what's going on with Mikey?"

"That's what I'm trying to tell you, son, even you don't know what's going on with Mikey. Even Mikey doesn't know what's going on with Mikey."

Frank looks at Gerard, who looks just as confused. Buck's scraping the ramekin and he licks the spoon completely clean before continuing. Frank's trying very hard not to clear his throat in impatience.

"And you couldn't have says anything sooner?" Gerard bursts out the second Buck's spoon is on the table, like it was some sort of intricate signal of table manners that Frank didn't recognize.

"I had to be sure you were on the trail -- you had to find out for yourself, then I could bring you in," Buck says.

"Bring us in?" Frank says.

"Let me tell you a story," Buck says. Gerard sighs, which, Frank thinks, is a pretty funny thing, because Frank can easily imagine Gerard evading an explanation with a similar sort of tactic. "I was stationed at Ibex Valley, a few months after the Musical Ride. Just a short assignment, temporary coverage for old Berney who'd ended up with a trainee's arrow in his ankle -- nasty accident; needed to recuperate somewhere warm, you know. I was there barely a week before I got a delivery of baked goods."

"What?" Frank asks, because he thinks he must of zoned out somewhere in the middle. "Baked goods?"

"I knew they had to be lost, because it was a delivery truck, and not a sled."

"You have delivery sleds?" Frank asks.

"How did a truck get all the way to Ibex Valley in January?"

"Exactly," Buck says, pointing at Gerard. "They were lost. I gave the driver some dinner and some directions and he just happened to leave behind some cupcakes."

"Cupcakes?" Frank says. He feels more lost than the driver.

"You stole cupcakes from a lost driver?"

"It was an even trade!" Buck protests. "Until I had one. Half of one, really, I was just thinking about the excellent consistency of the frosting, and then --"

"Then what?" Frank says.

"Then I saw a snow dolphin."

"What?" Frank explodes.

"Oh dear," Gerard says.

"Came right up to the door, asked if it could have my hat," Buck says. "That's when I knew something was wrong."

"Yeah, because it wanted your hat," Frank says. "There's no such thing as a snow dolphin, right?" Frank asks Gerard, just in case.

"I think he was hallucinating," Gerard says.

"Indeed I was!" Buck says. "Quite vividly. Apparently some of the conversation I was having with the snow dolphin was actually with Constable DeLeon, who had the wherewithal to call me a doctor."

"It was the cupcake," Gerard says.

"Specifically the frosting," Buck says.

"It was laced with drugs?"

"It was more than laced -- it was a mule."

"Are you saying," Frank says, "that the case we're on is actually bakers using cupcakes for drug mules across international borders?"

"Not just cupcakes," Buck says. "Wedding cakes, Napoleons, macaroons, thousands of kilos of drugged frosting crossing international borders."

"Why frosting," Gerard asks, puzzled, "You wouldn't be able to take it back out again to sell it."

"Why would you want to?" Frobisher asks.

"They sell the frosting," Frank says.

"Tastiest way to get high since they invented pot brownies," Frobisher adds, his eyes going a bit dreamy.

"And that's what your brother is mixed up in?" Frank turns to Gerard.

"I need to cook something," Gerard says. "Who wants whoopie pies?"

"That sounds wonderful," Buck says.

"Gerard," Frank says, but Gerard's just taking out ingredients and not looking at him. "I'm going to make a few calls, see if I can dig up a lead before we go stake out that meet."

"Try it in four feet of snow!" Buck says, as Frank's walking off into the entryway, his phone to his ear.

A few hours and four dozen whoopie pies later, Gerard's rubbing his hands over the leather of the passenger seat of Frank's car, right along the edges, like he's looking for a secret release. If he hadn't been talking about how much he liked the car for the past twenty minutes, it would have looked like he was looking for an escape hatch. But Frank's been watching him the whole time and it's more like Gerard is learning the car with his hands, like he's decided that he's committed to this small space they're spending the next three hours in.

It's going to be short for a stakeout. It's more like a wait-and-see-out, but Frank's never been very good at surveillance. It requires him to sit still and pay attention. Frank can really either do one or the other, really, and he pays attention best when he's able to get up and move around. So he sits still and lets his mind wander, watching Gerard touch the car, thinking about all the ways someone could use bakeries as a front for various illegal operations.

"Do you like vanilla frosting on chocolate cake, or chocolate frosting on vanilla cake?" Gerard says. It takes Frank a minute to get his mind back on track to realize Gerard is not asking a question about the car or bakery fronts, but just about dessert.

Frank considers. "Chocolate frosting on vanilla cake," Frank says after a minute and Gerard nods, like he'd expected it all along. "Does it say something about me? Which one I like?"

"I think so," Gerard says, "but not something good or bad... just... I think it means something."

"Which one do you like?" Frank asks.

"Oh," Gerard says, and it's funny because he seems surprised Frank is asking, and Frank can't understand how you'd ask anyone a question like that and not expect to get it asked right back. "Well, honestly, I prefer chocolate on chocolate," Gerard says.

"Hey, you didn't give me that option," Frank says.

"Oh," Gerard says again. "I guess it's just because it's supposed to be an opposite question. Like, one or the other."

'So," Frank says, "Then how do you get away with not picking either."

"I don't know," Gerard says thoughtfully. "Sometimes cake is just so complicated."

"You're telling me," Frank says.

Gerard is suddenly leaning closer to Frank. "Actually, if we're not talking about opposites, then I really prefer mocha frosting."

It sounds like Gerard's confessing a big secret. Frank feels like he owes him one of his own. "Sometimes I don't even eat the frosting," Frank says. "Especially if it's like a layer cake or something? I just eat the parts of the cake that have soaked up the frosting, but not the frosting layers."

Gerard's smile is bright and close. "I'm totally making you a layer cake just so that you can eat the cake and leave the frosting," Gerard says. "What flavor do you want?"

"Surprise me," Frank says. Gerard's still smiling. Frank is surprised to find his heart's beating faster than makes sense during a conversation about cake.

Suddenly there's a scuffle at the loading dock leading out onto the alley. Gerard lifts his binoculars. "Anyone we recognize?"

"It looks like Patrick, but also not like Patrick," Gerard says nonsensically and then his hand is on the door.

"Wait," Frank says, his hand on Gerard's thigh. Their eyes meet, Frank releases his hand. "You can't just run after him."

"I think he knows something," Gerard says. "It must be Patrick's twin, Donnie -- he was hiding in the kitchen when that guy threw the knife at you."

"Then all he's gonna know is what the kitchen looks like."

Gerard lifts the binoculars again. Frank sighs.

When he looks back out the window, over Gerard's shoulders, he sees Donnie -- he looks unmistakably like Patrick, except for the little goatee on his chin. He's being followed by a man with disheveled hair, ripped clothing, and a long, lanky frame, who looks like a rocked-out Jiminy Cricket. Unlike Donnie, he isn't familiar at all, but that doesn't rule out that this whole thing is some kind of baking conspiracy based out of Angels & Cakes.

"Gimme the binoculars," Frank demands.

"No," Gerard says in a low voice, "I need them for lip reading."

Except it turns out Gerard doesn't need the binoculars for lip reading, because Jiminy and Donnie don't seem to be worried about being overheard, and the acoustics at the loading dock are in their favor. As the first clearly audible words drift in the car windows, Frank shoots Gerard a smug look of triumph and takes the binoculars.

"I don't get why you think Mikey is the mole, Donnie," Jiminy says. "In fact, I'm not sure why you think Tiffany's plane crashing in the Yukon proves that there's a mole, either."

"He was the only one besides me who knew that she was making that run," Donnie replies, and Frank's blood runs cold at the stubborn fury he hears in his voice.

"So he crashed her plane?" Jiminy argues. "Is he a mole or an assassin? Come on, you know she's a terrible pilot. She can barely even drive, it doesn't mean anything! And anyway, she made it out fine."

"Without the cargo," Donnie points out grimly. "And I just found out this morning that she was arrested when she fled to Yellowknife. Right after they got Alex. You think that's a coincidence?"

"I think it's bad luck," Jiminy grouses. "Mikey's a good guy."

"That's what I'm worried about," Donnie growls, and pulls a gun out of his pocket.

"Whoa!" Jiminy says, throwing his long arms out. "What the fuck!"

"You're talking too much," Donnie says, "and he's going to be here any minute, and I don't need you tipping him off."

Except Mikey isn't going to be there, Frank knows, but Gerard is tensing up like a guitar string that's about to snap next to him.

"You're not going to shoot Mikey!" Jiminy protests.

"I'm going to shoot you if you don't shut up," Donnie says, swinging around to face Jiminy, and leveling the gun at him.

Frank lowers the binoculars and sees Gerard gesturing at him, pointing between the two of them, and waving at the front door of the bakery. Frank thinks he is trying to tell him that they should cut through the bakery, and then try to surprise the guys at the loading dock, but mostly Frank thinks that because that is what he was thinking. Mikey not showing up is not going to convince this Donnie guy of his innocence, and besides, he totally threw a knife at Frank, so he's not really excited about the possibility of him getting away. Also, he's starting to feel bad for Jiminy.

That's not what Gerard is indicating though, Frank finds out, because he's halfway through the empty bakery when he realizes Gerard's not behind him, and when he runs over to the window to look out over the loading dock, Gerard is vaulting over a chain link fence and sprinting between the two men.

"Shit," Frank curses, and starts running.

*

"Put down your weapon," Gerard says, facing Donnie and using his best law enforcement voice.

"What the --" Donnie says, and then cocks the gun, his face ugly with fury. "Make me."

"I won't have to," Gerard says, shaking his head.

"Oh no?" Donnie mocks. "You got some other unarmed Mounties ready to jump out at me?"

"No," Gerard says, "but my partner's standing right behind you with a gun."

Frank has barely rounded the corner, still panting, and slides his gun out of his holster as Gerard speaks. He gives Gerard a scowl as he levels his weapon at Donnie's head and says, "Chicago PD, asshole, drop the gun."

Donnie curses, and lowers his weapon, but doesn't drop it, and turns to face Frank.

Frank keeps his aim steady, but mostly he's looking at Gerard. "What the fuck is wrong with you? You're afraid of knives, but not guns?'

"I'm not afraid of knives!" Gerard protests. "Can you please just arrest this guy?"

"You jumped a fence and landed in between two guys with guns!" Frank yells, still clearly flustered, but he turns his attention back to Donnie anyway. "Drop your weapon on the ground, or I will totally shoot you."

From behind him, Gerard can see Donnie's shoulders tense and he can tell that he isn't going to give up easily. He steps forward to intervene, but he's too late. All of a sudden, Donnie is a blur of motion, flinging himself at Frank, and bowling him over, before he takes off towards the mouth of the alley. Frank gets a shot off, but he isn't aiming to kill or even wound, and Donnie ignores the chipped bits of brick that jumped out at him from where the bullet clips the building, and keeps on running.

Gerard doesn't stop to think, and takes off after him.

He doesn't catch him. Gerard gives up -- he isn't sure how many blocks later, having run until long past he's lost his breath. Donnie has finally lost him when he'd topples over a table stacked high with Girl Scout cookies that is blocking his path in front of a small grocery store. Gerard, who has, in Donnie's wake, already dodged a faded armchair, left out on the curb, a small shrub, and a flock of pigeons, finds the wailing preteen girls

Frank, unlike the last time Gerard had taken off, is not right behind him. In fact, it's several minutes before he catches up, and Gerard has begun walking disconsolately back to where he remembers the bakery being before he finds him.

Frank is walking, not running, shoving the protesting form of the other man from the meet in front of him as he goes. His gun is holstered, but handcuffs are on the guy's wrists.

"Are you okay?" Gerard asks softly. Up close, he looks very young, and nervous, though the nerves were probably mostly from the way Frank still has a death grip on the back of his shirt.

"Uh," He says, "Hi, I'm William." He pauses for a moment, looking at Gerard and then cranes his head around to try and see Frank. "Who the hell are you people?"

"We're asking the questions," Frank says, his tone almost mild, though he tightens his grip noticeably.

"Oh no," William says, "I'm not saying anything unless you take me to Gabe."

"The guy from the bowling alley?" Frank asks incredulously, and Gerard really can't blame him, because Gabe... probably wouldn't have been his first choice for protection either.

"Do you know how much trouble I'm in now?" William continues, "Donnie's gonna think I've ratted him out to the cops or something."

"He's not the only one you're in trouble with," Frank says, "in case you haven't noticed. So talk."

He doesn't talk much. They end up taking him back to the bowling alley after all, and Gabe practically glues himself to them when they step through the door, informing them of William's rights, and blocking their questions with all the skill and persistence of a lawyer. Gerard is almost surprised he doesn't give them his card.

What he does have to say, though, makes Gerard's blood run cold.

"Donnie will go after Mikey," William confirms as they take a seat at one of the tables behind the lanes at Gabe's bowling alley, his thin shoulders hunched, and his long-fingered hands curled around a mug of coffee Gabe has pressed on him, "He'll come after me, too, but I'm not sticking around."

"So what's the deal with this guy Donnie?" Frank asks. "Why is he so set on Mikey as his mole?"

Gabe rolls his eyes. "You mean, aside from the fact that cops showed up at his meet?"

"He thought it was Mikey before that," Gerard points out, fighting back a wave of guilt that says, Yeah, that probably hasn't helped.

"He did," confirms William. "There have been a couple of incidents in our... business lately --"

"Their totally legitimate business," Gabe interrupts.

"-- and Donnie wanted someone to take the heat for it. And he's not exactly Mikey's biggest fan, so." William shrugs.

"You think there's anything to it?" Gerard asks, trying to sound casual, but his heart is in his throat, and he's hoping that William will say that Mikey has been trying to do the right thing, or that he's never been deep enough into the actual drug smuggling to not realize he should get out.

"Not until you showed up, man," William scowls.

"Look," Frank breaks in, "we're going to need to find him --"

William glares.

"-- so we can warn him," Frank continues.

"No one knows where he is," Gabe says, for once being helpful, and actually offering information. "Not since he got in that fight with Pete -- no one's seen him."

"That was one nasty break up," William comments, sounding almost gleeful. "Mikey punched him right in the eye."

"Anyway," Gabe says, "you could always find Mikey through Pete, before. Now..." He shrugs. "Who knows?""

Except what Gerard knows is that Mikey hasn't actually punched Pete. That was a lie.

So what if the fight itself is a lie?

Frank does that trick of his where he basically reads Gerard's mind. The thing is, Frank doesn't look very happy about what he's psychically read there.

*

"You want to go pay Pete a visit," Frank says, and he knows the answer's yes.

"I'm telling you, man, it's a waste of time." Gabe snorts. "Pete does not want to talk about Mikey."

But the room is narrowing and Frank has already forgotten that Gabe and William are there, that they are in the middle of the bowling alley, that they are in the middle of a case dealing with evil bakers. All that Frank sees is Gerard, and all he feels is the frustration he's been squashing for days, bubbling up and over all of his edges.

"No," Frank says. His voice is louder than he means it to be.

"I have to talk to him," Gerard says.

"No," Frank says again, and then he's crowding up into Gerard's space. Gerard takes a step back, bumps the table, which scrapes across the floor. Frank thinks he hears coffee splash out onto the table, but he doesn't care. Gerard is staring back at him, defiant.

"It's obvious Pete knows how to reach Mikey and --"

"Jesus Christ, Gerard!" Frank shouts. "Are you lying about being a Mountie?"

"What?" Gerard stutters.

"I mean, you're lying about everything else, maybe you stole the uniform, too."

"This is maybe not the best time for this conversation," Gerard says, tilting his head at Gabe and William, but Frank's temper is rolling out of his control.

"You're not acting like this is a case at all. You're not acting like an investigator. You're chasing blindly after Mikey. Every lead we find, every person we talk to -- all that matters to you is your brother."

"He's in trouble," Gerard protests.

"He might be the trouble," Frank says. "We're dealing with an international drug trafficking operation and all you want to do is find your brother and lock him in his bedroom!"

"Mikey's your brother?" a voice breaks in, and when Frank turns, he suddenly remembers that, yeah, they have an audience.

Gerard nods at William.

"Frank, listen, we can --"

"No," Frank says, clinging to the word. "This is how this is gonna go. I'm going to go back to the 2-7 and act like a detective, and you're going to go wherever you're going to go and act like whoever you want to act like. If you find a lead and you need my help, you can call me. I'll do the same. If you find your brother, leave me a message before you head back to Canada."

Frank turns and walks out of the bowling alley, gets in his car and drives off, not feeling guilty for leaving Gerard without a ride -- not feeling anything at all except an annoying craving for layer cake and a distinct urge to be anyone other than himself.

*

It is typical of Mikey, Gerard thinks, as he begins walking slowly back to the Consulate, to have outsmarted himself like this. Mikey is practical, clever, and levelheaded and oh-so-certain that his plans will work. And 99% of the time they do, which only makes it worse, because that 1% of the time they don't, Mikey never sees it coming. At least his lack of contingency planning during the Highland Farms Science Fair disaster hadn't resulted in a life or death scenario, even if the explosion had been pretty impressive.

Gerard isn't really looking where he's going, too lost in thought about how completely wrong Frank is about all the things he'd said at the bowling alley to do anything more than step around the other pedestrians, or the occasional fire hydrant, but suddenly a large shadow looms up in front of him, and Gerard has to stop in his tracks to keep from running into Bob.

"Looking for someone?" Bob asks.

"How did you..." Gerard begins, and then remembers that he'd interrupted their last conversation by chasing Mikey down the street, so yeah, Bob probably has a pretty good idea about what Gerard is trying to do.

"Yeah, my brother," he says finally, and a little awkwardly, unsure if he should be talking to a guy that Frank is so obviously suspicious of. On the other hand, Frank doesn't like Gerard much either.

"Anything I can do to help?" Bob says, and he may be twice Gerard's size, and maybe a little scary looking, but the expression of warm concern in his eyes melts Gerard just a little.

"He's not a dog, though," Gerard says, biting his lip.

"Obviously," Bob says, rolling his eyes. "Being your brother, I had kind of assumed that. Here, let's go inside," he adds, and he is holding a door open -- has been the whole time, Gerard suddenly realizes, and they're standing in front of a coffee shop.

Gerard ducks inside, and is immediately drawn in further by the rich dark scent of coffee so that he's at the counter in the space of a heartbeat. It's a welcome distraction, and it is much easier not to think about Frank with a cup of coffee in his hands.

"I've got it," Bob says, coming up behind Gerard and putting a hand on his shoulder.

Gerard claims a table that's only occupied by someone's discarded napkin. He spends the time waiting for Bob to return with the coffee shredding it, and thinking about how he's going to find Mikey on his own. It's entirely possible he's also thinking about Frank, but it's an unproductive train of thought, so he tries to ignore it, tries not to think about how he may have messed things up with the one guy who's been helping him.

"So, what have you got on your brother's disappearance?" Bob says, sitting down with coffee, and Gerard startles at the question, and realizes that he hasn't been thinking about Mikey after all.

"Oh." Gerard sighs, trying to figure out how much he can tell Bob without giving away too much about the whole international drug ring. "Not much. He broke up with his boyfriend, quit his job, he's not at his apartment."

Bob blows on his coffee and takes a small sip. "Right. So let's focus on what you know."

"I don't --" Gerard begins, but Bob cuts him off.

"Look, with finding dogs, it's not about knowing where they are as much as it is knowing the dog."

"I don't think Mikey has a favorite fire hydrant," Gerard quips, almost reflexively, and then he sees what Bob means. He's been treating Mikey's disappearance as the wrong kind of case. Mikey's not a perp he needs to flush out by questioning his known associates. Mikey's like – he's more like a runaway – one Gerard already knows. And he knows Mikey's habits.

Bob is patiently sipping his coffee, like he knows Gerard gets it, "You know your brother, right?"

"But I don't know this city!" Gerard says, hating the fact that it's true. Part of the reason he hates the fact that Mikey had moved to Chicago is because he can't visit as often, just dropping by because he picks up a movie they want to see, or going out to a new bar they find. And he's lost that easy knowledge of his brother's lives, where he hangs out, who he knows.

"I do," Bob points out mildly. "Dinner hour's coming up, right? Does he go out to eat?"

"Yeah, he likes tiny little hole-in-the-wall places, cafes and things."

"Ok," Bob says. He takes out a little notebook, and they start writing down names, and addresses, the two of them figuring out their best ideas of possible locations.

The progress – or maybe just the caffeine – gives Gerard new energy. Maybe Frank's right about how he's obsessing over Mikey, but -- but it's what he has to do. Gerard will take Bob's list, and go looking for Mikey without getting tangled up in Frank's case. And then he'll find Mikey and call Frank and go back to Canada, or whatever he has to do next.

"Thanks," Gerard says, taking the completed list from Bob when it's done, "This is awesome. If there's anything I can do for you, seriously."

Bob nods, and sips his coffee thoughtfully before asking, "Have you ever been in a situation where you suspected someone was cheating on your friend?" Bob asks, and he's not looking at Gerard, but his face, turned toward a framed poster of Starry Night, is tense and unhappy.

"Is --" and Gerard stops, because he realizes he doesn't know Bob well enough to ask whether he's asking because thinks someone is cheating on him. "No, but I've had the opposite happen."

Bob turns back to face him, and he gives Gerard a kind of doubtful look, so now he feels compelled to explain.

"On the Musical Ride, I caught one of the tenors with the weather girl from the local news station," Gerard says, shuddering a little with the memory of how awkward it had been to find the pair entwined under his desk. That, really, had been their first mistake.

Bob leans forward. "What did you do?"

"Well, I ran away," Gerard says. "But later I tried to talk to him, because I knew he was married."

Bob snorts. "How'd he take it?"

"Uh," Gerard says, "he punched me in the face? I mean, we hardly knew each other, so it really wasn't any of my business."

"Okay," Bob says slowly. "So, hypothetically speaking, if you were in that situation again, you wouldn't get involved?"

"Oh no," Gerard says honestly. "I probably would? But I'd duck." Not being able to learn from your mistakes is a sign of insanity, after all, and if Gerard knows himself, half the lesson here is the most he could hope for.

Bob seems to find it funny though, because he's chuckling a little. "I'll keep that in mind."

Gerard swishes what's left of his coffee around the bottom of the cup, and then looks at Bob, who's tipping his head back drink his own last few mouthfuls of coffee. He thinks that Bob must be in a hurry, but he doesn't get up to leave, even after he sets his empty cup down on the too small table.

"So is this just a hypothetical question?" Gerard asks.

"Yeah," Bob says, and then frowns. "Well, no."

Gerard thinks about that, and doesn't drink his coffee. Instead he says, "You know, most people don't want to believe bad things about people they love."

Bob responds, "No one wants to believe bad things about themselves either." Bob gives him a little half-smile and says, "See you around, Constable."

"Sure, come by the Consulate sometime," Gerard offers, and then hones in on Bob's weak spot. "We have an espresso machine."

"In that case," Bob says, his smile widening, "Try and get rid of me."

*

When Gerard gets back to the Consulate, he notices a weird car out front. Like, if Frank's car is a cupcake, then this car is a blueberry -- an intense, shiny indigo, and round in that distinct way of VW Bugs.

"Whose car is that?" he asks Brendon, who is doing something complicated with a stapler and a too-thick sheaf of paper at the reception desk.

"Mine!" Brendon beams. "I mean, if you're asking about the blue Beetle, it's mine."

"I am," Gerard says. "It's pretty cool."

"I got it used," Brendon confides, as though he were relaying an important secret, "but I think if I'm going to stay here, I should have a car, right?"

"You're really settling in," Gerard says hesitantly, and he's not sure why he finds it so disconcerting. Obviously Brendon was always supposed to be here -- and unlike Brian, he isn't supposed to be temporary, but...

There aren't a lot of places a guy like Brendon fits, which Gerard sympathizes with, but this is clearly one of them, and he's found it almost by accident. Gerard envies him that briefly, before he squashes the emotion down.

"Yeah," Brendon says, still light-hearted, and he's finally wrestled the sheaf of stapled papers into submission. "Well, once you took over the liaising, and Brian got here -- he's really cool, by the way, I don't know why you guys don't get along -"

"Brendon," Gerard says gently, trying to steer him back on topic -- Brian is never really a good topic, especially since he could be anywhere and has ears like a bat.

"Right." Brendon shrugs. "Anyway, I thought after that, that I could really make this job work, you know? Like who cares what Ry -- I mean, who cares if I don't want to take the bus, or whatever? So I got the car," he says, waving his arms out and making a shape with his hands that's probably supposed to represent the car, but is more reminiscent of -- well -- a blueberry.

"I can give you a ride," Brendon adds, "If you can't get one from Frank or whatever. I really owe you for taking over the liaising, so anytime you need a lift, let me know."

"How about now," Gerard says, and he can see the shape of his plan click together in his mind, like what he's been missing all along was only this blueberry car, and he feels a quick, sharp surge of hope.

"Um, sure," Brendon says. The look on his face is a little curious, but he nods again in confirmation.

"Great," Gerard says, idea after idea forming in his head about where to go to find Mikey and how to get there faster with a car. "Thanks."

"Just promise me there won't be any adventure," Brendon says seriously.

"Absolutely none," Gerard lies.

*

Frank knocks three times on the door to the warehouse and then opens it. Dewees is half inside a cardboard box, his ass sticking up over the edge.

"Nice view," Frank says.

"If you can't say anything nice, Iero," Dewees says and then stands up. His arms are full of bags of pink caster sugar. "You here for some cupcake liners? Just got a shipment in."

"I don't want your cupcake liners," Frank says. "What's with the sugar?"

"Wrong order," Dewees says. "Supposed to be green, bought it off the kitchen for a quarter of the price."

"What are you gonna do with pink sugar?"

"Sell it," Dewees says like Frank's missing the obvious. "Someone always wants something someone else doesn't want."

"Listen, I need to ask you about Cooperstown," Frank says. Dewees drops one of the bags of sugar and it tears, spilling pink granules all over his shoes and the floor.

"Fuckin' A, man, it's never good to be your informant -- shit. Before you say another word, gimme that broom."

Dewees was the only one from their group of friends who didn't laugh until they fell off their chairs when Frank told them he was taking the police exam, and ten years later, Dewees was the only friend who wasn't a cop who was able to keep up with the fact that eleven months out of twelve, Frank was pretending to be someone else. No matter who Frank was pretending to be, he always had a friend who dealt in remainder kitchen supplies to count on. It was a good business relationship, too, because Dewees got to know a lot of off the book people when he was acquiring his merchandise, and people talked.

Dewees practically broke the Cooperstown case with the lead he gave Frank last time, and if Cooperstown is happening again, if anyone would know how to find Donnie, it would be Dewees.

"I'm not getting involved in that shit," Dewees says when Frank fills him in. "Not this time. I can still feel the phantom pain of that broken nose."

"It's not phantom pain, you idiot, you still have a nose."

"And it still hurts when I remember how Donnie's second in command hit me in the face with a lasagna pan."

"Look, there's more at stake this time," Frank says.

"Your Mountie's brother?" Dewees says. "You tell me one thing, Frankie, you tell me that you're one hundred percent sure that this Mikey kid isn't neck deep in Donnie's business."

"Gerard knows what he's doing," Frank says.

"So he says. When were you going to mention this case had to do with Cooperstown?"

"I just found out," Frank says. "Kowalski called from Canada, gave me a tip."

"Kowalski's involved in this too? Jesus, Frankie, do we need to have dinner together more often, work on our communication skills?"

"Shut the fuck up," Frank says. "I know you know something, asshole, otherwise you wouldn't be grilling me about it. Do I need to buy some of that fucking caster sugar?"

"Don't try to bribe me, and watch who you're calling an asshole," Dewees says. "Asshole." Dewees gets up and starts unpacking the rest of the cardboard box. Underneath the pink caster sugar is a stack of bundt pans. Dewees tosses them to Frank one by one, and Frank stacks them on the nearest shelf. Sometimes waiting Dewees out is the only way to get him to say the thing he knows better than to say, and if it means Frank's going to spend the afternoon unpacking a shipment of black market baking supplies, than so be it.

"There's something happening at the Country Kitchen after hours," Dewees says. "And it doesn't have anything to do with bread. If it's Donnie, and I'm not saying it is, then that's where he'd be."

"Thanks," Frank says.

"Whatever," Dewees says. "I hope someone breaks your nose this time... There's a lot of big machinery in there. High-efficiency models, it's not some one-chef bakery, okay? You and your Mountie be careful."

"Okay," Frank says.

"You're bringing your Mountie, right?" Dewees says.

"Yeah, sure," Frank says, and goes upstairs before Dewees can see that he's lying. He's the one who told Gerard not to call unless he needed him, and Frank doesn't need Gerard to look into an after-hours kitchen deal that Dewees has gotten wind of. He doesn't. It's just a kitchen, how dangerous can it be?

*

Despite lying to Brendon, Gerard is actually able to keep his promise at the first restaurant they hit. It's the little Indian place with cheap prices and excellent naan that Bob says is in the radius of where Mikey probably went to ground. When they get there, it's a little early for Mikey -- six PM -- and Gerard might consider waiting around, but when he flashes the picture of Mikey on his cell phone to the greeter, he tells Gerard that he saw Mikey yesterday. So he thanks the guy and takes a warm container of samosas back to where Brendon is waiting in his blueberry car.

Mikey's not at the sandwich place either, and despite the fact that, on paper, it would suit Mikey down to the ground, Gerard has only to take in the rack of trashy magazines and the faint odor of slightly stale bread to realize that if Mikey ever ate here, it had only been once.

The third place is where they almost get in trouble. It's a sushi place, small and intimate, with colorful prints on the wall, and a Japanese historical drama playing quietly on the flat screen TV mounted on the wall. Brendon comes in with him, intent on following up his samosas with some tuna rolls.

He doesn't get them though.

After he's taken Brendon's order, Gerard shows the guy at the counter the picture of Mikey on his phone.

The guy grabs it out of Gerard's hands, narrowing his eyes at Mikey's picture, and makes a humming, speculative noise.

"Have you seen him?" Gerard repeats slowly, trying to ignore Brendon helpfully parroting his question in French.

And he's pretty sure there has been some miscommunication when the guy responds by throwing Gerard's phone at his head, and yelling loudly for them to get out.

"No, wait!" Gerard says, holding his hands up, "I just want to know if he's been here --"

"Get out!" the guy screams again.

"You had to bring up Angels & Cakes," the sushi chef says witheringly to Gerard, and then turns away from his sushi mat to calm the guy down. "It's ok, man, your bakery days are behind you."

He scoops his cell up from where it had landed on the floor, and pushes a protesting Brendon out the door in front of him. He hears something slam into the door as it closed behind him.

"Dude," Brendon says, "I think that guy threw a knife at you!"

"Yeah," Gerard agrees. "Don't tell Frank, okay?"

"I need to sit down," Brendon says.

Brendon refuses to get out of the car at the fourth place, and he's giving Gerard precise instructions for the kind of crêpe he wants when Gerard realizes his phone is broken. It isn't in pieces or anything, but it won't turn on anymore.

"He did throw it at you kind of hard," Brendon notes sympathetically.

"I don't have any other pictures of Mikey on me," Gerard says sadly, thinking of the whole album of pictures of Mikey he left in his parents' house.

"Try describing him," Brendon suggests, and turned and started groping around in the backseat.

"I don't know," Gerard says. "All I can think of is that he's kind of skinny and has, like, glasses."

"Got it," Brendon says, holding up a sketch pad and pencil triumphantly. "Okay, skinny, glasses, what else?"

Gerard stares at him, "Are you going to draw him?"

"Yeah, I trained as a sketch artist," Brendon says, perking up for the first time since the sushi place. Gerard doesn't have the heart to doubt him, after that, and when he finally has muddled through a description of Mikey, he's surprised when Brendon hands him a totally workable sketch of Mikey. It's actually good enough that Gerard thinks he should save it to give to Mikey, maybe as a present or something, if he can get it framed.

"Thanks," he says and gets out of the car.

"Don't forget my crêpe!" Brendon calls after him.

The cafe is awesome, just the sort of place that Mikey would like, and Gerard is filled with a wild sense of hope. He peers around to all the tables, and is so sure of the place that he's almost more surprised than disappointed when he doesn't see Mikey sitting there, sipping some coffee and eating a wild mushroom crêpe.

His sense of certain anticipation makes it about a million times worse when the waitress takes one look at his sketch and says that Mikey left a half hour ago.

"Do you know where he went? What direction?" Gerard asks, and his desperation must show on his face, because the waitress is giving him a sympathetic look.

"No, I'm sorry," she says gently. "But we don't have a really good view of the street from in here, and I couldn't say which way he was headed when he left."

"Does he come here a lot?" Gerard asks, grasping for some clue that Mikey might be nearby.

"Oh, all the time," she says. "If he comes back, do you want me to give him a message or something?"

Which is when Gerard remembers that his phone is broken and he can't even leave his number, or have her tell Mikey to call him. Not to mention that it might be too late by the time Mikey gets the message.

"No, thanks," Gerard says, momentarily at a loss. "Can I get a strawberry crêpe?"

"Where to now?" Brendon asked warily when he got back to the car, and then he paused and looked harder at Gerard's face. Gerard wasn't sure what he saw there, because he was totally going for an everything-is-ok-here poker face.

"Bad news?" Brendon asks, but it isn't really a question.

Gerard can't answer him, the words are stuck in his throat, so he just hands Brendon the styrofoam box with his crêpe. Brendon takes it with his left hand and pats Gerard's knee with his right.

"Honey, what's wrong with you? I haven't seen you with that expression on your face since your pet hamster died."

"Mr. Butternut," Gerard answers absently, and feels even worse at the brief pang of remembered grief hits him.

Brendon pauses mid-chew to give him an odd look.

"My hamster was called Mr. Butternut," Gerard explains, and Brendon doesn't look any less confused, but he nods, and goes back to eating his crêpe.

"He thinks you're talking to yourself," Elena points out, and Gerard jerks in his seat, because, obviously, Brendon doesn't know about Mr. Butternut to begin with, and he's making himself look like an idiot.

Gerard turns towards the backseat and waves at her stealthily.

"So, what's got you all worked up?" She says, and then wrinkles her nose. "Don't tell me you're still looking for your brother."

Gerard nods slightly and tries to convey the urgency of his search by widening his eyes and then blinking significantly.

"What? What's that supposed to mean? You look like a cartoon character," Elena grouses.

Gerard gives up on any hope of stealth -- and really, he doesn't see why his imagination has to make Elena so stubborn -- and decides to try a more direct approach. He turns back towards Brendon and says, "It's really important that I find Mikey."

Brendon just gazed at him for a second, and then swallows his mouthful of crêpe, "Yeah, I kind of got that impression," he replies slowly.

"Because there are these guys planning to kill him," Gerard continues.

"What?" Elena cries from the back.

"What?" Brendon says, so startled that he drops his fork under the seat.

"And he thinks these guys are his friends, he doesn't even know about it," Gerard continues, watching Elena's face in his peripheral vision become set and serious.

"Oh dear," she says quietly.

Brendon, in contrast, starts flailing, "Oh man, what? You said there wasn't going to be any adventure! You totally lied to me! We need to call Frank -- I can't handle murderers!"

"That boy is a terrible Mountie," Elena comments, momentarily distracted by Brendon.

"But he has an excellent singing voice," Gerard tells her, but Brendon is the one who answers him.

"Who, Frank?" he says.

"I don't know," Gerard says. "I've never heard him sing."

"Well, he's not on the Musical Ride now," Elena says. "He's going to have to man up sometime."

"Wait, what?" Brendon says. He is, by this point, looking sort of white and shaky, so Gerard tries to tune out Elena, because, well, as comforting as he finds her, and as much as he wants her advice, she isn't real, and Brendon is. And Gerard has lied to him, and used him, and he probably deserves more than just a crêpe, at this point.

"I'm sorry I didn't tell you, but I didn't think it would too dangerous to just canvas a few places, and I needed your help."

"Someone threw a knife at you!" Brendon protests. "That wasn't dangerous?"

"It didn't even come close," Gerard says, brushing it aside.

Brendon's eyes are wide. "Your brother's life is scary."

Gerard stops to consider that, and realizes that Brendon has a point, and that he's really going to have a talk with Mikey about his life choices when he catches up to him.

"He's always had an adventurous spirit," Elena notes.

"Does Frank know?" Brendon asks, when Gerard doesn't say anything.

"Yeah, he's following another lead, though," Gerard says vaguely.

"Okay," Brendon says, and seems to deflate, contemplating the few bites of crêpe on the box in his lap with what looks like complete focus. "Okay, I'll help you. Just -- don't lie to me again. I don't like surprises."

"Me either," Gerard says.

"So, where are we going now?" Brendon asks, as he closes the lid of the box and sets it down where Elena's feet are.

"I don't know," Gerard says despondently.

"I do," Elena says, and even though Brendon won't be able to hear her, her voice is quiet. "Gerard, I know."

Gerard wants to protest that she isn't real, that she can't know something he doesn't, but he won't. And while part of why he stays silent is because he doesn't need Brendon thinking he is even more crazy than he no doubt already does, mostly he just can't bear to say it, and deny the slight glimmer of hope that is glowing warm in his chest at her words.

"Do you?" Gerard asks, trying to keep his voice low.

Brendon answers anyway. "There's still the Thai place left."

"I'll give you directions," Elena says.

"Okay," Gerard says, feeling like he's lost what little grip he'd ever had on his sanity.

*

Frank's got a flashlight he's using cautiously as he picks the lock of the Country Kitchen's delivery entrance, but he drops it and it clatters across the floor as something takes Frank down around the middle. They scuffle for a few minutes, but Frank's resolutely not winning, and so before the attacker hits his weak spots -- the sore ribs and the stab wound -- he surrenders, arms up at his chest, fending off another blow. It's when he realizes he's looking to a familiar face.

"Frankie?" Jamia says, and she immediately stops trying to take a swing at him. "I thought you were a better fighter than this," she says, hauling herself up, and a moment later, offering a hand to help him up.

"I am," Frank says, and doesn't mean to sound petulant. Jamia laughs.

"You're on a job?"

Jamia rolls her eyes. "No, I've decided to go into drug trafficking. The pay's better, but there's no health insurance. What'd you do to your shoulder?" she asks, just stopping short of poking him there.

"Got stabbed."

"At least it's not pneumonia this time," she says.

"I did a thing with the Canadians. Sort of."

"Dewees said you had a Mountie," Jamia says. "Only a temporary thing?" Fucking Dewees, of course he'd told her about Gerard.

"You know I'm not good at partners," he says.

Jamia's smile is as sharp and bright as Frank remembered. "I know you think that, sweetie," she says. "Listen, I have a meet. You can look around, but try to stay out of the way."

Frank nods and she's rushing out back the way he came. "Wait," he says. "You didn't say who you are."

"Call me Winona," she says, and she's gone.

This is probably the moment that Frank should actually be calling Gerard, since this is looking like a pretty solid lead, since Jamia is here. He knows he's just being stubborn at this point, but Frank doesn't have much time to consider his own faults before he's being hit from behind with something heavy and dull, and when his vision clears, a skinny kid wearing a Joy Division T-shirt is tying him up to one of those high-efficiency pieces of industrial kitchen machinery. It looks like a giant treadmill with snow tires underneath. Frank is not having a good night as far as winning fights is concerned.

"Put him on the conveyor belt, I don't want him getting in the way," the guy who seems to be running the show says. "Tie him tight."

"Oh, thanks for the reminder," the skinny kid says. "I got distracted making bunny ears."

"Ow," Frank says. His hands are behind his back and he's tied to his ankles.

"Quite whining," the kid says. "At least it's real rope and not the polypropylene, that shit burns."

"Are you finished?" the head boss guy says. The kid looks at Frank and shrugs.

"Well, try to get away," the kid says.

Frank tugs at the rope. It barely gives. His shoulders are gonna start to kill him anytime now.

"He's good," the kid says. "Now can we get on with it?"

"You got places to be?" the head boss guy says.

"I don't want Donnie showing up and finding out we're only halfway through the job."

"You gonna tell us who you are?" the head boss guy asks Frank.

"Just looking to steal some replacement spatulas," Frank says. "Always lose mine."

"Fine, then, leave him," the head boss guy says and then he shuts the door.

"Just keep quiet, okay?" the kid says and shuts out the lights on his way out.

Frank is really, really wishing he wasn't such a stubborn asshole.

*

Brendon doesn't actually question the directions Gerard is feeding him until it starts to be increasingly obvious that they aren't headed to the Thai place, and even then he's only giving Gerard dubious sidelong glances. Gerard is surprised, too, though -- he wouldn't expect Mikey to be hanging around in some rundown industrial area, hiding or not.

"Left up here," Elena says, "at the truck yard."

"Seriously?" Brendon says when Gerard tells him, "Do you even know where we're going?"

"I've got a hunch," Gerard says lamely.

"You've only been in Chicago a few days, what kind of hunch could you possibly be having about this place?"

"He's my brother," Gerard says, as Brendon eases the car slowly around a dumpster that is taking more than its fair share of sidewalk and street. "I'm allowed to have hunches about him."

"Fine, just don't tell me you can hear his heartbeat from a mile away or something," Brendon grumbles.

"He's here," Elena says, sounding a little taken aback herself.

"Stop the car," Gerard says.

"Seriously?" Brendon asks again, but he stops the car. Then he locks all the doors.

"Look," Brendon says, "I don't know if this is a cry for help or what, but I still kind of owe you, and I don't think you should get out of the car here."

"Why not?" Gerard says. "It's not the best part of town, but..."

"Are you kidding me?" Brendon says, "Hey, I watch procedural cop dramas on TV, and I know what happens in this kind of place."

Gerard looks at the building they're parked in front of, assessing, but it looks just like your average, rundown, abandoned, heavily graffiti-ed, broken window-ed factory. "I'm sure it's fine," Gerard protests.

"Seriously?" Brendon says again, and he's getting a little too fond of that word, Gerard thinks. "Did you notice how, despite the fact that it's apparently abandoned, that the door is brand new? That the hinges aren't rusty? That there isn't even as much as a gap in the brand new boards over the windows?"

"Huh," Gerard says. "No." He tugs on the door again. Brendon has clearly used some kind of child lock or something though, because he can't get out.

"It's totally sketchy," Brendon tells Gerard, firmly ignoring Gerard's attempts to get out.

"It is kind of sketchy," Elena says, finally chiming in, "but Michael is definitely inside."

"Brendon," Gerard says, turning to face Brendon and staring deeply into his eyes, "do you know what the motto of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police is?"

"Yes," Brendon says, slowly, looking bemused.

"We always get our man!" Gerard says. "And my man? Is right inside that building." He gestures emphatically, because he knows the key to successful persuasion isn't just in what you say, but how you say it.

"Ew," Brendon protests, "he's your brother!"

It takes Gerard a second to get what he's implying. "What? That's not what I meant!"

"It's the French," Elena comments. "Perverts the mind."

"Anyway," Brendon says, "our motto is actually maintiens le droit."

"Fine," Gerard says, "then I need to maintain the droit in that factory. It's my duty as a peace officer, and a brother."

"You can't even be sure he's in there," Brendon protests, but Gerard just stares at him pleadingly -- he has a really good pleading look, and it works on pretty much everyone, so he tries to use it sparingly and only for really good causes. Brendon holds out for about five seconds and then melts.

"At least call Frank," Brendon says, and reluctantly unlocks the door.

Gerard has the passenger door open as soon as he hears the snick of the mechanism unlocking. "My phone broke, remember?"

Brendon gets out, too, right after him, "We can use mine," he suggests, and reaches into his pocket. Gerard knows he doesn't have it with him even before Brendon does, his face falling as he comes up empty.

"You left it in your desk." Gerard says, "On silent mode." Brendon gets a lot of phone calls, most of which he doesn't answer, but Gerard knows enough not to judge him for it.

Brendon flushes, and Gerard pauses for a moment, staring at his too-young face over the top of the blueberry car, "You don't have to come with me," Gerard says.

Brendon just rolls his eyes, and slams his door shut. "Whatever." He sighs. "The scary factory is totally less scary than what Schechter would do to me if you got killed."

"At least he knows how to prioritize," Elena says, flickering out onto the sidewalk.

Brendon is right, the door looks incongruously new and sturdy, so Gerard ignores it for the moment, and tries to calculate how hard it will be to get up to one of the windows and knock out some of the boards, so they can get in. So he's startled to hear a click and the quiet noise of resistant hinges, and when he turns, Brendon is waving at him to move.

So that's weird, especially considering the way Gerard's luck has been going, but it's not nearly as weird as stepping out from behind a stacks of pallets to see Mikey and a frantically struggling Frank tied to a conveyor belt.

It's hard for Gerard to make sense of what he's seeing for a number of reasons, probably the biggest of which is that Frank and Mikey are basically a twirled mustache and a flounced petticoat away from looking like one of the more ridiculous scenes of an old movie. Past that, he's thinking things like, Oh shit, how wrong was I? and Of course Frank found him, like it had been inevitable all along.

"Huh," Brendon whispers behind him, "do you think this white stuff on the floor is flour?" Then, a beat later he says urgently, "Is that Frank?"

Gerard gestures at him to shut up, because Frank has seen him, looked right at him nearly as soon as Gerard saw him. Gerard might be worried about that, that he's made a noise or something -- stealth isn't exactly his strong suit -- but he figures it is more like one of those things where if you stare at someone long enough, they can feel it. And Gerard can't look away, either -- Frank is the good guy here, and also? Being tied up by Gerard's brother, and if he can get him out of this, Gerard is aware that he's pretty much going to have to get down on his knees before Frank will forgive him.

Mikey hasn't noticed Gerard, though. He's busy explaining to Donnie, Gerard notes in shock, who has stepped forward out of what had been some convenient shadows, that he's never seen Frank before in his life. Gerard can't tell if they've gotten here just in time or if Mikey doesn't need help at all.

Right now, Gerard is more worried about Frank. He looks okay, though, just tied up. Except he keeps rolling his eyes and twitching weirdly. Gerard is worried he is having some kind of seizure there on the conveyor belt, until he realizes that Frank is signaling to him. And it is weird, because Gerard can tell that the eye roll means, "You're in plain sight, you idiot," and the twitch of his should means, "Circle around the dough mixer and come untie me."

It isn't exactly a plan, but there is a limit to how detailed you can get with body language when you are tied up, so Gerard doesn't hold it against him, grabbing Brendon and dragging him with him behind the dough mixer.

He can still see Donnie, between the bits of machinery, and he doesn't have his gun out, thank god, but his narrowed eyes are darting in between Frank and Mikey with obvious suspicion.

Elena makes an angry noise of protest -- Too loud, Gerard thinks, and winces, until he remembers that no one can hear her.

"I'm going to get backup," she says, her voice tight. "Don't get killed before it gets here," and vanishes.

Gerard doesn't know where she thinks she'll get backup from, when at best she's a ghost who only he can see, and at worst a mental construct made to channel his psychic powers. He is pretty sure she can't use a phone. Maybe one of those white noise machines, but that will probably take too long, and it isn't likely to reach anyone useful. Whatever she is, he wishes she'd stayed, because he has no idea what he's doing in this bakery with Constable Urie, his possibly evil brother, a habitual knife thrower, and a tied up Frank. Not that she could help, but, sadly enough, her insubstantial presence had been the least freaky thing here.

"You think the fact that you've tied him up will make me ignore the fact that you brought a cop with you?" Donnie is saying, and Gerard stops thinking about white noise and his grandmother and tries to focus on not getting all his favorite people killed in the next five minutes.

Mikey just shrugs at Donnie's accusation, as if he can hardly even be bothered to acknowledge the comment. "He was following you, not me," he says blandly, almost as an afterthought.

"Then you won't mind if I kill him," Donnie says -- and, oh crap, there's the gun. It isn't pointed at Frank, or Mikey, but Gerard can't help but remember how quickly he turned the gun on William, and he knows it's probably only a matter of time. A sick ball of anxiety forms in his stomach, and he scrambles towards Frank a little carelessly -- he can hear the scuff of his boots on the floor, and Brendon's hissed intake of breath.

But it's worth it, because then, the next instant, he's ducking down next to Frank, with the solid length of the conveyor belt between him and Donnie.

Frank is staring at him wide-eyed, which isn't exactly subtle, but Gerard can't mind. He tries to telegraph reassurance through his own gaze, but Frank just rolls his eyes and slumps back onto the conveyor belt.

Frank is bound to one of the slats of the belt with real rope, long and knotted, tied securely enough that Gerard thinks he won't be able to unknot it without cutting it.

He's reaching for his boot knife, when a change in the tone of Mikey's voice catches his attention, and he tunes back in.

"-- didn't have anything to do with that," Mikey is saying, sounding angry now, and also, a little bit like he's lying, but Gerard doubts that anyone who hasn't lived with Mikey through his teen years would be able to tell.

"You're lying," Donnie says flatly, and, okay, apparently paranoia can sometimes stand in for experience, because Donnie doesn't sound even a little bit unsure.

Which is probably why he's now aiming his gun at Mikey.

Frank looks at him again, eyes panicked, and Gerard knows that his instincts are probably clamoring at him, too. Gerard presses his boot knife into Frank's open palm, and vaults over him, plows into Mikey and rolls away with him as Donnie fires.

The sound of the shot echoing in the factory seemed to come from every direction. It's disorienting and loud, and Gerard's head is ringing with noise and adrenaline, so he can't even hear what Mikey's yelling in his ear. He probably doesn't want to, either.

"Oh, good," Donnie says scathingly, "it's the Mountie," and Gerard turns towards the sound of his voice just in time to see him raise the gun again.

"Freeze!" Brendon says, stepping out from behind the dough mixer. Gerard has been hoping to keep Brendon out of it, and his gut wrenches to see him standing there. Donnie isn't exactly a pirate, but Gerard knows that this is the sort of situation Brendon had been worried about all along.

"Ah, another Mountie," Donnie says, his reaction more bland than Gerard's., "What are you going to do, throw something at me?"

"I have a gun," Brendon says, which surprises Gerard. Why does Brendon have a gun in America? There are something like fifteen forms you have to fill out before you can use your weapon on foreign soil. Gerard hasn't bothered, which, clearly, was an oversight on his part. "I could shoot you, just to start with," Brendon threatens, drawing the weapon, and Gerard uses this distraction to clamber up, slipping a little on the dusty cement, and hauls Mikey up after him. Donnie, however, isn't so distracted that he doesn't see them, and turns to fire on them just as Gerard flings Mikey behind a confusing tangle of metal machinery. The shot sparks off a strut, and, over the new, but still horrible, echoes, Gerard can hear Brendon shout, "I said put the gun down."

"No, you put the gun down," Donnie returns, snarling, "or I bake the cop!"

The threat doesn't make any sense to Gerard, and he almost wants to laugh. Are they really acting out some standoff from a Hansel and Gretel story? But it's Frankie being threatened, so instead his breath whooshes out, and he can't laugh, not when there's a metallic clang, and then the unmistakable sound of machinery whirring to life.

There's another gunshot, which almost covers up the sound of Frank's sudden, sharp curses. He and Mikey spring apart, almost at the same instant, Mikey sprinting toward Donnie and Brendon, and Gerard toward Frank. He doesn't hesitate, and neither does Mikey, throwing himself into danger two seconds after Gerard has pulled him out of it. And Gerard can see Frank now. Gerard's too far away from him, still, and he's moving slowly and steadily towards the oven, which is, if not fully preheated, already glowing as it heats up.

Frank's already trying to saw away one of the cords with Gerard's boot knife, when Gerard reaches him, skidding across the floor, and he doesn't even notice Gerard at first, until Gerard urgently says his name and takes the knife from him.

Frank looks up at him, just as another bit of machinery ticks into life and begins dusting flour all over him.

"Argh," Frank says.

"Did it get in your eyes?" Gerard asks, worriedly, glancing up briefly at the sifter overhead.

"Just cut me loose," Frank says, his eyes squeezed resolutely shut, and his voice kind of despairing in a way that Gerard never wanted to hear from Frank.

Gerard's already cutting him loose, obviously, he's just started with Frank's feet because Mikey has, annoyingly, tied them up too, and they're closer to the oven.

He isn't looking at the oven -- their pace towards it is inexorable, and not something that looking is going to slow -- so, sawing away at the last knot on Frank's leg, he only realizes how close it's getting when he feels the radiant heat on his knuckles. He gives a sharp pull on the knife that thankfully parts the last bit of fiber, and also the skin on the tip of his thumb when he slips a little. He doesn't have time to worry about that, though, because the oven is really too close now, only meters from Frank's feet, so he grabs Frank's ankles, and pushes his legs up, bending his knees till his legs are tucked up tight against him and away from the oven. Then Gerard clambers up onto the belt, between Frank's thighs and crouches over him to get his wrists.

The position is thankfully easier than standing had been -- with Frank moving, granted at a steady rate, and Gerard standing still, he's been worried he might cut Frank by accident, and he had to keep scrabbling to keep up with the bindings, which had been distracting. This is much better, though Frank gives a sharp "Oof" when Gerard braces his hands on Frank's chest for a second, before shimmying up further toward his wrists.

The downside is that he can't see the oven even if he wants to now, and he can feel the soles of his boots growing hotter and hotter as he scrapes at the rope with his knife, which, really, he's going to have to do better at sharpening in the future.

Frank had made some progress already on the tie at his left wrist, so it only takes a moment to get through, and Gerard only pauses long enough to wipe off the sweat and blood that is slicking his palms before he moves on to the last tie.

Freeing his hand, however, seems to galvanize Frank. His eyes pop back open, and yeah, his lashes are dusted with flour, not that Gerard has time to look, and he swats at Gerard with his free hand.

"Get off," he says urgently. "I'll get the last one, get off before you go in with me."

The rope splits again, a millimeter closer to open. "You can't cut as fast with your left hand," Gerard says, swearing as his toes roll off the end of the conveyor belt and meet heated air. He squirms up, gaining a few inches, and presses down harder at the knife, which, finally, breaks through the last of the strands, just as he can once more feel the end of the conveyor belt beneath his feet.

Frank shouts as his wrist comes free, and with both hands, grabs Gerard's shoulders and rolls them off the conveyor belt and onto the floor.

Gerard lands on the bottom, so hard all the breath is pushed out of him, until his lungs hurt, first by the floor, rushing up to meet him, and then by Frankie, squishing what is left of the air out of him from on top. He doesn't really care though -- all he can see is Frank's white and flour-dusted face, and he can feel a truly stupidly large grin stretch his face wide.

Frank grins back, a little sheepishly, which is totally why Gerard reaches up, and pulls Frank down the rest of the way and hugs him.

Frank says, "Oof," and then he pulls away and says, "You have flour in your hair."

And then Brendon is crashing down next them, landing on his ass, his gun falling out of his hand to skitter away across the floor, and Gerard looks up to see that Mikey is diving for it, as Donnie scrambles for his own weapon, which is, somehow, wedged in between some pallets.

"Whose side are you even on?" Frank asks Mikey, glaring, hauling himself up and groping at his holster for his own gun, which isn't there.

Mikey and Donnie reach the guns at the same time, scooping them up and whirling on each other, like gunfighters from an old western, when the large factory doors burst open, flooding the space with dying sunlight, Brian Schechter, and Buck Frobisher.

"Drop your fucking weapon, motherfucker!" Schechter shouts, and he sounds so scary that Gerard isn't at all surprised when Donnie and Mikey both do.

"Come to the station with us," Gerard tells Mikey, as Schechter and the backup he's brought with him are taking Donnie and his associates into custody. "I'm not letting you out of my sight again."

But Mikey's shaking his head. "No, my cover's not going to hold up if I'm seen hanging around in a police station."

"Your cover?" Frank asks incredulously. "You're a cop?"

"No," Mikey says, and then, turning to Gerard. "Wait, you didn't even know I was undercover and you sent a cop after me?"

"He's my partner," Gerard says simply, stubbornly clinging to the word even as Frank shoots him an inscrutable look, and Mikey opens his mouth to say something. "And anyway," Gerard adds, cutting him off, "you went missing -- what was I supposed to do?"

"I left a message," Mikey protests.

"Oh, a message," Frank says sarcastically. "Gerard, why didn't you tell me he left you a message? Clearly he had it all under control, and we didn't need to save his life or anything."

"You didn't!" Mikey insists.

"I did," Gerard says firmly. "And I would like a thank you, at least."

"Or a fruit basket," Frank says. "Just a thought."

"Oh my god, what is wrong with you?" Mikey says to Gerard. "I bet you gave Pete hell, too, didn't you?"

"I'd do it again," Gerard says fervently.

"Do you even know who you're involved with?" Frank cuts in, his eyes narrowed impressively. "The kind of stuff they've done? I don't know who you're actually working with, but they left you out there to dry in an organization full of crazy, drugged up assholes who, obviously, are not the type to think twice before shooting you!"

Mikey winces at that, and Gerard kind of wants to give Frank a medal for stepping up to the lecture plate -- he probably could have done better, but it's the thought that counts.

"Look," Mikey says, "I'll explain later, okay? I'll come to the Consulate -- that's where you're staying, right? But I need to go do some damage control before you completely blow my cover."

"Blow your cover!" Gerard exclaims.

"I think it's already blown," Frank says. "We just arrested your boss."

"Donnie's not the whole organization," Mikey says cryptically. "God, you're totally making a mess of my carefully laid plans. Way to be a supportive older brother." And then Mikey gets on his phone, turning his back to both of them.

*

They don't see Mikey again until the next day, when Frank's offered to pick him up from a little café he frequents and take him back to the Consulate. Gerard has insisted on coming along, though he doesn't say much to Mikey, except for the questions Gerard starts to ask and Mikey never lets him finish.

"So you and Pete --"

"No, Gee," Mikey says.

There's silence for a few minutes and then Gerard tries again. "When you left me that voicemail --"

"I'm not talking about it, Gee," Mikey says.

It's like that the whole way back, and while Frank started out firmly on Gerard's side of whatever argument they were not having, by the end of the car ride, he's seen an overbearing, stubborn side of him that makes him sympathize with his little brother. As soon as they're in the Consulate, though, Gerard disappears. Mikey shrugs and takes out his phone.

Frank searches the Consulate, looking for Gerard, but in the few minutes they've been there, he's completely vanished. He circles back to the kitchen. The kid who's been causing all this trouble, who's been driving Gerard to distraction, evading Chicago cops on foot, and generally causing a stir, is leaning with his elbows on the table and his stick-skinny ass in the air, looking contentedly bored. Frank has the urge to cuff him to the table leg, but he thinks it would upset Gerard. Still, if anyone looks like a flight risk, it's this kid, and as they spent so much time looking for him, Frank's not in any mood to see him run off again.

Frank realizes Mikey isn't just leaning over the table for no reason, advertising his assets, but he's reading a magazine -- no, a comic book. When he gets to the last page, he flips it over back to the cover and turns around and stares at Frank.

"Hi," Frank says, because the staring is a little eerie.

Mikey shrugs. "You run almost as fast as my brother," he says after an uncomfortably long pause. Frank cracks up and then Mikey smiles.

"So you're, what, like an undercover Mountie?"

Mikey shrugs again. "Not so much a Mountie," he says. "Too many rules."

Frank laughs again. "Doesn't seem to bother your brother much."

"Bothers his bosses, though," Mikey says.

"That's no lie," Frank agrees. "Makes him hard to predict, too. From a partner's point of view, I mean."

"Oh, he was always like that," Mikey says. "Even before he was a Mountie."

Frank considers that. "I can't actually imagine him being anything other than a guy with a lot of personal rules inside that uniform."

Mikey looks at him and for a moment, Frank thinks Mikey's not going to answer at all. "Gerard was a lot of things before he was a Mountie," he says finally. "Hey, you like comics?"

He holds out the comic book for Frank. It's not the most elegant change of subject Frank's ever seen. In fact, he's done better ones himself and that's saying something. But Frank feels like it's also a test. If he lets Mikey change the subject away from his brother, then Mikey can trust him to have Gerard's best interest at heart. Frank's curious, but not that curious to push.

"Sure." Frank takes the comic, and then to prove he's not even lying, he looks at the cover and says, "Ooh, is this Knightfall? Where did you get this?"

"You," Schechter says when he walks into the kitchen and sees Frank. "Go wait in my office."

"Uh," Frank says.

"Please," Schechter says, though it's even less of a request.

"Hey, Brian," Mikey says, not looking up from the text he's sending.

"Hey, Mikey," Brian says, looking mildly surprised to see him. Frank guesses Gerard hadn't warned him that Mikey was coming. He wants to stay and hear their conversation, but he heads toward Schechter's office, wondering if he can call Gerard and warn him, or if his ringing phone will give whatever hiding place away.

*

The problem with staying at the Consulate is that Schechter always knows where to find him. Gerard has still managed to avoid him for most of the day, through a combination of hiding behind Brendon, or starting long, rambling conversations with Buck whenever Schechter enters the room. Schechter's face always goes a little soft and happy when he sees Brendon, and Gerard can't tell if it's just simple relief that someone under his command is behaving, or if it's something more, but either way, the time it takes for Schechter to reset his expression back to scowling takes long enough that Gerard can always manage to escape. And Buck... Buck is impossible to interrupt.

"Frobisher, I need to speak to Constable Way --"

"Eh, what? Of course you do. A commanding officer should always speak to the men he's leading. Why I remember one time, Inspector Pinkerton said to me --"

So Gerard does pretty well until he gets to leave with Frank to get Mikey, but Schechter catches him the moment he gets back, before he can even talk to Mikey, which sucks.

"Constable, in my office," is all Schechter says as he walks by, and Gerard starts thinking really seriously about Brendon's too-casual mention that he needed a roommate as he follows him to his office. He also tries not to worry about leaving Mikey alone with Frank, because the last time that happened, Mikey had tied Frank up.

Inside, Schechter's office already looks markedly different from Inspector Thatcher's office had, and Gerard has been so busy avoiding the place that he isn't sure when Schechter made the changes. But the desk is now in the middle of the room, instead of up by the windows, and there's a new set of shelves filled with books like The Art of War and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Another noticeable difference is Frank, standing nervously in front of Schechter's desk. He waves his fingers a little at Gerard, and Gerard allows himself to smile back, even though it feels like they've both just been called down to the principal's office.

"I tried calling you," Frank whispers, "on your cell, but I couldn't reach you."

"Oh," Gerard whispers back, shifting his eyes away from Frank. He'd forgotten about the phone. "It broke yesterday."

"How --" Frank starts to ask, but he's cut off by Schechter.

"Detective Iero, do you know why Lieutenant Welsh and Inspector Thatcher decided to continue the practice of having an RCMP liaison at the 2-7 after Constable Fraser returned to Canada?"

"Uh, am I in trouble?" Frank asks.

Schechter is looking only at Frank as though Gerard isn't even in the room, and Frank is just looking back, baffled, but otherwise not actually being melted by Schechter's laser stare. Gerard is faintly jealous because he's pretty sure he wouldn't look that composed.

Finally Schechter says, "No, you're not in trouble, Detective."

Frank begins to relax, and Gerard could have told him it was too soon, because a second later, Schechter is saying, "Not that I have been able to determine, at any rate," and Frank stiffens again.

"Look, I admit," Frank says, "sometimes I kind of, maybe, go with the flow, and --"

"Constable Way is not 'the flow' -- he is insubordinate, irresponsible, and only one half of a team."

Gerard's not sure how he feels about being part of a team if it means that now Schechter gets to yell at him in front of another person, instead of in private.

"He is also occasionally brilliant, which is the only reason he hasn't been fired before now," Schechter says, and the faint praise doesn't make Gerard feel any better because now Schechter is looking at him.

"I can quit, right? You can't fire me if I quit, right? So... I quit?" Gerard asks, and because he really wants to skip ahead to the part where this is over.

"No," Schechter says, "you don't. You're not going back to Canada either. You are staying right here, where I can keep a fucking eye on you."

The lecture encompasses, basically, everything Gerard has done over the past week, from transferring without official permission to almost getting Brendon killed, which isn't fair, Gerard thinks. Schechter is underestimating Brendon pretty badly if he thinks that's true. Gerard isn't even sure how Schechter knows some of the things he's brought up, like the conversation he had with Bob, which Schechter refers to as "reliance on unofficial and potentially unreliable sources of information."

"The only thing you did do right was call Buck for back up. Though," he adds peevishly, "You should have called me." And Gerard is impressed that Schechter has actually managed to praise him for the one thing he didn't actually do. "And you are damn lucky," Schechter continues, "that the bakery was only a few blocks from the Consulate, or else you'd all be dead."

The silence that follows Schechter's lecture is deafening. After a moment, Gerard can hear the noise from the street trickle in through the windows, and the sound of Buck, now awake, and humming somewhere nearby. Frank is standing rigidly next to him, Gerard sees out of the corner of his eye, his shoulders drawn back, and his spine straight. But Gerard cannot take his eyes off Schechter's, though he desperately wants to look away.

Gerard doesn't want to be the first to speak, because he knows that anything he says is going to come out wrong, but eventually he has to break Schechter's gaze, and covers it by saying lamely, "I know, I'm sorry."

Gerard looks up from the carpet and sees Frank looking at him wide-eyed, and shaking his head, just a little, side to side, as if to warn Gerard that he totally just said the wrong thing. Which Gerard already knew, but he's grateful for the gesture, nonetheless.

"Fuck, it's like talking to a wall," Schechter says.

Gerard takes a step, and doesn't realize until Frank grabs his wrist, that he was taking a step to leave.

Frank is doing his little warning head shake again, and Gerard gets this weird feeling like maybe he has already left, and this guy Frank is holding onto isn't actually him, which would explain why he then says something even dumber.

"No, I understand, I won't do it again," Gerard says, aiming for contrite, but apparently coming out somewhere closer to smartass, because Schechter's eyebrows draw together like Gerard had just thrown a magnet in between them.

"Of course you won't do it again," Schechter bellows. "When the fuck would you even get the chance to run off to a foreign country and get into knife fights with criminal bakers again?"

"I don't get into knife fights on purpose," Gerard points out.

"Because he doesn't like knives," Frank explains.

"That's not what I've been given to understand from Constable Urie," Schechter says, gesturing at the stack of reports in his inbox. And Gerard knows that Brendon technically can't be considered a snitch just because he's turned in the proper paperwork, but Gerard is a little irritated nevertheless. Brendon, he reflects, would do a lot better if he learned to bend the rules.

"Gerard, I am talking about your patterns of behavior," Schechter says. The badass is gone, and he just sounds weary, but now Gerard is mad, because Schechter is making this about ancient history, and shit that went down back when they were both little more than rookies, and it's about as cool and as relevant as Disney song lyrics.

"I'm not like that anymore," Gerard grits out, and if the words are hard to say, it's probably because his jaw is clenched.

"It's not something you just stop being," Schechter says.

"Wow," Frank says. "Can I go? I am beginning to feel uncomfortable." And he looks wretched, but he's also still holding onto Gerard's wrist.

"If you two are going to continue working together, then you need to hear this, Detective."

"I really don't --"

"Over the past week, Constable Way has lied to you about a police investigation, wasted the resources of the Chicago PD on a personal matter, and, let's not forget, actually endangered your life three times, by my count," Schechter says flatly.

Well, when you say it like that, Gerard thinks, and then wishes he'd skipped dinner.

There's a high, angry flush on Frank's cheeks, and he says, "Gerard is my partner," and the way he says it is as solid as a handcuff, as solid as his grip on Gerard's wrist, and it feels almost like a promise. "He saved my life, we caught the bad guy -- that's what counts."

"And that's also why he's being suspended, and not fired," Schechter says, blowing out the words like a deep sigh. "Look, Welsh and I really want to keep this international cooperation thing going --"

Schechter winces suddenly, and the look of pain on his face isn't something that can be explained away by the bottle of aspirin sitting prominently on his desk. "You two..." he says, and then pauses, like he's reevaluating what he wants to say. "You're not a team, and you didn't act like one, but you got the job done..." His voice goes dry. "Which is a fucking miracle, all things considered, so I'm willing to let you stay partnered for the time being."

"Brian..." he asks, and knows that Schechter gets the question when he scowls and interrupts.

"But there aren't going to be any more crazy debacles like this last case, am I clear?"

"Brian," Gerard insists, but Brian cuts him off again.

"Dismissed," Schechter says, and if Frank wasn't there, Gerard might push the issue, but he's gone enough years without understanding Schechter that another day or so won't hurt, and he goes.

Gerard is taking his first deep breath of freedom, just over the threshold of Brian's office, when Frank comes barreling out behind him, grabs his arm, and tugs Gerard down the hall.

"Oh my God, fuck you," Frank says, "I'm not saying I didn't mean what I said in there about you or anything, but seriously. All of that stuff Schechter said? All of that happened? What the fuck is wrong with you?"

And here's the problem. With Schechter, Gerard has the luxury of knowing exactly what was to blame for all his fuck ups. Now, with Frank, he can only blame himself. It's not his very favorite part of being sober.

"There's probably more than one thing wrong with me," Gerard admits reluctantly, hoping to at least diffuse some of the tension at his own expense.

It doesn't work.

"We're done, okay?" Frank says. "I know your inspector there says we're doing this for international cooperation or whatever, and I can do that, but this -- this partnership thing, it's done, okay?"

"Okay," Gerard says. Frank seems to let a huge weight drop from his shoulders.

"Okay," he says, and smiles. It's odd, because it actually looks like a happy smile.

"Come by for dinner tomorrow?" Gerard says, and he means something more by it, something he can't say, but Frank seems to understand.

"Sure," Frank says, looking like he's getting lighter by the minute.

*

"Are you making lasagna?" Mikey says. His voice coming from right behind Gerard startles him so much that he accidentally flings his spatula across the room.

Gerard should care -- the sauce stain it leaves is going to be a bitch to get off the wall -- but he's still tense and nervous from Schechter's dressing down and the fight -- or weird not-fight -- with Frank that he's actually forgotten Mikey is here, finally, where Gerard can get his hands on him. Literally, in fact, because he takes the opportunity to hug him so tight that Mikey bitches and squirms away, and basically pretends like he hates it and is totally embarrassed.

So that hasn't changed.

The other thing that hasn't changed is the way that Mikey can be a closed-mouth little bastard when he wants to, and it takes some serious pouting, a lecture on the importance of their brotherly bond, and another hurled spatula before Mikey finally cracks.

"Okay, so, the truth is, I didn't just move to Chicago to be with Pete."

It isn't what Gerard is expecting, and he gapes at Mikey. "Are you an assassin?" he asks, unable to think of any other reason Mikey would have lied to him.

"What? No, I'm an agent with the Drug Enforcement Division," Mikey says, sounding offended, even though Gerard privately thought that, with the way he'd been acting, he should be pleased that Gerard hadn't thought worse.

"You're undercover," Gerard says. "So you're not really dating Pete or part of some weird gang."

"Nice try," Mikey says. "I'm still dating Pete."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Gerard asks, trying to be calm and trying to keep the hurt out of his voice -- but, judging from the expression on Mikey's face, he doesn't think he's managed it.

When Mikey speaks, his voice is so quiet that Gerard almost can't hear him, "Do you remember, after Elena died, when you were..."

He doesn't finish his sentence and he doesn't have to. Gerard remembers. Not all of it, of course, he'd been pretty messed up, but... yeah, he remembers.

"Anyway," Mikey continues, "that's when I signed up. And after, I didn't really know how to tell you... I wasn't even supposed to tell you, come to that, but."

Gerard tries to wrap his head around it, to take a step back and take it in. He doesn't like it. But he decides to put it aside for the moment, and deliberately gets up, and goes back to the lasagna. The oven is already hot and waiting, and Schechter gets even crankier if he has to wait for food.

"Your case," Gerard asks over his shoulder, "is it over now that Donnie's been arrested?" It's a little weird, to be talking to his brother like they're colleagues, when, yeah, they've always had a lot in common, but never their jobs. Except for the part where apparently they have, and Gerard just hasn't known it.

"Not really, no," Mikey says, and he sounds like he honestly doesn't know what that means. "I think it depends on what we have to charge him with. We've got a lot on him, so he'll go to jail, probably, but I never managed to find out much about the rest of the gang."

"You'll stay in Chicago?"

"Yeah," Mikey says, and his voice, coming from behind Gerard, is eager, like he's happy to talk about this with Gerard. "I'm a permanent liaison with the DEA here. What about you?"

"I think this needs garlic bread to go with it," Gerard says, and regards the yet unbaked lasagna, and his own idle hands.

"Seriously, Gee, did you actually make a transfer here, or are you just --"

"Michael, don't ask your brother questions you know he doesn't have the answer to," Elena says, bustling into the kitchen, as much as a non-corporeal ghost could bustle, anyway.

"How would he not know if he's transferred here or not?" Mikey protests.

Gerard freezes. "You can see her?" he asks Mikey.

"We've been over this," Elena says peevishly. "I'm a ghost, not a hallucination."

"Of course I can see her," Mikey says. "She's standing right in front of me."

"How was I supposed to know Mikey can see dead people?" Gerard asks Elena.

"I just wanted to know if Gee's staying," Mikey interrupts.

"Now's not he best time to be asking your brother about his future plans, dear. And yes, you need garlic bread with that, as well as a salad." She adds, "I hope you have some halfway decent bread."

"Oh, salad," Gerard exclaims, sending his mind down the safer path of lettuces, fresh vegetables, and creamy dressings.

"What?" Mikey protests, "Why not?"

"He'll tell you when he knows," Elena replies calmly.

"What about your cop?" Mikey turns to Gerard, ignoring Elena, who is now frowning at the back of his head.

"He's his own cop," is all Gerard says, and if his eyes are trained down at the cutting board, it's because he doesn't want to lose a finger. He still has a bandage from where he slipped cutting Frank free from the conveyor belt. "Anyway," Gerard adds, "I think we've decided to just be friends," and then he flushes a little when he realizes what he's just implied.

"Oh, great," Mikey says, "It's just like Brian all over again."

The resulting argument – because no matter how many times Gerard tells Mikey it wasn't like that, he never believes him – takes up the next half hour, and after that, Gerard doesn't really want to talk about the case. He wants to talk to his brother, not some super secret agent, so he asks him about Chicago, about his life and the last book he read. And then it's late, and Mikey's promising to come back soon, to talk about what they've been avoiding all evening. It's going to be weird, talking shop with Mikey, but Gerard is looking forward to it.

 

*

Frank goes to the 2-7 instead of going home. Sitting on his desk, folded three times, is something Frank's intimately familiar with. It's a reassignment. He's barely finished reading it before Welsh calls him in, so he hasn't had time to decide whether or not it's bad news or good.

"So you got the thing," Welsh says. "Have a seat."

So, bad news. Except that when Welsh starts to describe the assignment, how he's going undercover for the vice unit at the 4-9, for some case they're having trouble cracking. "They need a professional," Welsh says, and if Frank knows anything, he knows he's good at undercover. "It doesn't have to be long, and when it's done, you can come and work with the Mountie again -- we can use you at the 2-7 to keep an eye on him."

"I'll do it," Frank says, because the case has closed, and they did a good job but it was weird, he felt like he was forever chasing his tail, chasing Gerard who was always a step ahead of him, who always knew more than Frank did even though this is Frank's city. He likes the idea of slipping into an undercover gig, of doing what he does best.

"Here's what you should need," Welsh says, handing him a thick folder. "You're a fence, we're slipping you right into an existing role to save time with the set-up. Lemon Rawlins had a bad fall on his last job and found himself at the feet of the 4-9 just before he was supposed to meet up with the suspects. We're sending you in next week."

"Lemon?" Frank says.

"Hey, I don't pick the bad guy nicknames," Welsh says. "Think it has something to do with his sour disposition."

Frank starts flipping through the folder. It has everything he needs: pictures of the guy's apartment, his car, his known associates, his jail time, all the random information Frank needs to extrapolate a role, and enough information about the details he doesn't know to fake his way through.

"Do we know what they're trying to move?" Frank asks.

Welsh shakes his head. "Take a few days to get into this guy Lemon's head, something I hope I'll never have to say again, and then we'll set you up with the 4-9 guys. Toro's gonna be your handler."

"Anyone but --" Frank starts and Welsh holds up a hand.

"It's Toro or I gave this to someone else who will do a far poorer job than you and probably blow the opportunity. So find it in your heart to cooperate."

"Fine," Frank says. Toro, though, seriously. He's wishing a hundred ways he was nicer to him with the whole Mikey thing.

"Who's building a fence?" Frannie says, as Frank opens the door.

"Iero here is," Welsh says. "I'm sending him out on a construction job for a few weeks."

"Okay," Frannie says. "You need to borrow a hard hat? I keep one under my desk just in case."

"Don't ask," Welsh says, but it's already too late.

Frank's already saying, "In case of what?"

"I'll call the Consulate, tell Inspector Schechter about the situation," Welsh says and then closes his door fast.

When Frank turns around, Frannie has her hard hat out on the desk along with a pile of pamphlets about workplace dangers. "So the first thing you need to know," Frannie says, "is how many code violations we have in this very building..."

*

Gerard is just drifting off to sleep when he hears what sounds like humming coming from his closet. He's close enough to unconscious that for a moment, he thinks maybe one of his dreams is trying to get the jump on him. But the humming is definitely coming from the closet and not from inside his head, so he forcefully jolts himself awake so he can deal with the serial killer or whoever.

He's wondering if it isn't Turnbull, on the run from Thatcher, and it's so probable, in his mind, that he's almost more surprised, when he finally opens to the closet door, not to find Turnbull, than he is surprised at the fact that his closet is, apparently, an office.

Elena is sitting at a large desk, relaxed and at ease in what looks like a log-cabin-cum-office. For the extra added pinch of surreality the scene needs, one of the walls is missing, like the cabin is a movie set, only instead of a studio, the missing wall reveals a gleaming white expanse of snow covered wilderness.

"Did you build an office in my closet?" Gerard asks.

Elena smiles over at him, "It was already here," she says, "if I'd built it, that wall over there wouldn't have fallen down. And," she adds, "it wouldn't be an office. What kind of ass wants an office when they're dead? I had enough of working when I was alive."

"I thought you loved being a Mountie," Gerard says. He runs a hand over the cabin wall, and it feels real enough, rough wood grain under the pads of his finger.

"I do, but the best part of the job isn't the desk work, is it?" Elena snorts.

It's not, of course, but she's wearing her uniform, for once, the everyday brown one Gerard remembers from his childhood, and she looks like everything Mountie.

He hasn't forgotten that he joined the RCMP to feel closer to her when she was gone.

Except now she's not gone, she's sitting right there in front of him, behind an impossible desk in his closet.

"I'm sorry I didn't think you were real," Gerard says.

Elena sighs, "I'd have been a little worried if you hadn't had a little difficulty with it, but you did make a bit hard on yourself."

"I just wanted to see you," Gerard says, "I didn't know what it meant that I could." Gerard isn't looking at her, he's trying to figure out the floor, and whether or not it's a ghost floor. But he hears her little gasp of breath – breathing even though she's dead, and then rueful little chuckle.

"You know, Gerard, sometimes you do get what you want."

And Gerard is shaking his head and saying, "We're not partners anymore," before he even realizes that the first thing that came into his head was Frank.

"Partnership isn't everything," Elena says, "If I had to count the number of times – have I ever told you about Bob Fraser?"

She has, actually, Gerard can remember several stories that featured Bob Fraser, boastful, larger than life, and specifically designed, Elena implied, to piss her off.

"The things he'd get up to with Buck when he thought there wasn't anyone around," Elena is saying, her gaze distant and musing, "Of course they were in love and sickening with it, but old Bob Fraser, he wouldn't admit to being anything more than partners with Buck. Work partners, I mean, I know that word kind of gets mixed around in context. And he was always saying the most idiotic things like, 'partnership is like a marriage, Buck,' and then running off and marrying some woman named Caroline. Only he couldn't stay with her either, and took off again. Love is love, is what I'm saying," Elena says impatiently, "It doesn't matter what you call it."

"I didn't say --" Gerard tries to tell her, but stops, a little miserably, because she's not wrong.

"He'll come around," Elena assures him, "Just work on the love thing, and let the partners thing lie for a little while."

Gerard grimaces, "I'm not sure he's any more interested in that than being partners."

"Yeah, well, if that's true, he's got no business breaking into the Consulate at the dead of night and watching you sleep," Elena says dryly, and then she looks at Gerard's face – he's definitely making a face, but he's pretty happy there's no mirror in here to show him what it looks like – and she crinkles her nose in dismay, "I forgot to tell you about that, didn't I?"

"What?" Gerard says. Or maybe yelps.

"It was a few nights ago?" Elena shrugs.

"Frank's not a vampire," Gerard says, which is not what he wants to say, but he doesn't have any other way to sum up what he's thinking, that Frank watching him sleep sounds almost romantic. Also, creepy. But creepy like a ladybug that Gerard will still let walk over the back of his hand, even though it is a bug.

But Frank doesn't feel the same way Gerard does, because while Frank is the kind of guy who jumps in front of knives, or endangers himself to save Gerard's brother, Gerard is the type of guy who has knives thrown at him, and gets Frank almost baked in an oven. Gerard is having a hard enough time liking himself right now, let alone convincing himself that he might have something that Frank could want.

And the whole not wanting to be partners anymore thing was a pretty clear sign. Still, Frank's said he'll come to dinner tomorrow, and Gerard's fully prepared to keep Frank for as long as he can.

However, if Frank isn't interested in Gerard, Gerard isn't sure why he would watch him sleep, unless he is a pervert, a vampire, or looking for someone else.

"What was he doing in the Consulate at night anyway?" Gerard asks Elena.

Elena's head is tipped to one side, and she's giving him a worried little stare. "Go back to the part where you think he's a vampire," she says, and then after a pause, "wait, never mind, I don't want to know."

*

Ray Kowalski has spent the last two point five weeks of his life traveling, first by plane, then on foot, then by dogsled, by one of life's little twists, and then by plane again, and really, all he wants to do is sleep for another three weeks -- but Fraser is as fresh as a fucking daisy, sitting next to him in the GTO looking springy and alert.

"I don't see why we needed to get your car first," Fraser is saying for the millionth time, even though it's too late to make the point, and the car has been gotten.

"We need the car for my sanity," Ray says, as patient as a saint now that he has the steering wheel of the GTO in his hands.

Fraser lets the point go, and half his energy with it, it seems like, as he doesn't so much settle as sag against the seat.

Ray hasn't really been expecting Chicago would change while he was gone, because Chicago is Chicago, as eternal as pizza, but while he's been freezing his ass off up North, Chicago has begun to thaw, if not tipped over into spring. The mounds of ice heaped up on the ends of the side walks are gone, and there's even an occasional scraggly tree that's put out a few buds.

It's almost a relief when they pull up to the Consulate, and it looks the same as always, just a waving flag up top, and a stock-still Mountie below it.

It's not a familiar Mountie, and he doesn't stay still for long, because as soon as he catches sight of them, he starts peering at them curiously, then, chattering in French, he ushers them inside.

"Thank you, kindly, Constable Urie," Fraser says, and it doesn't even throw Ray anymore that he knows every single Mountie in Canada. "Is Inspector Thatcher in?"

Urie shakes his head, and, for a miracle, starts talking in English. "She was promoted out just after I got here. You want Inspector Schechter."

Ray's chuckling at the rhyme, but Urie just gives him a look like a scared rabbit, ready to bolt like Ray's calling down the wrath of God down on them by finding it funny. But he waits for Fraser's salute before he actually does leave.

Fraser's setting down his packs and saying something about going to see his superior officer, but Ray is only half listening, because he's just identified the warm rich smell that's hanging in the air as chocolate.

"Okay, Fraser," Ray says, "You check in with the Inspector and I'll investigate where that smell is coming from."

"Ray," Fraser says impatiently.

"It could be an emergency, Fraser," Ray interrupts, rolling his eyes. He wouldn't have thought Fraser would have to be reminded about how well he usually gets along with boss Mounties. "Fondue pot could have caught on fire or something, practically a national security issue."

"Very well," Fraser says, and he's got this dumb look on his face, like Ray has just taken away his favorite toy. It's gone a moment later, and then Fraser's walking off, but Ray feels bad enough that he calls after him, "I'll save you some burning chocolate if I find any," and he can tell by the way Fraser's shoulders twitch with laughter that they're okay.

*

"No, no, the part where they mix the drugs in with the frosting we've already figured out," Mikey is saying, when a tall man with golden, spiky hair, golden stubble, and a worn leather jacket stomps into the kitchen. It takes Gerard a second before he recognizes Detective Kowalski, because the first and only time Gerard had met him, the man had been half-frozen, and wearing a ridiculous hat.

"So let's talk," he says, grabbing one of the chairs, spinning it around to straddle, and then stares pointedly at Mikey, who's gone silent.

Gerard shoves Elena's (technically unused) mug towards him and pours him some hot chocolate.

"Talk about what?" Mikey says belligerently, and Gerard kicks him under the table. "Ow, what?"

"Ray Kowalski," Ray says shortly.

"I thought you were in Canada?" Gerard says. "Off on an adventure."

Ray gives Gerard a quick, assessing look, "You were one of the Mounties on the Muldoon, case, right?" he asks, then snorts. "The 11th of March."

"Speaking of which," Gerard says, topping off Mikey's hot chocolate, because he's starting to look a little wild-eyed, "Buck's here too."

"Of course he is," Kowalski says. "Why not?"

"So," Gerard prompts.

"So," Kowalski says, and drinks a little more from his mug. "This is good, by the way," and leans forward over the back of his chair. "So, I'm in Canada, I'm on an adventure, and all the sudden, there's this plane, crashed in the snow, tubs of frosting everywhere."

"Tiffany's plane," Mikey murmurs, and Kowalski nods, like he and Tiffany are BFF.

"Tiffany's fucking plane," Kowalski says. "And we find Tiffany, and we call my boy Frankie -- do you know Frankie?"

"In the Biblical sense?" Mikey cracks, and Gerard kicks him again.

"We were working with him," Gerard says, using "we" so that the past tense doesn't matter as much.

"Right, so we call Frankie, but we get Frannie instead. I don't know if you've met Frannie, but she's not so hot at taking messages, even though it's her job," Kowalski grouses, but there's a note of affection in his voice. "And meanwhile, I've got questions."

"I have answers?" Gerard offers, a little dubiously, and then yanks Mikey back down into his seat by his shirt when he gets up to leave.

"That's what I'm hoping," Kowalski says, his smile lazy and his eyes half-lidded. "Let's talk about Donnie."

*

Frank's a half hour late, because it took the Trans Am twenty-one minutes to start, and then he had two trips under the hood and a goddamn stall out two turns away from the Consulate. He knows Gerard would never say anything, but Frank fucking hates being late, especially for dinner. Gerard's probably eaten without him. It's not like Gerard is making him dinner -- he just asked him to come by -- but that meant he'd be cooking, which means this might possibly be the time Frank finally dies from all the delicious food that Gerard makes.

He knows this is how wrap-ups go; you solve a case and you need to talk it through because the solution is never as clean or as clear-cut as you wanted. It doesn't help that this case was never clear in the first place. Frank was always a couple of steps behind, and Gerard was looking for his brother more than any way to close the case. Mikey was the case, and he didn't need to be found, and if it feels like they caught Donnie and the team of evil drug trafficking bakers by accident, well, they still caught them. Frank figures dinner is the best way to make the wrap-up feel like a celebration.

Frank parks the Trans Am behind a black GTO, a car he feels like he ought to recognize. The Consulate's not the best neighborhood, but he feels better that his car is now the second in potential good steals.

As soon as he gets out of the car, he hears music. He wonders if it's coming from somewhere down the street, some pub's open window, but when he walks up the steps to the front door, it's clear the music is coming from inside the Consulate. Frank knocks hard, not really sure if anyone can hear him over the music, but barely a moment later, and the door opens. Frank's standing face to face with Ray Kowalski.

"Hey, Frankie." Ray holds the door wide open. "Welcome to Canada."

The car and the music makes so much more sense, and Frank just kind of wants to stand there and bask in the glow for a moment, because fucking Ray Kowalski is standing in front of him. "You're here for dinner, right?" Ray asks. "Come in, come in," and he slaps Frank on the shoulder. He looks relaxed, content, but there's something that flickers across his face when he looks out at the city over Frank's shoulder.

Inside the Consulate, it's bright and feels as though there's many more people than there are, although it's possibly because they're all in the kitchen. Frank peeks in but can't see Gerard, and so he lets the song wrap around him, the fiddle playing, the big chorus, and he sits down on the steps. Ray joins him.

"Thanks for the tip, by the way," Frank says.

"Hey, I knew if anyone would know what to do about Cooperstown," Ray says.

"You heard we wrapped up the case?" Frank says.

"I heard something," Ray says, and that doesn't sound quite right to Frank.

"And we found Gerard's brother."

"Heard that, too," Ray says.

"So what's --" the matter, Frank's going to say, but then Gerard has come out of the crowd holding a piece of bread in his hands gingerly, like it's just come from the oven.

"Hey, Frankie, try this," he says, and tears a piece off and practically shoves it into Frank's mouth. It's still hot, yes, and there's something sweet like raisins and some icing and -- Frank closes his eyes and chews.

"You like it?" Gerard asks hopefully,

"Yeah," Frank says. "That's amazing, what is that?"

"Hot cross buns," Gerard says. "Here, have some more," and he tears off another piece and feeds it to Frank. Frank can feel the flush creeping up his neck because that's just a little closer than Gerard's fingers usually get to his mouth. He can also feel Ray watching him.

"Thanks, Gee," he says around a mouthful.

"I've got to go check the lamb, but then it'll be time to eat. Maybe one more song?" And then Gerard's back in the kitchen and the fiddle picks up another fast, full melody.

"Huh," Ray says. "So that's your Mountie?"

"That's Gerard, yeah. Fucking amazing cook."

"So I've heard," Ray says, and man, is Ray Kowalski a guy is shrouded in mystery or what? Everything he says is holding back something else. "Let's go in the kitchen. You don't have to sing, but it's not right to talk about a case when there's that much Canadian spirit going on."

Frank doesn't really want to talk about the case anyway, because it was weird and now it's done, and the part after a case always leave Frank kind of antsy and out of sorts. So he follows Ray into the kitchen and is enveloped by steam and music and Gerard smiling at him from the stove. Frank smiles back and realizes can still taste the icing from the hot cross bun on his lips.

There are way too many people in the kitchen, but it feels right somehow, Schechter looking a little less frowny than usual as Buck tells an animated story that Frank can only make out the hand gestures of. Brendon's leaning against the counter, chest out, shoulders broad, singing along to something that seems familiar in that way good music does, like Frank knew it long ago in some other life. Everyone's taking turns singing verses that they all seem to know. Brendon's singing about a ship on a shore and he's got a big voice for a little kid. Mikey is setting the table around everyone, Fraser's on the fiddle, and Kowalski has joined his side, watching Fraser like there's no one else in the room.

Frank makes his way over to the oven and gets a whiff of lamb as Gerard replaces the cover to the braising pot, and then opens his mouth like he's going to say something and belts out the next verse in the song. Frank's hit in the fucking gut with it. Gerard. Singing. Gerard's voice is amazing, sort of high and nasally, warm and clear, and the way his face moves, the way his arms move, Frank can barely hang on to the words, they're just lost in the sound. Frank's pretty sure he's not breathing at all, he's just frozen, listening to Gerard, shivers running over and over across his shoulders, down his neck. When the kitchen picks the chorus back up, Gerard grins at Frank like it's nothing at all and Frank thinks he's lost, this very moment he's lost and he's never going to get back to wherever he was going.

"Your voice," Franks says stupidly.

"I know," Gerard says. "I haven't sung in a few weeks, I guess -- I forget, when there's not a group of us here."

Gerard seems to have misunderstood Frank but Frank's too overwhelmed to try and correct him. Between the sounds he can still feel in his chest and the smell of food and Gerard right there, Frank just reaches out, touches his hand to Gerard's shoulder and squeezes. Gerard gives him the tenderest look in return and touches his fingers to Frank's.

"I'm glad you're here," Gerard says. He's shouting it over the song, but it sounds like the quietest whisper.

"Me, too," Frank says. It's easier to be here, knowing they're not partners anymore, knowing he has the undercover gig coming up. Gerard's voice, and the song, sky and clouds and sea, is still playing somewhere inside his heart, and he thinks it might be forever curling up his spine with secret music.

*

The next morning, when Fraser and Kowalski return from fetching Dief from quarantine, and start talking about the case over the breakfast burritos and cinnamon coffee Gerard has made, he doesn't call Frank. And he also doesn't call Frank when Kowalski asks Gerard how Frank found Donnie the second time. And he doesn't call Frank to offer him breakfast, although this final impulse is the hardest one to resist.

It's weird going over the work he and Frank had done to find Mikey without Frankie around, but Gerard is pretty clear on how Frank feels about their abortive partnership. And he doesn't know what he can ask Frank for now, without risking anything else.

Ray is holding up the scorecard and glaring at it so hard Gerard thinks he's probably not far from threatening it to give up his secrets. "Is this supposed to mean something to me?" he asks Gerard.

"Oh, yeah, it's coded?" Gerard says. "Flip it over, I wrote the decoded message on the back."

Ray flips the message over, and gives it a swift disgusted glance. "It still doesn't mean anything."

"Allow me," Fraser says, and carefully pulls the card from Ray's clenched fingers.

"The second part is referring to the meet between Donnie and my brother. He mentioned something about a plane going down," Gerard explains, "and I think that's what the first part is about."

"Why didn't you just say that to begin with," Ray grouses, and Gerard gives him an apologetic look, because, well, he'd wanted proof, so that no one could say he was lying this time. An arcanely-phrased coded note, though, probably wasn't the best place to start.

Even so, Fraser's still scanning the note like it's gospel. "This seems to confirm that the two cases are connected."

"We already knew there were connected, Fraser," Ray says irritably. "What it doesn't say is anything we didn't know."

"It does if we read between the lines, Ray," Fraser chides.

"Oh, you mean all that blank space? Yeah, sure, that's got a lotta info, Fraser."

"Where did you obtain the scorecard?" Fraser asks Gerard, and Gerard can only admire the way he appeases Kowalski and ignores him in the same sentence.

"It's a scorecard, Fraser," Kowalski says, "he got it at a bowling alley."

"The Bowling Basement," Gerard says. "It was hidden in the ceiling -"

"Hidden in the ceiling," Kowalski repeats in an undertone, and shaking his head in disbelief.

"But I doubt they're going to leave more messages there, now that Donnie's been arrested," Gerard continues.

"No," Kowalski says, and his eyes are narrowed thoughtfully, "but you don't just leave secret coded messages at any old bowling alley, do you?"

"We should check it out," Fraser is saying, even as Kowalski is getting up, and swinging on his battered jacket.

Officially, Gerard isn't on the case anymore. Well, officially, he wasn't on the case to start with; he'd only been looking for Mikey. But, as Frank's partner, he'd been able to pretend -- if only to Schechter -- that he was operating within the rules of the system. Now that Gerard is suspended, he doesn't really have an excuse to tag along with Fraser and Kowalski. Kowalski seemed to take it as a matter of course that he will come, though, so he slides into the back of the GTO with Dief and tries not to listen to Kowalski and Fraser's low-voiced argument in the front.

Well, Fraser's talking in a low voice, so low that Gerard can barely hear what he's saying over the music and the sound of traffic and Dief's tongue in his ear.

Kowalski, on the other hand, is impossible not to hear.

"Indefinite leave means I don't know how long, Fraser." Kowalski bangs a fist on the steering wheel. "Not two frozen solid weeks in the Arctic."

Fraser is saying something low, about a hand, but Kowalski cuts him off again. "It's the same adventure, you follow where it leads you, even if it is Chicago."

"It doesn't work like that," Fraser says finally frustrated enough, Gerard guesses, to raise his voice.

"It does if we agree it does, Fraser," Kowalski says simply, with an inarguable finality, and the rest of the trip to the bowling alley passes in awkward silence.

Except for Dief, who barks when they passed a pet shop.

It's obscurely like he's overheard his parents arguing, and it makes Gerard feel anxious and off-kilter, but somewhere in there is relief that he's not the only one struggling to find his way around another person.

The Bowling Basement hasn't changed since the last two times Gerard has visited, but there are significantly more bowlers on the weekend, and the whole place is full of noise. The lights seem dimmer, too, as though the patrons are sucking up what little light the neon fluorescent signs are giving off.

There is a balding man in a nice suit talking to Gabe, waving his hands expressively, and, though it's hard to tell over the noise, possibly shouting.

It's obvious when Fraser sees him, because he says, "Ray!" so loudly it cuts through all the noise, and suddenly he's gone from beside Gerard and is halfway across the room. Gerard hasn't even seen him move, except for a flash of red.

"Oh great," Kowalski says, "and I didn't think it could get any worse than hypothermia," and he wilts like a flower.

He doesn't move, either, not until Gerard pokes him, and then he kind of rolls forward, slowly, like a toy truck that never goes faster than a toddler can chase.

"Looks like you picked up an extra Mountie," says the balding guy, when they're in earshot.

"Ah, yes," Fraser says, jerking a little, turning back towards them like he'd forgotten them in his enthusiasm. "Constable Way, this is Detective Vecchio, Ray, this is Constable Way."

"Gerard," Gerard adds to the introduction and shakes Vecchio's hand.

"I didn't know Mounties could use their first names," Vecchio comments, slightly mocking, but friendly enough. "Still working with Stanley, huh, Benny?"

"Well," Fraser says, with the air of someone who prefers to be perfectly correct, rather than tactful, "I suppose since Constable Way is currently filling the post of liaison to the Chicago PD, he is the one who is technically Detective Kowalski's partner." Fraser stops abruptly, rubbing at his eyebrow with his thumb, looking uncomfortable, like he hadn't meant to say that.

Gerard and Kowalski just look at each other, and Gerard can tell that Kowalski is just as appalled as he is, from the expression of pained shock that is mirrored back at him. Gerard isn't offended at Kowalski's expression, really, because for once he's pretty sure it doesn't have anything to do with him.

Even Vecchio looks a little taken aback, but his green eyes soften to amusement quickly enough. "You know what they say about technicalities, Benny."

"For one thing," Gerard offers, "technically, I'm suspended."

"Happens to the best of us." Vecchio nods sagely.

Kowalski still isn't talking; his jaw is tight with tension.

"So you're not bowling?" Vecchio asks. "We've got the right numbers, we could have a game."

"I, ah, don't think that's the best idea," Fraser says. "We wanted to talk to a man by the name of Gabe Saporta."

"Same here," Vecchio says. "Turns out he's not here on weekends, though -- so says that kid." He indicates a twenty-something boy who looks like he'd be more at home in a club than a bowling alley. "Who knows where he holes up when he's not here."

"What d'you want with him?" Kowalski says suddenly, the shock of his voice after his long silence like a punch.

"Hey." Vecchio holds up his hands, warding him off. "I'm retired, okay? I'm just looking into buying a bowling alley."

"A crooked bowling alley," Kowalski says, his posture aggressive.

Vecchio gives him an offended look. "You think I want this piece of crap bowling alley?" He sniffs. "I want something with class, and Saporta's got a property in Florida he's looking to sell -- you know, palm trees, white stucco, not hidden under a dirty side street." Vecchio's waving his hand, as if to delineate the exact nature of the palm trees and stucco, and the ring on his left hand flashes gold and blue and pink as it catches the neon lights.

Fraser is tilting his head to look at the ring, and has a peculiar look on his face when he asks, "Ray, are you -- have you gotten married?"

"Uh, this is awkward, Benny," Vecchio says, scratching the back of his neck, and, incidentally, hiding the ring, "Maybe we could talk about this later, not in front of Stanley."

"Don't call me Stanley," Kowalski says, crossing his arms. "And I could not possibly care less about your personal life."

"Oh, well, in that case," Vecchio says, "I married Stella."

It gets a bit ugly after that, and they get kicked out of the bowling alley by the little club kid, who has more strength in his wiry arms than Gerard suspected. It turns out that Stella is Kowalski's ex-wife, and that Kowalski is still maybe a little attached, and, well, less fond of Ray Vecchio than Gerard would have thought someone could be, after living in his shoes for so long. There was some tussling, the two Rays wrestling so close that their punches had probably had less impact than a kitten's, and Fraser tries ineffectually to pull them apart, yelling "Ray, Ray, Ray," to both of them.

Once they're out on the street, Vecchio and Kowalski calm down a little, straightening their clothes, and desperately not looking at each other, while Fraser sort of hovers over both of them.

No one is talking about how incestuous it is that Fraser's ex-partner has married Kowalski's ex-wife, but it's written in the air in ninety-point bold font, impossible to ignore, and then Fraser makes it worse, because he's brushing something green off Kowalski's jacket, and asking, in what he probably thinks is an undertone, "Are you still in love with her, Ray?"

Everyone freezes. Gerard wants to look away, should probably go back to the car, but he's caught by the twisting expression on Kowalski's face, and the way Fraser's hand has tightened, white-knuckled, on his shoulder.

"Right," Vecchio says after a moment. "So, Fraser, we should catch up sometime while you're in Chicago."

And then Kowalski is pushing Fraser's hand off his shoulder hard and wordlessly walking off down the street toward the GTO.

Gerard is really glad he actually waits until they get in before he drives off.

*

Frank's just come from a day of reading about Lemon Rawlins's apartment, his travel through the city, his jail time, and Frank's been walking like he knows how to fit into his skin -- this is the time when Frank feels like he's really getting to the heart of an undercover gig, when he feels like he knows how the guy feels when he feels like there's something just between his shoulder blades, watching or waiting, whatever it is that weights down his back.

He's said he'll stop by the Consulate, but he feels out of sorts, like this guy Lemon would never do anything after dark, that he'd never go out for a dinner meeting, so Frank's kind of feeling itchy and weird with the warring parts of what he would do and the awareness of what Lemon would do. The first couple of days are always like this, like breaking in a new pair of jeans. He's always aware of how they didn't quite fit the first couple of times he takes them out.

The Consulate's buzzing with activity; Brendon's holding some sort of assembly in one of the meetings rooms with either a tour group or a bunch of random strangers who speak French. Schechter's calling for various Mounties to bring him pieces of paper, occasionally requiring Gerard to run down the hall with the paper in one hand and whatever kitchen utensil he's using in the other. Once, he comes back with the paper and not the whisk, and Schechter shouts until he goes back and gets it right. Buck is sitting in a chair in the corner, humming and reading a small book with nothing but worn threads on its cover. Frank had heard Kowalski and Fraser were out, but no one will say where.

Gerard asks Frank to sample whatever's in the pot he's been stirring, and the forkful Gerard offers Frank smells bitter and savory at the same time, a dark, soft, green something piled on top of another something else green Frank thinks he should recognize by smell, but can't place.

"Irvuzu," Gerard says, handing Frank the fork. "Wild greens and fennel." Frank takes a bite, chews thoughtfully.

"I never would have eaten something this color," Frank says.

"It's good for you," Gerard says, "Want some more?" Frank feels the place at his back where he's half himself and half Lemon twitch and tug. Frank would ask for more, Lemon would reject anything green and good for him unless it was made by his grandmother. He waits so long in answering that Gerard's face slides into a frown and he's just starting to say, "It's okay if it's not your --"

"Sure," Frank says. "Just a little." It's a weird concession but it makes the divide between his shoulders stop itching like it's going to tear his skin apart.

 

*

If Gerard is hoping to avoid a fight the second time he goes to the Bowling Basement with Fraser and Kowalski, he realizes he's destined for disappointment when a bright pink bowling ball goes rolling past his feet, and he hears a familiar voice bellow, "You motherfucker!"

"Bob?" Gerard asks, because Bob Bryar has some guy pinned down to a table, and looks like he's half a second from squashing the guy's face with his first.

"Friend of yours?" Fraser asks politely, but he looks a little dubious.

"Bob Bryar?" Kowalski asks, looking amused. "I had no idea the dog detective business had gotten so exciting since I'd left Chicago."

Gerard steps closer, and he's pretty sure Bob won't appreciate him getting involved, but then he kind of has to, because the guy pinned to the table is Ray Toro's partner Mick.

"I am going to take your badge and shove it down your throat," Bob growls, then rips Mick's badge out his hand and throws it after the pink bowling ball.

"Bob!" Gerard cries.

"Hey, Gerard," Bob says, "Hold on a sec, I have to kick the shit out of this bastard."

"He's a cop, tough guy," Kowalski says, coming up beside them. "You sure that's a good idea?" His tone isn't threatening -- it's actually almost pleasant, a sort of man-to-man are-you-sure-you-wanna kind of thing, and Bob responds, backing off Mick with a sour expression.

Mick, however, rockets up off the table and takes a swing at Bob, nailing him with a fist to his cheekbone.

"Son of a bitch," Bob yells.

"Whoa," Kowalski cries, and tries to grab for Mick, but he twists away, and darts over to Fraser, who is picking up Mick's badge from where it had fallen in an empty gutter. He snatches it out of Fraser's hand, gives Kowalski a kick salute and a "Thanks, man," and breezes out the door like he's late for lunch somewhere else.

And then they get kicked out. Again.

"What was that about?" Kowalski asks once they've been deposited outside, irritated, but also clearly still amused.

"That fucker." Bob stops, and then takes a deep breath, and eyes Fraser and Kowalski narrowly. "Whatever, it's nothing."

"No, really," Kowalski asks, "he steal a poodle or something?"

Bob just shrugs, and looks away.
"So," Gerard asks, "I'm guessing he's why you were asking me about cheating that time?"

"He's a dog detective," Kowalski points out, "not a husband stalker."

"I think Constable Way might be suggesting that the man was cheating at bowling, Ray."

"Whatever," Bob says, "I can't prove anything."

Kowalski makes a noise like air escaping out of a tire. "Okay, we're not getting anywhere here today, are we? Let's hit the 2-7, see if we can get anything out of Donnie."

Gerard is pretty sure it's not going to end well if he runs into Frank at the 2-7, as much as he wants to see him. Or if, God forbid, Schechter hears about it, so he says, "Actually, guys, I better head back to the Consulate."

"Need a ride?" Bob offers.

"It's a Mountie love triangle," Kowalski mutters under his breath, and then says louder, "See you tomorrow, Way," and gives a little wave before leading Fraser off to the GTO.

"Do you want to talk about what's going on with Mick?" Gerard asks when they're alone, and Bob is shaking his head no, so he adds, "I'll make chicken piccata," and Bob hesitates, so he goes in for the kill with, "and turtle brownies."

Bob caves.

*

The next time Frank knocks on the door of the Consulate, Bob's right next to Brendon when he opens the door and greets Frank in French and English, like Bob's taking some sort of How to Be a Bilingual Mountie training session.

"Hey, Iero," Bob says once Brendon's done formally inviting Frank inside like he's never been here before.

"Someone lose their dog in Canada?" Frank asks. Bob scowls at him.

"Detective Bryar here was just asking me some questions," Brendon says cheerily. "Il-y-a demande --" Frank holds up his hand and Brendon stops.

"He's not a detective," Frank says. Brendon makes a face like Frank's just being mean. "What are you bothering Brendon about?" Frank asks Bob.

"A case," Bob says. He and Frank stare at each other for a moment.

"He wanted to know about what I do here," Brendon says, still cheery, like he's thrilled just to be asked and doesn't consider that Bob might have some ulterior motive other than curiosity.

"Yeah, cause Bob's just a great big old fan of Canada," Frank says.

"I am," Bob says.

"Well so am I," Frank says defiantly. Brendon seems to take them at their word and beams at them both.

"Frankie?" Gerard calls from the kitchen. After a moment, he comes out with a ball of dough between his hands that's he's holding like he's trying to keep it warm. "I thought I heard you out here."

"Bob and I were just talking about how much we love Canada," Frank says.

"Well that's nice," Gerard says. Frank shakes his head at him. Gerard shrugs like he's not sure what Frank expects him to do. "Come here, Frankie, you can try my caramel and tell me if you think it needs more salt." Frank doesn't say anything, but Gerard replies like he had and says, "I do not always think it needs more salt." Gerard turns and heads back to the kitchen and Frank follows, but not before giving Bob a warning look. Bob plasters on a fake grin and asks Brendon another question that Frank can't hear.

"It doesn't bother you that he's here?" Frank asks Gerard, who has set down the dough in his hands on a carefully floured spot on the counter. He starts stirring something amazing-smelling in a pot on the stove.

"Who, Bob? Not at all. We love having visitors here." He holds out a spoon oozing with dark brown caramel to Frank. "Careful, it's been cooling but it's still hot," he says.

"But he's not visiting -- he's prying around here to find out where we are on our case. Oh, god, this is amazing," Frank says around the spoon in his mouth.

"It doesn't need more salt?"

"Why would you put any salt in this?" Frank says, still sighing at the rich, warm taste as the caramel melts over his tongue. "It's so sweet."

"Salt brings out the sweetness," Gerard says, "if you use the right amount."

Frank stares at Gerard for a moment, baffled. "How do you even know these things?"

"I learned it all by cooking with my grandmother." Gerard's face goes sad for a moment and then he looks off to the side and says, "Yes, I'm still learning." He looks up at Frank with a start and says, "Why don't you trust Bob?"

"Because there are reasons people become private eyes and not cops, and it's usually because they don't like being held back by the law. And because they think they can talk to dogs."

"Fuck you," Bob says conversationally, joining them in the kitchen. "Anyone can talk to dogs, it's understanding them that's the real skill."

Gerard considers this and then, as though breaking a law of his own, hurriedly takes a jar down from the cabinet, takes out a pinch of whatever's in it, and sprinkles it into the caramel. "He could be on some other case," Gerard says, after watching the pot carefully for a moment.

"Yeah, because the Canadian Consulate is a hotbed of illegal activity. Especially Constable Speaks French over there."

"We all speak French," Gerard says. Frank glares at him.

Schechter wanders into the kitchen reading three sheets of paper at once and not looking at all where he's going. Despite that, and without looking up, he transfers the papers to one hand and makes a fist with the other, holds it out toward Bob. Bob greets him with a fist-bump and Schechter resumes reading the sheets of paper as he continues back out into the hall.

"You know Schechter?" Frank asks Bob. "I'm not even sure he knows my first name."

"Of course he does," Gerard says.

"Yeah, I know Brian; we go way back," Bob says.

"Way back where?" Frank says desperately. "Were you a dog P.I. in the Northwest Territories?"

"Maybe I found something Brian lost," Bob says. "You might need to hire me soon to find your composure if you keep going at this pitch of crazy."

"No one needs to find my composure!" Frank shouts. "I just don't like it when I don't know what's going on!"

Bob just gives him a look.

"No, seriously, this is my city," Frank says, "and over the past few weeks, I have found out that a bunch of people from Canada know more about the inside of an underground baked goods drug trafficking ring than I do!"

"It's just the Consulate," Bob says. "All the crossing international borders takes it out of you at first."

"You just came here for the first time yesterday!" Frank protests. "I need to lie down."

"Are you going to pass out?" Bob says, sounding skeptical.

"No, I just -- I think better when I'm on my back," Frank says.

"I bet you do," Bob says.

'You," Frank says, "can shut the fuck up."

"Come on, Frank, you can lie on the floor in the pantry. Do you need quiet to think or could I cook around you? No, I won't drop flour on him, that was only one time," Gerard says, and Frank didn't hear Schechter say anything but it sounds like the sort of thing Schechter would say.

Frank follows Gerard into the kitchen, and he does feel better when he's on the cool floor, less like everything is a rope tightening around him and more like it all falls into a pattern. So what if Bob knows Schechter? He's going to be someone else completely in a few days. Frank finds himself wishing for it to happen faster while at the same time wishing everything would just stop so he could lie here, on the floor of the pantry, and listen to Gerard as he starts telling Frank about the tart he's going to make after he finishes the brownies.

Gerard has to deliver a tray of brownies upstairs, and he tells Frank he'll be right back, but Frank's learned that time is a little more relative inside the Consulate, where no one seems to have set work hours and where everyone, even guests, have offices but no one seems to use them to do work. So instead of waiting on the floor where he's not even really thinking, Frank gets up and does the dishes. All of Gerard's cooking certainly makes a lot of dishes. Frank thinks that they're the proof that what Gerard is doing isn't entirely magic. He figures that if a guy could do magic cooking, he wouldn't need all these mixing bowls.

Frank's thinking a little bit about Kowalski and a little bit about Canada and a little bit about what he heard of how Ray ended up there. A case and submarine and a whole lot of snow. Frank's never been undercover in Canada -- he's never been to Canada at all -- and he wonders what it's like up there for a Chicago cop. These Mounties, they're from there, they know what they're doing. Hell, Gerard even knows what he's was doing in Chicago; he's never been here before, but he moves around like he has. Frank wonders if there's anywhere he moves around like he's been there before -- even places where he's been for years, he still doesn't feel like he can move around them with that sort of assurance. Gerard, it's like he glides through everything, like his feet aren't even on the ground.

"You are not doing my dishes," Gerard says, stopped at the door of the kitchen as though he's seen something horrible. Frank turns and shrugs his shoulders, runs the soapy glass bowl under the tap, and stacks it in the drying rack on top of all the other bowls. "Frankie," Gerard says, and something warm and familiar flares inside Frank's chest. "Frankie, you're not supposed to do the dishes."

"Whatever," Frank says. "Maybe if you cooked less, there wouldn't be so many."

"But --"

"You're telling me this place doesn't have a rule that someone else does the cook's dishes?"

Gerard gives him a look like there's nowhere on the planet where that rule exists.

"Well, they have that rule where I come from," Frank says.

"Jersey?"

"My mom's kitchen. If you didn't cook, and you ate what was offered, you do the dishes. Simple as that."

Gerard has a look on his face like it's not that simple at all.

"I'm the one who made the dishes, so I'm the one who does them," Gerard says. "I tried to do my grandmother's dishes once," he adds thoughtfully. "She chased me out of the kitchen."

"Were you particularly bad at doing the dishes? Did you break glasses or something?"

"My grandmother didn't like people doing things for her that she could do herself. I guess I'm the same way," Gerard says.

Frank finishes the last mixing bowl, rinses his hands, and grabs the dishtowel, except that Gerard's reaching for it to hand it to him. Their hands brush and Frank shivers. When their eyes meet, Gerard's staring at him. It takes Frank longer to look away than it should.

"I should get going," Frank says, handing the towel back.

*

Dewees is on a ladder, stacking sacks of powdered sugar, when Frank goes back to the warehouse. Every other bag, a gust of powder-filled air dusts him, and he patches holes in them with clear tape. The repeated dustings are giving him a freakish, ghostly look across his chest, as though that part of him is about to cross into the ether and his head, arms, and legs will stay behind, disembodied.

"This is an amazing boon," Dewees says. "I owe your buddies for this windfall."

"What are you going to do with all this powdered sugar? Do you even know what people use powdered sugar for?"

"Do you? Besides as a substrate for drug trafficking."

"Look at you, using words like substrate."

"Listen," Dewees says, "why are you being such a pissy little bitch? You've done nothing but be contrary and grumpy for days. I'm not even sure why you're visiting me since I seem to be doing nothing but causing you pain. Just go upstairs and take a nap or something."

Frank doesn't know what to say, so he just listens to Dewees stacking the powdered sugar, the gush of a bag with hole, the sound of the tape being torn off.

Dewees comes down from the ladder after a dozen or so bags. Frank hasn't managed to come up with an answer, so Dewees comes over and sits down beside him, scraping another metal chair over the storeroom's floor. "Frankie," Dewees says. "You're not even arguing with me and I just called you a pissy little bitch. You hate it when I call you a little bitch, whatever adjective I use."

Frank sighs. "You've got enough powdered sugar on you to make a glaze."

Understanding dawns on Dewees's face and Frank doesn't know why but he figures he's going to find out. "Let me just ask you one question," Dewees says. "And then I promise I will stop making fun of your little bitchy self for... a whole hour."

"Fine," Frank says.

"Since when do you know what's even in a glaze?"

Frank feels his face flush.

"So this is about your Mountie."

"He's not my Mountie," Frank says, too quickly. "He's -- he found his brother and solved the case and before you know it he's going back to Canada."

"You're pining!" Dewees says. He smacks his thigh and powdered sugar flies into the air. "You're pining for a Mountie and it's not even about how you want to do him in the Trans Am."

"I'm not pining," Frank says, though it even sounds petulant to him.

"But you don't just want to do him fast and dirty in your car?" Dewees scans Frank's face for a reaction he can't hide. "You want it in a bed! You want it in a soft bed after a nice meal. You full on want to make fucking glaze with him in his fucking kitchen and it's not even a euphemism. Oh man, that's bad, Frankie, that's way bad."

Frank can't do anything but nod. "It's bad."

"Here," Dewees says, "Help me with the powdered sugar -- a little manual labor will help take your mind off your broken heart."

"Shut up," Frank says, but he picks up a bag of powdered sugar anyway. "I'm supposed to meet him for dinner again," he says after stacking a few bags. "Tomorrow."

"Dinner?" Dewees says skeptically.

"He says he owes me dinner, for the case," Frank says.

"The case," Dewees says, just as skeptically.

"I just keep ending up back there, at the Consulate, like we're partners still."

"That's because you are," Dewees says. "I don't care that you're undercover and he's suspended. You're still partners."

"What if we weren't, though?" Frank asks.

Dewees stops, balancing a bag of powdered sugar on the top rung of the ladder. "Is that what your problem is?" he asks. "You're pining because you think you aren't partners?"

Frank shrugs. Dewees shakes his head. "Come on, hand me another bag, you lazy bitch. You gonna tell him you got a reassignment?" Dewees asks and Frank almost drops a bag of powdered sugar.

"I told him," Frank says.

"Like I can't tell when you're lying," Dewees says. "Of course you didn't tell him. You never tell anyone when you get a reassignment until you're halfway done."

"Then why would I tell him?"

"Because you're partners."

"I told him we weren't anymore," Frank says and this time it's Dewees's turn to almost drop something.

"Whatever you say, Frankie. Just, if you're so sure you're not partners, then why are you acting like someone stole your car?"

When Frank doesn't answer, Dewees just sighs, and they load the rest of the bags onto the shelves in relative silence.

*

Frank's eating ravioli baked with goat cheese, pine nuts, and a garlic-basil sauce, which Gerard had pulled from the oven moments before Frank's arrival. It's good, warm, and comforting, and Gerard's telling Frank a story about how he learned that the key for him, after so many ruined batches, turned out to be that to make pasta by hand one must choose a day to make it with forty-five percent humidity.

"You ruined something?" Frank says. He has to be exaggerating, Frank can't imagine Gerard having ever messed up anything in his life, not even pasta. Gerard's mouth is a slanted smile.

"Yeah, I've ruined a bunch of things," Gerard says, "Especially before I became a Mountie." And then he slides back into talking about when he likes to use a cream sauce. It's nice; Frank doesn't really want the conversation to turn back to Mikey or the case. Frank doesn't really like the tug of hearing what's going on now that he's not involved because Gerard doesn't seem to be sure whether to act like Frank's still involved or not, and so they're weird, inconsequential details, like the collection of codes Mikey told Gerard Donnie had been using, the shipping routes through Canada the trucks had been taking, and when how they switched routes according to a different numerical code; little things that set off familiar lights in Frank's head, like these were connections he should recognize, but they all go nowhere. He's someone else right now, someone who doesn't care about ciphers or shipping routes or Gerard's little brother.

Frank's phone rings in the middle of his ravioli, and it's the message he's been expecting about the delivery from Toro's suspect, a spec on the goods Lemon's supposedly going to fence. "Meet me at the blue park bench," Frank says, and then he says to Gerard, "Keep this warm for me? I need to go deal with something." Gerard just nods, doesn't push to ask what it's about, just assumes that it's a case and Frank's taking care of it.

The bench is just a few blocks away, so Frank walks, since he took the Trans Am to the Consulate, and as much as Frank loves her, she gives him away like an obvious tell.

Speaking of tells, it's easy to spot the messenger, because he's lurking. He straights up when he sees Frank, tries for confident and barely manages conscious. He hands Frank the envelope without ceremony.

Frank takes it, balances it on the dried remains of the potted plant sitting on the corner of the building's side door, and takes a swing at the guy, knocking him hard in the jaw. The guy stumbles back, affronted.

"What was that for?"

"You wanna learn a little discretion? Are you new at this messenger shit?" Frank takes another swing, and the guy is either too shocked or too stupid to block the punch. "You don't hand it to me, you leave it where I can pick it up. We're not having coffee together."

He pulls the third punch, because the guy probably is new at the messenger thing, and Frank thinks he's gotten the point. He picks up the envelope without opening it and walks back to the Consulate, taking a few turns to make sure no one's following him. No one is. He leaves the envelope in the Trans Am, and knocks on the Consulate door.

"Hey, Frank, welcome --" Gerard says and then he sees Frank's hand. "What happened?" Frank hadn't really noticed, but his knuckle's split and already starting to swell.

"Nothing," Frank says.

"Let me get you some ice for it," Gerard says, and he sounds concerned and Frank's not sure why. It's not like it's Frank's first split knuckle.

"Nah, don't bother," Frank says, "I'm starving though, can I have the rest of the ravioli?"

"Sure," Gerard says hesitantly, and Frank sits back down at the table.

*

"You guys form some kind of bowling club?" Schechter asks suspiciously, "This is the third time this week you've gone bowling together."

"We're fostering international cooperation by participating in America's greatest sport," Gerard lies, knowing it's a pitiful attempt, but figuring that Schechter is going to see through him eventually no matter what. So he doesn't waste the effort.

"I thought that was baseball," Schechter says, glowering.

"Actually, it's hockey," Kowalski says. "C'mon Way, pitter-patter, we gotta get back in time for you to make dinner."

This time they actually get to talk to Gabe, who is not happy to see them.

"We've been hearing some interesting things about your ceiling," Kowalski says.

"Oh, the ceiling?" Gabe says. "Sure, yeah, those aren't just any ceiling tiles, you know, I got them imported all the way from Jersey."

"I'm not asking about your ceiling tiles," Ray says, and looms threateningly.

"I believe what my partner is trying to say is that certain groups of individuals have been utilizing the ceiling of your establishment to leave secret coded messages for each other," Fraser intervenes, with perfect "good cop" timing.

"You sure you don't want to talk about the lamps instead?" Gabe deflects, and then Kowalski is right in his personal space and Gabe is backing down faster than a skittish bungee jumper. "Okay, okay, the ceiling, what do you want to know?"

Gabe, it turns out, doesn't know all that much, aside from who's using his ceiling, because "a bunch of guys standing on tables in a bowling alley kind of stand out."

"I tried to read the notes a coupla times," Gabe admits, "But they're in some kind of freaky double code, didn't mean anything to me."

"But you're friends with William," Gerard points out. "He never told you anything?"

"Everyone's friends with William," Gabe protests, "and I didn't want to know. They don't leave messages at the desk, like everyone else. I offer a service, can't make 'em use it."

"Sounds like you're friendly, too, pal," Kowalski says, cocking his head to the side, and adds, "I want some names," his voice low and dangerous.

"I know some code names, maybe." Gabe shrugs it off.

"Speaking of codes," Fraser says conversationally, "the proximity of the hot dog rotisserie device to the shoe storage areas seems like it would be in direct violation of the Health Code as it applies to bowling alleys in the greater metropolitan --"

"All right, all right," Gabe says. "One of the guys likes to bowl, okay? Pays with his debit card, name's Alex."

"We already talked to Alex," Gerard says. "He's a pastry chef."

"Different Alex," Gabe says.

"So," Ray says, leaning forward, eyes bright, "where do we find him?"

*

Speaking with Alex is as fruitful as harvesting an apple tree with low hanging branches.

Dief particularly enjoys questioning him, as he's sitting on the man's chest, panting in his face and licking his lips hungrily whenever he becomes recalcitrant.

"How are they getting the frosting past the border?" Kowalski asks.

Dief licks his lips.

"Oh man," Alex whines, "they use stolen Krispy Kreme trucks, okay? Drive them past the border, and then load the cargo onto planes at a private airstrip."

"And who owns the airstrip?" Gerard asks.

"Oh, god, don't let him eat me -- it's Leonard, Leonard Cowen!"

"Leonard Cohen?"

"Cowen!" Alex wails. "With a 'w!'"

"Thank you kindly," Fraser says. "Dief?"

"Now that," Kowalski says, "is a lead. Fucking finally. 2-7?" he asks, pointing at Fraser, and then before Gerard can say anything, points at him and says, "Consulate, I know."
"Oh wow," Alex says, still curled up on the floor, "I think I need to leave the country, like, right now."

*

Frank's come by the Consulate to drop off interview transcripts from two of Donnie's associates. "International cooperation," Frank says, "and all that." The Consulate's quiet, just Gerard cooking and Kowalski reading some worn-looking paperback at the table.

"You hungry?" Gerard says. "Here, try this." He pushes a dish of vanilla ice cream in front of him, covered in a bright pink sauce.

"What's this?" Frank asks, lifting the spoon to his mouth.

"Rhubarb simple syrup," Gerard says.

"Ugh, too sweet," Frank says, pushing the dish away. There's something wrong with the flavor curling all around his tongue. He swallows a couple times to get it away.

"I'm sorry, Frankie," Gerard says, looking horrified. "I thought you'd like it. Here, I'll make something else."

"Nah, I gotta get going anyway, see ya," Frank says, standing up, pushing his chair back. Gerard doesn't follow him, which is good, because he suddenly feels like he's in a rush. People to see, things to do.

"Hey," Ray says, catching him at the door to the Consulate. "What was that about?"

"I gotta run," Frank says.

"I mean with the simple fucking syrup," Ray says. "I saw you eat half a strawberry-rhubarb pie just two days ago."

"I'm just not in the mood for it now," Frank says.

Ray lets him go then, but as the door's closing behind him, Frank hears Ray say, very clearly, "Rhubarb's not sweet, it's tart."

And okay, yeah, he's right, it was the tartness that Frank didn't like but he doesn't see how that's any different.

*

After Frank left, Gerard has an accidental staring match with the leftover syrup-swirled ice cream. It isn't a staring match exactly -- the ice cream probably isn't staring back -- but for some reason he can't quite look away, and he wonders, for a moment, if it will melt before he'll be able to move his eyes.

His gaze is broken, though, when Ray Kowalski comes into the kitchen, boot heels ringing on the hard floor, and swipes the bowl out from under him, hooking his hands around it, and sprawling, in a move both careless and graceful, into the chair across from him.

"Mind if I have some?" Ray says, and, before Gerard can answer, scoops up a spoonful and eats it.

"Sure," Gerard says, belatedly, and begins to clear off some of the dirty dishes to cover his confusion. He's glad Kowalski is eating the ice cream. He isn't sure if he wants any for himself now, even though he'd been sort of craving it that afternoon. Probably he's full.

"This is good," Kowalski says, eyeing Gerard narrowly, like he's expecting an argument, and he's scary enough that Gerard doesn't argue, though he might have, and just nods. "Have you ever cooked spaghetti over an open fire?"

Gerard has been piling dishes up in the sink, but he looks back over at Kowalski, startled by the randomness of the question. "No," he says finally, "I don't think I have."

"I knew that wasn't normal," Kowalski says, almost to himself, and then eats a few more uneventful spoonfuls before Gerard thinks it's safe to turn around and run the taps for hot water.

The sound of running water and Ray's clinking spoon fill the room for a bit.

When Gerard cuts the taps, Kowalski speaks again. "You know how every time you meet someone, it changes you?" He's leaning back precariously in the tilted chair, and twirling the spoon in his fingers so that it gives little flashes when it catches the light of the kitchen lamps. "You meet a guy on the street who hates your shirt, you help a guy move in next door, you talk to somebody on the bus; those are little changes. Maybe it's just your mood, maybe you get a new shirt, but you change."

Gerard doesn't know what to say. Listening to the rhythms of Kowalski's voice, watching the spoon flash, it's almost hypnotic. His hands go still on the dishes, and he pulls them out of the water, and dries them on his apron. Kowalski throws him a quick, assessing glance, like he's gauging whether or not he has all of Gerard's attention, and then goes on. "But the people around you, they change you all the time. You live up to their expectations," he says, raising his spoon, "or you let 'em down." He drops his spoon in into the bowl, letting it clatter against the ceramic. "You hear about what they like, you try out new stuff, you learn things, you change."

Gerard isn't sure what he thinks about Kowalski's philosophy. It makes people sound wishy-washy and vague. Like changing who you are is too easy, and constant.

Kowalski pins him with a glare, like he can sense his disagreement. "You don't choose to change, you don't choose how you change, but you can change who you know."

And Gerard realizes suddenly, like a punch to the gut, that Kowalski is talking about Frank.

Gerard turns back to the sink to hide his expression, wishing he has an excuse to cut onions instead of having to do the washing up.

"Once you find somebody who changes you for the better, who makes you stronger, or try harder, those are the people you need to stick with," Kowalski says from behind him, not deterred by his inattention, though his voice sounds a bit remote.

Kowalski goes quiet again after that, presumably finishing his ice cream, and Gerard kind of feels like he can't say anything; he doesn't want to think about his own thoughts too hard. He concentrates on tidying up, washing the dishes, then stacking some in the drying rack, toweling some of them dry by hand, wiping down the counters.

Finally, there isn't anything left to do except clear off the table, but by then Gerard feels better. Or at least, more under control. His eyes are dry, at any rate, and he turns to ask Kowalski if he wants any more of the syrup. "I've got this whole bottle of it left," Gerard explains.

"Nah -- it's good, but I prefer chocolate," Kowalski replies mildly, his eyes crinkling up a little bit at the corners. "Anyway, I'm pretty sure you'll want it for later."

Gerard isn't even sure he wants to see the cruet again, let alone save it in case he wants it later, but he just shrugs, and pushes it to the back of the cabinet.

"So," Kowalski says, licking the last bits of syrup from his spoon, "what I'm trying to say is that Frank's an idiot."

Gerard, to his own surprise, is instantly angry. "He is not," he protests, banging shut the cupboard door rather harder than he means to, the echoing bang of it, and the rattle of jostled plateware and bottles covering anything else he might add. Ray's mouth opens, and closes, before the sound dies down.

"It's just syrup," Gerard says, wincing. "It's just -- he really respects you, and takes what you say really seriously, so..."

"It's just syrup," Ray says, nodding, but he's not agreeing, not really, "It's the syrup you made just for Frank."

"I didn't," Gerard protests, "It's not Frank's fault, if he doesn't --"

"Like I said, Frank's an idiot."

"Stop giving Frankie such a hard time," Gerard says, he can feel himself getting flustered, "You know he idolizes you."

Ray's eyes widen as Gerard talks, suddenly very blue, and as vulnerable as a baby's. But then they're hooded again, and Kowalski is grinning at him sardonically. "Then he really is an idiot."

*

"Elena," Buck says, clearing his throat. "Are you... around?" It isn't like he know the protocol -- usually Bob had just appeared when he wanted to, and who knew where he was when he wasn't here. But Buck knew Elena was around, watching over her menace of a grandson. Menaces of grandsons.

"Depends," Elena says, sitting in the chair Buck had been frequenting in the kitchen. "You wanna reminisce or you want talk about the case?"

"You mean cases?" Buck says.

"They're one case," Elena says. "Someone'll figure it out soon enough."

"You might give them a hint," Buck says.

"Oh, I've given plenty. I raised some stubborn family." Elena crossed her legs in the chair. "So, which is it, case or a stroll down memory lane?"

"Which will keep you here?" Buck asks. Elena smirks. "The case," he says, and knows he's chosen wisely by the way Elena settles back into the chair. Elena may have been many mysterious things, but she was a good Mountie and a Mountie never chose reminiscing over the matter at hand, unless they were reminiscing over the matter at hand. "What's the cop up to?"

"Pretending not to be a cop with a bunch of cops, which is the first problem," Elena says.

"And why isn't your grandson with him?"

Elena sighs, long-suffering. "Exactly."

"Wait, so you know who they're both chasing," Buck says. "If you tell me --"

"It doesn't work that way," Elena says. "Didn't Bob ever tell you the rules? No, of course he didn't -- Bob Fraser, honestly, they could have written whole rulebooks about situations where you shouldn't follow his example." She looks at Buck and opens her hands out in a way that makes Buck want to reach out for them, except he has a feeling he wouldn't end up touching them at all, and he doesn't want to try and find out. "There are things I can just... tell are true," she says. "Like looking at the topographical map and then being up in the air and actually seeing it."

"So," Buck says, trying to figure out what's okay to ask. Come to think of it, Bob never had bothered to explain very well. "If the cases are actually one case..."

"They're heading to the same destination as sure as the Trans-Canadian highway takes you from Victoria to Nova Scotia. And if one of the geniuses in the middle of it, whether he's my blood or not, doesn't figure it out soon, I'm going to have two grandsons in a mess and not a few Chicago cops covered in the muck, too."

"I'll see what I can do," Buck says.

"I know," Elena says and smiles at him in a way that would totally have made Bob elbow him in the stomach if he were still around.

*

Frank comes home from the Consulate, the too-sweet syrup taste still in his mouth, and Dewees is sitting on the couch, his bare feet up on the table, and there's something weird with piano music on the TV and lots of vistas of English countryside. Frank's afraid Dewees has fallen asleep watching the Discovery channel again.

"Hey," Frank whispers, not wanting to wake him up if he is actually asleep, even if it means giving up an opportunity to mock him.

"Shh," is what Frank gets in return. He looks back at the TV, where two people are arguing in the rain.

"Are you watching a chick flick?"

"It's Pride and Prejudice, which is the original chick flick," Dewees says. "I like to go to the source. Well, honestly, the six hour BBC version with Colin Firth is closer to the source material, but I am not wasting six hours on you."

"Are you drunk?"

"Maybe I should be," Dewees says. "I'm trying to help you."

"By watching a romance movie?"

Dewees just watches the TV silently. After the woman goes running off into the rain, Dewees says, "See, that's how to have an argument."

"Are you saying I need to watch a movie to learn how to have an argument?"

"You need to watch a movie to learn how to relate to people. Especially people who have strong feelings for you."

"Is this the awkward confession part of the conversation? Because I need dinner first."

To Frank's surprise, Dewees doesn't even swear at him. He just says, "You'd have had dinner already, if you'd just gone to see your Mountie."

Fuck. Frank can suddenly see where the conversation is going, but he has no idea how to stop it.

"There's pizza in the fridge," Dewees says. "For god sakes, heat it up first -- you know my feelings about cold pizza."

"Seriously, man, there are no other feelings we're gonna talk about, though, right? Besides the ones you have about pizza?"

"Frankie, you're pretty lucky to have me as a friend. Go get your pizza and come sit down here. I'll narrate the emotional lessons of the movie for you."

"Can I say no?"

"No."

"Some friend," Frank says.

"This movie is for your own good, man," Dewees says. "Jane Austen is the definition of Tough Love."

"I'll watch ten minutes," Frank says, "then I have to go get ready to meet Toro."

"You'll watch twenty," Dewees says, "because you don't need to 'get ready' for a meet with Toro. Okay, now, pay attention, this is where the two people who are in love fight because they're both too alike to realize..."
*

Frank saunters into the meeting place he's set with Toro, a place that would probably be a nice coffee shop if it were in a better neighborhood, but as it is, it actually ends up being more of a place used for sketchy meetings that just happens to serve coffee.

Two exits in the back, the front door is no good unless you're leaving with a crowd, a few tables in the back, and the counter would be good for cover once all the glass from the display case had shattered. Not that Frank expects any of that from a meeting with Toro, but just in case, it doesn't hurt to know the best defensive position, and know where he's going to run if it comes to it. Frank only needs to be tied to a conveyor belt headed for an oven once to heighten his awareness of escape contingency planning.

Frank is Lemon for all intents and purposes. Toro thinks he's talking to Frank, but he's actually talking to Lemon, so when he talks about pretending and putting on a show and knowing all the codes, Frank just shrugs him off and orders a coffee. It's weird, but for a second Frank thinks he sees Bob Bryar, Dog P.I., sitting in a booth in the corner.

Toro watches him; Frank can feel it. He knows he passes Toro's questioning gaze -- he's got Lemon down, all the way to black coffee and the way he elbows his way through nothing to get to the counter and back to the table.

When he comes back to the table, there's a new guy there, and Frank ignores him, stirring his coffee more for something to do with his hands than because there's really anything to stir. "You're in my seat," Frank says.

"Frank," Ray says, "this is my partner, Mick."

Frank eyes Toro. "Lemon," Frank says, extending his hand.

"The fence," Mick says. "So who's Frank?"

"Beats me," Frank says. "Ask the hair over here."

"Mick, this is the guy," Toro says, sounding confused and a little alarmed.

"I know that, Toro, I know," Mick says, suddenly softening and patting Toro on the shoulder. "Just wanted to see how he'd handle the pressure."

Frank shrugs it off. Like someone asking about names is pressure. When someone recognizes him; now that is pressure. There are usually only two ways out of that: pretend the other guy who they think they recognize was the cover, or coldcock them with whatever heavy object is near at hand. Frank has done both, and neither of them work all that well.

"Sorry," Toro says. "Still not very good at this undercover stuff." Mick punches him in the shoulder fondly.

"Long as you don't blow my cover like in Edison Park," Frank says under his breath. Toro slaps his hands on the table.

"How many times am I going to have to tell you that I didn't know you were undercover!"

"You handcuffed me in the middle of the park and dug around in my pockets until you found my badge, which you flashed all over so that every single person and some of the pigeons saw it."

"I didn't know," Toro says.

Frank shakes his head. "Two months of work," Frank says sadly. "So," Frank continues, because there's something about Mick's amused smile that's grating at his nerves, "when's the first meet?"

"There are three," Toro says. "One messenger delivery with info about the material they want you to fence, which you've already done; one face to face with a representative of the seller; one panel review. That's where we're hoping you'll find our weak link."

"How big a panel?" Frank says. "This a whole organization meeting or just the ones who care about their fence?"

"It depends if the big boss feels like showing up," Mick says.

"And do we know who the big boss is?" Frank says.

"Rumors only," Toro says.

"When we have info on the face to face, we'll call the phone we gave you," Mick says, "and ask if you deal in antique coins, which means the face to face is a go. If we say anything about ceramic, there's a change in plans, and we'll leave the address in a note at your apartment from your landlord about how you won't have any hot water because they're working on the boiler."

"Will I have hot water?" Frank asks.

"There's no actual repair work scheduled at your building," Mick says, "as far as I know. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a meeting. See you back at home base?" Mick says to Toro.

"I'll bring lunch," Toro says. Mick disappears out the back.

"He always like that?" Frank says.

"What, you mean overcommitted and in a hurry? Yeah," Toro says.

There is something else Frank would have asked, but he's so busy being Lemon, stirring his no-stirring-necessary coffee, that it escapes him.

*

Bob Bryar, Dog P.I., is waiting at a newspaper stand a few blocks from the coffee-dive, and so Frank thinks it's actually not that much of a fluke that he saw him when he was meeting Toro. Frank's trying to find his way back to Frank-voice, since it's not good to be broadcasting to people who know him that he's pretending to be someone else.

Except that as Frank walks by, Bob says, "So I hear you make connections." In that second, Bob is suddenly very clearly way more than a finder of lost dogs. Frank wonders how long he's been watching, how long it took him to put the pieces together.

"Sometimes," Frank says, more Lemon than anything. "I'm not a matchmaker."

"I'm looking for a missing link," Bob says, and hands Frank a Chicago Sun Times. There's a piece of it torn off and sticking out in the middle. There's handwriting on it, enough so Frank can see it's there but not enough to see what it is. "Take a look and see if you can do anything for me."

And then Bob walks off.

Frank's really, really impressed. He walks the way back to his apartment, turning the idea of Bob being more tuned in than Toro, smother than the guys running the undercover op. When he gets inside, he sees that the torn-off piece of paper has a list of dates, times from the past few weeks... and bakeries.

He calls the 2-7. "Hey, Frannie, can you do me a favor?"

"I am the miracle-worker of favors," Frannie says. "What kind of party is it?"

"What?" Frank says, momentarily at a loss.

"You said you needed favors. For what kind of party?"

Frank sighs. "I need you to look something up for me, Frannie," Frank says.

"No party?"

"The party's going to have to wait."

"Okay, fine," Frannie says, sounding disappointed. "What kind of thing am I looking up?"

"You tell me. I have a list of dates, times, and places. What am I missing?"

"The person," Frannie says. "You need CCTV or something? Surveillance?"

"Whatever you've got," Frank says. "Call me."

"Will do," Frannie says, "But I expect an invitation to the party."

"Yeah, yeah," Frank says. "Sure." If Frannie can find anything, he'll throw her a party. "You know, actually, when you get this, send it over to Bob Bryar's office."

"The dog detective?" Frannie says. "Is this about a lost dog?"

"Yeah," Frank says, because it's easier than explaining, and for all he knows, maybe it is.

*

The tricky part about making raspberry tarts is that Gerard really needs raspberries to make them. Well, that isn't the tricky part, so much as the fact that all the raspberries he'd bought yesterday have mysteriously disappeared overnight. He has his suspicions about what happened to them, which involve Buck Frobisher, Diefenbaker, and Brendon Urie. But he doesn't have any proof, so there is nothing else for him to do but go back to the store.

That's the plan, anyway, until Gerard opens the door and comes face to face with Bob Bryar.

"I wasn't actually just standing on the stoop to freak you out," Bob tells him, while Gerard tries to pretend he hasn't just shrieked like a little girl, "I just got here."

"Right," Gerard says, once he catches his breath. "Come in?" And nudges Dief aside, so that Bob can get in. He's always coming out of nowhere to sniff new arrivals.

"No, I just..." Bob pauses, "Well, is there any coffee?"

"Just milk tea at the moment," Gerard replies apologetically.

"I don't have time to stop long anyway." Bob shrugs. "I have to see a man about a Yorkie."

Dief presses up past Gerard's leg, and barks once at Bob.

"Tell him that," Bob says, looking down at Dief briefly, before continuing to Gerard, "It's about Ray."

Kowalski comes up behind Gerard, folding his arms a little forbiddingly across his chest. "What about me?" he asks Bob, tilting his chin pugnaciously.

Bob crosses his arms in return as he regarded Kowalski. "It's about Ray Toro, Vecchio."

"Kowalski," Gerard reminds Bob.

"No," Bob says, "Toro."

"He means I'm Kowalski," Ray says.

Bob rolls his eyes, "You can be anyone you fucking want, I don't care. What I do care about is that Toro might be in danger. Is Frank here? I got the info from Frannie, but --"

"Frank's not here, he's -- "

Kowalski makes a brief arc with his hand, as though batting something away. "Just spit it out, already."

"I already told Frank --"

Kowalski makes an impatient noise low in his throat.

"Fine, for multiple reasons that I won't be going into at the moment, I've come to suspect that there's a plant in the Chicago PD, who's been meeting with an old confederate of Donnie's, a woman called Winona --"

"That's not a common name," Fraser says conversationally, as he comes up beside Kowalski. "Hello, Bob."

"Hi, Fraser," Bob says. "That's not really her name, it's just what she's called."

"But you don't know who she's meeting with," Kowalski says, not asking.

"I've been trying to figure out what's going on, but I've gotta put the cases that pay my bills first, you know?" Bob shrugs." I don't have the manpower to follow her around."

Kowalski is starting to get heated up, and Gerard's a little worried smoke might come of his ears, so he takes a quick step forward, weaving a bit to miss Dief, and says, "Okay, I'll do it. Where is she now?"

Bob shakes his head, "I don't know where she'll be until six o'clock tonight -- she takes a shift at a local café. I wrote down the address."

"Oh, good," Kowalski says flatly, as Bob passes Gerard a piece of paper, "another stakeout."

"Let me know what you find," Bob says. "You too," he says to Dief's bark, and then heads back outside.

*

Frank's hanging out at the Consulate because it's close to where he's going before the panel review. It's quiet for mid-day at the Consulate, and Frank's sitting on the stairs, just thinking about nothing. He'd be sitting outside if it were warmer, watching the traffic of normal people going about their normal day, but Lemon would never sit on a stoop like that -- too much of a target. So Frank rubs the carpet like velvet under his fingers and doesn't feel nervous, doesn't feel anything but time passing. If it goes well, he'll have information for Toro, and if it goes badly, he'll get beaten up and tossed on the street, but either way, it'll be fine and he can have a ham sandwich and take a nap and try again.

He feels a thundering underneath the stairs and a pair of Mountie boots comes down the stairs, avoids him easily as though he wasn't there. Fraser. Then another pair, which stops on the stairs, right beside him.

"Frank," Gerard says as Frank looks up. "I didn't know you were here."

"Just killing time," Frank says.

"Before... what?" Gerard asks. Frank just shrugs. "Well if you have a few minutes, maybe you could help me with the case, I'm following up on this thing Bob said --"

Frank just shrugs again and says, "Maybe later."

"Yeah," Gerard says, without looking back at Frank, and goes the rest of the way down the stairs.

Ray Kowalski is on the landing behind Frank and he says, "Hey, Fraser, do you think you and the kid here can handle the stakeout for a few hours? I've got some stuff I need to deal with."

Frank only sees Fraser's side of the silent conversation, because he's tucked into a self-preserving lean against the stairwell that's the only way he can not show anyone he's possibly walking into a situation where he's a few punches away from unconsciousness in half an hour. Gerard's packing something into a knapsack, papers and a thermos and possibly a map that's been folded over one too many times. Fraser's nod is elegant.

"Sure, Ray, if Gerard doesn't mind accompanying me."

"Of course," Gerard says, though he sounds a little dull. Frank would have thought Gerard would have jumped at the chance to sit in a car and have a Mountie geek-out with Fraser.

"You ain't taking the GTO," Ray says.

"Ray," Fraser says, though mostly with his eyebrows.

"Doesn't Gerard here have a car?"

"No," Gerard says, and then he seems to consider, "but we could borrow Constable Urie's car, if you don't mind the fact that it's very blue."

Fraser nods and Gerard says, "I'll get the keys, and meet you outside?" Frank would have said something about Gerard's driving, and making sure Gerard actually asked Brendon for permission to take the keys, instead of just lifting them off the hook where they're hanging in the hall, but the words are held back under his skin. Lemon wouldn't care and Frank tries not to care either, letting everything just pass him by like he's been sitting on these stairs forever, through endless ups and downs.

"You know where to find us, Ray," Fraser says, and he goes out the front door. The sound of it closing is loud, but what's louder is Ray sitting on the step next to Frank, crossing his arms over his knees and saying, "Do I need to punch you? I mean, do I need to hit you hard across the face?"

It's not a voice Frank has any chance at ignoring. "Ray," he says.

"Don't you Ray me, don't even think about it, Frank," Ray says, saying Frank's name like it is a punch. "You can hide what's going on from the Mounties, but not from me. I've been undercover. I know what good undercover looks like. And I know how good you are at it. But Gerard doesn't."

"It doesn't matter what --" Frank says, and then Ray stands, takes the rest of the steps at a clip, and turns, hands across his chest, like he's blocking Frank from going anywhere but up.

"First, don't go insulting a man in his own home. This place, however bizarre it might be, is the Mountie's home and you're here, insulting him. Second," Ray says before Frank can argue, "It's not really you insulting him, it's your cover, whoever he is, and he's not a pleasant guy. Which means that a stranger is insulting the Mountie in his own home. A stranger wearing your face."

Frank doesn't know what to say, and he thinks that Ray might not be done anyway.

"Third," Ray says, as though he was just waiting for Frank to try to interrupt, "why are you undercover anyway?"

"I'm working with Toro," Frank says.

"I didn't ask what, I asked why." Ray crosses his arms even tighter across his chest, a wall of impatient waiting.

"Because Welsh --" Frank stops when Ray shakes his head. "Because they needed --" Ray shakes his head again. "Because the whole Donnie case weirded me out," Frank says. Ray nods.

"You did good with the case," Ray says. "You and Gerard, you were good."

Frank nods. "I don't work with a partner," Frank says into the silence. "Undercover's not a duo gig."

Ray points a finger at Frank like bingo. "So you took a solo gig."

"Right," Frank says.

"And how's it going?"

"I've had two meets and I've got a panel review in half an hour."

"Good," Ray says, "sounds good." But then he advances on Frank, gets right up in his face, hand on the stair rail. "So then why," Ray says, punctuating each word, "are you here? Is your cover from Canada? Does he regularly do business at the Consulate? Does he get his kicks sitting on stairs and insulting the person who a few days ago was so in step with him they were practically dance partners? You and Gerard have known each other for, what, four days? I read the reports, Frankie, I know the way you work and I heard Gerard talk about the case and it sounds like..." Ray stops to take a step back, cross his arms again. "It sounds like you found something. You found it even if you weren't looking for it."

"It was a weird case," Frank says.

"You think the case matters? You think it was about the case? When is it ever about the case?"

Fraser comes back in at that moment, because apparently Gerard forgot the part where he was meeting him outside.

"Ray, have you seen Constable Way?"

The raised voices down the hall answer for them.

"Did you forget what suspended means, Constable?" Schechter shouts. "There's a difference between assisting with a case and being involved in it, and that difference is the difference between being suspended and not being suspended. Now get out of my way, I need to talk to Detective Iero and make sure he understands the severity of the situation."

Ray and Fraser exchange a look that Frank understands means he can make a run for it now and Ray and Fraser will cover for him. Frank shakes his head, because he wants to see what's going on, and what's the worst thing Schechter can do?

But then Frank sits back down on the stairs because Gerard says, "Don't blame Frank, we're not partners."

"You're -- what?" Schechter says, and they stop, just around the corner of the stairs. Fraser takes a step back toward the stairs so he remains out of their line of sight and all three of them listen.

"We're not partners," Gerard repeats.

"So you just can't stop lying to me, can you, Gerard?" Schechter says. "Fine, so you're disobeying suspension and you're not even doing the one thing that's actually still a part of your job, which is to play nice with the Chicago PD. What happened? No, forget it, I can figure it out. If you're not partners with Iero anymore than you won't take issue with me putting in our transfer request. I don't care where we go, but I'm not letting you stay here and I'm not letting you out of my sight."

"Fine," Gerard says, and he walks around the stair rail and stops when he sees Fraser, Ray, and Frank.

Half a breath later, Frank is shoving Gerard is against the wall before he even realizes he's on his feet. Frank splays his fingers over Gerard's throat, and for a moment he can't remember why. He thought he was making a point, but his hand seems to think otherwise, or it's making a different point altogether, stroking along Gerard's skin, feeling the soft pulse, thready and not as nervous as he should be for having been thrown up against a wall, the swallow of his Adam's apple, like he's about to say something but can't quite decide. They're staring at each other and Frank can't tell what he's looking for in Gerard's eyes or if he sees it.

Fraser, Ray, and Schechter are all standing stock-still and silent.

"Where I'm from," Frank says, "you tell a guy when you're leaving the country."

Ray clears his throat. Frank lets his hand drop and Gerard blinks, like he's surprised. Frank takes a step back, tugs his shirt, rocks back on his heels.

"Frank --" Gerard whispers

"Whatever," Frank says taking another step back. "We're not partners, right? So it's fine."

"Frank --" Gerard says again, a little more desperately.

"Sorry for disturbing the peace," Frank says, sugary-sweet to Schechter. Frank thinks he sees a real expression of pain cross Gerard's face, but he's out the door and into his car before he can really think about it, or about what Ray might have to say.

The cool air and the familiar final sound of his car door closing actually makes Frank feel good, but a beat later, Schechter's following Frank out of the Consulate and down the stairs. Before Frank can start the car, Schechter's at his window, leaning down imposingly. Frank considers not rolling down the window, but then Schechter raps his knuckles, and Frank realizes he either peels away or he just fucking listens to Schechter's stupid lecture.

"What," Frank says.

"Unlock the door," Schechter says.

"What, so you can haul me out and punch me?"

Schechter glares at him. "I don't go around punching strangers."

"I'm not a stranger," Frank says.

"Could have fooled me," Schechter says. Frank doesn't unlock the door, and so Schechter leans in so his chest presses against the edge of the door, so his head is practically inside the car. "Okay, listen to me, Iero, I don't know what's going on between you and Gerard, but I've known Gerard a while and I know infuriating he can be."

"Wait, what?" Frank says, because this isn't the pummeling he was expecting.

"But this isn't the way to get through to him. So unless you go back in there and apologize, I don't want to see you here again, because then I will punch you."

"I don't have anything to apologize for," Frank says, without even considering, because his heart's still racing and he's still thinking about Gerard's wide eyes, how his hand felt on his throat.

Schechter lifts himself back out of the car. "Fine," he says, "then the next time you come back here, you'd better be bleeding."

*

Kowalski has strongly advised Gerard not to let Fraser drive, and so Gerard is concentrating more on parallel parking Brendon's thankfully tiny car into a tight space than on looking around, and so he doesn't realize, at first, that he's been here before.

The place they're staking out is the little cafe that he and Brendon visited when he'd been looking for Mikey. He wonders, though, how much harm he may have inadvertently done to Mikey's cover by asking for him here.

Unlike Frank, Fraser is gratifyingly appreciative when Gerard brings snacks to the stakeout. Dief particularly enjoys the curried chicken salad sandwiches.

Any Mountie has to admire Fraser. Well, unless they are one of the higher-ups, and then Fraser is mostly a pain in the ass, all unquestionable ethics and scary competence, leaving disaster and political upheaval in the wake of his quest for justice. Most of the Mounties, though, just think he is awesome. They don't even get jealous or anything, because they couldn't. It'd be like getting jealous over Superman. And it is cool to see that heroic reputation play out on the foreign streets of Chicago, and feel the ripple of affectionate adoration that is pointed at him, just because he is a Mountie, too.

It has been, up 'til now, an uncomplicated feeling. He'd heard about Fraser long before Fraser had dragged him off with the rest of Buck's detachment to catch Muldoon, the Grade A psycho who'd thought that selling a nuclear sub in the Arctic Circle was a good idea. And he hadn't revised his opinion of Fraser, when Fraser had caught Muldoon, and brought him to justice, and then, silhouetted against the rising sun, sledded off into the sunset with his partner.

Gerard remembers watching that last part from the window of their frozen outpost, Buck waving madly as the sled grew tinier and tinier in the distance. He'd thought it was cool, thought that Fraser must really have it together, to be living that kind of life.

He is totally revising his opinion now, though.

After Kowalski's cryptic comments over his rhubarb simple syrup, Gerard started thinking. As near as he can tell, Kowalski can be saying up to as many as five things with any one sentence, any time he opens his mouth, and so while they had been ostensibly talking about nothing... or Frank... Gerard also knows that they had been talking more than a little bit about Fraser.

Fraser has made it very clear that, after they clean this up, and get the drug-laden frosting out of Canada, he's going back to stay. Gerard's heard the intense conversations Fraser's had with Brian, in which Brian had pretty much begged him, although with more expletives than pleases, to take over his job. But, apparently, Fraser has applied for some sort of remote posting way up north.

Gerard doesn't know where that leaves Ray Kowalski. And he's pretty sure Kowalski doesn't know either.

"We might be too visible here," Fraser says. He's not looking at Gerard, but rather out the window, scanning the storefront.

"Nah," Gerard says, "the layout inside doesn't allow for a decent view of the street, so we're good."

"Hm," Fraser says, but settles back in his seat and begins to nibble at one of the sandwiches.

"I know what you're thinking," Elena says, and Gerard jerks in his seat and tries to cover when Fraser looks over, concerned.

"I'm not thinking anything," he says.

Fraser nods. "Of course," he says distractedly.

"You're upset about the fight you had with your friend, Brian," Elena says.

"I'm not a kid," Gerard says.

"You are well above the appropriate age to join the RCMP," Fraser says, "And the Musical Ride did give you several years of experience."

"What's so bad about going back to Canada?" Elena asks. "You never expressed any interest in a transfer before this whole thing with your brother."

"I love Canada," Gerard protests.

"An admirable quality," Fraser replies.

"You're more upset about your partner, which is why you're trying so hard not to think about Brian instead of thinking about not thinking about Frank."

'That doesn't even make any sense," Gerard says.

"No, it's true," Fraser says pensively, "Your love of your country might be more an ingrained reaction rather than a positive or negative character aspect."

"So just go on not thinking about either of them," Elena says. "See if I try to help you through it."

"Through what?" Gerard says.

"The love of your country could endure through anything, I'd imagine," Fraser says.

Dief whines at him from the backseat.

"Sorry, Dief, do you want another sandwich?" Gerard offers, and hands Dief a sandwich that he happily eats in two bites.

Elena shakes her head. "That dog is spoiled," she says.

Fraser pats Dief affectionately, and says, "Don't get used to it, Dief."

"Once we're back in the Territories," Fraser continues, "It won't be easy to get deli meat."

"You and Kowalski are planning to go back after this, aren't you?" Gerard prompts, just trying to make conversation really, because he already knows the answer.

Or thinks he does, because when Fraser says, "I don't believe Detective Kowalski intends to return with me to Canada," it isn't what Gerard is expecting to hear.

"Oh my heavens, first you ignoring what's right in front of you and now this," Elena says. "He's a Fraser all right. It's his father all over again. I can't stay and listen to this."

Fraser keeps talking and Gerard doesn't have a chance to say anything before she's gone again. "You know, my father always said that he knew he and Buck would always be partners, no matter how many miles apart they were." Fraser is smiling a little absently, and Gerard only wants to hit him a little bit.

"That's kind of bullshit though," Gerard says, feeling emboldened by his grandmother's reaction. "Because from what I understand, your father broke Buck's heart into a million pieces whenever he wandered off."

"What -- how -- you -- Frobisher?" Fraser stutters.

"I'm just saying, a guy makes a habit of running away from people he loves, you gotta wonder if he's the best person to ask for advice about long distance relationships."

Fraser opens his mouth to say something, then shuts it and looks away, rubbing a nervous thumb over his eyebrow.

"Ask him," Gerard says to Fraser's profile. "Don't just leave him behind without finding what he wants." The words are hard, and maybe more bitter than Fraser deserves, but Gerard is trying hard not to admit they're meant as much for himself and Frank as they are for Fraser and Kowalski.

Dief breaks the silence by barking sharply, and Gerard thinks at first that Dief is pitching in with his own commentary, until he looks over at the cafe reflexively and sees a familiar figure going through the door.

It's Mick Steele, Gerard notes with less surprise than he might have felt before he'd caught Bob threatening him in the bowling alley, and he's being followed by the slight figure of the waitress -- Winona, presumably.

Gerard looks at Fraser, who nods in silent agreement.

They're out of the car and shadowing Mick and the waitress down the block, keeping carefully out of sight, when suddenly Dief stops, sniffs the air, and takes off in the other direction. Gerard usually has every respect for Dief's instincts, but it's not exactly unclear where their suspects are, so when Fraser takes off after him, Gerard only pauses for a moment before continuing on his own, and trying not to dwell on how not long he'd managed to keep even his borrowed partner.

The couple ducks down a corner, and Gerard allows himself to pick up the pace, now that he can move without them spotting him.

As he creeps around the corner, Gerard hears Mick say, inexplicably, "You can't arrest me -- you're a waitress."

It's not what Gerard expects to be hearing and he concentrates harder on listening, tuning out the distractions from the street to make sure he hasn't misheard.

Winona's voice comes back, sounding smooth and confident. "Don't be any more of an idiot than you have to be." Now Gerard can't help peeking around the alley, to see Winona holding a gun in one hand, and a pair of handcuffs in the other, both objects completely incongruous with her waitress uniform.

"I'm IA, you dumb shit. And you," she continues, "have just confessed to helping a wanted criminal escape from police custody."

"I don't believe you," Mick says, and his hand is inching towards his holster, and then, before Gerard can react, it's in his hand, and pointed at Winona.

Winona narrows her eyes, but doesn't falter. "I'd show you my badge, but my hands are full," and she bounces the cuffs meaningfully.

It's only a split second that Mick looks down, eyes drawn by the sunlight flashing on the cuffs, when Winona's foot lashes out in a high arc, and sends Mick's gun flying from his hand.

"Oops, did that hurt?" Winona asks, with fake solicitude. "I'd have been gentler, but, like I said, my hands are full. Hey, Mountie," she says suddenly, and she's not looking at Gerard -- she hasn't looked at Gerard this whole time -- but he knows she's talking to him, and that she must have seen him. "Be a sweetheart and cuff this asshole for me, will you?"

This is the price of wearing a red uniform, Gerard thinks, it makes stealth just that much harder. He tries to figure out how he got to a place in his life where the target of his stakeout is asking him to help her arrest a cop, but even as he's walking towards her, he's piecing it together in his head, how neither William nor Donnie had seemed to be worried about getting arrested. How the evidence was always conveniently disappearing, and why the DEA had to have Mikey go undercover as a pastry chef before they'd made any progress against Donnie's gang.

"Bob knows, doesn't he?" Gerard asks, as he presses a hand between Mick's shoulder blades, pushing him flat against the alley wall.

"The only thing Bob Bryar knows is when I walk my pug." Mick snorts.

Gerard hears someone come running down the street towards the alley, but he's busy with the cuffs and Mick's hands, so he doesn't bother to confirm that it's Fraser returning, just assumes it is, and continues watching.

So he's just as surprised as Winona when Ray Toro sprints past him, all red hair and flapping coat, pulls a gun, and says, "Chicago PD, drop your gun."

"Toro, wait," Gerard says, because he's not entirely sure which paragraph he's on himself, but Toro's got the wrong chapter.

"Gee -- hey, get off my partner!" Toro tells him, only giving Gerard a tiny little glance before he's rivet-focused on Winona again.

Winona is cursing, "Fuck you, Toro," and she's trying to divide her gaze between Mick and Toro, but she still doesn't seem frazzled, is still cool and collected, despite the gun she's pointing, despite the gun pointed at her.

"Let my partner go," Toro yells, and then pauses, "Wait, Jamia, is that you?"

"You have this habit of outing undercover agents," Mick notes calmly, "which I appreciate," and then he's spinning out from under Gerard's hands, and pivoting in toward Toro, a knife flashing in his hands.

"Mick, what the fuck!" Toro yells, and ducks, and he's adjusted his aim so that his gun is pointing towards Mick, but he's not shooting. He won't shoot, Gerard knows.

"Drop it," Mick says, and he's only got a knife, but he's the only person in the alley with deadly intent.

"No! What the hell is going on?"

Gerard starts forward, and he's not sure what he intends to do, really, and doesn't get a chance to do it anyway. He doesn't hear anyone come up behind him, but he's suddenly jerked back, practically off his feet, and a cool circle of metal -- the barrel of a gun -- is pointing at his temple.

"You know," Mick is saying, "I brought backup, so, if you like the Mountie, you might really fucking want to drop your fucking gun, Toro."

Except the scary backup guy with a gun to Gerard's head says, "Oh, hey, Gerard," and turns out to be William.

"It's like a fucking reunion," Mick says disgustedly, and makes another lunge for Toro.

And then, as if on cue, the alley is suddenly full of barking wolf, and Bob, who practically leaps onto Mick, bearing him to the ground in a giant tackle. The knife goes flying.

Fraser is there a moment later, twisting William up into a pretzel and away from Gerard. He's not resisting much, only complaining mildly that he wasn't really going to shoot Gerard.

"What the hell is going on?" Toro's asking, hair and eyes both wild.

"You're partner is a dick, that's what," Bob says. Gerard hands Bob the cuffs, and Bob manhandles Mick onto his stomach and cuffs him, taking the opportunity, Gerard notes, to grind him into the pavement that little extra bit.

"He's a mole," Jamia explains. "I've been trying to figure out who it was for months, by the way, Toro, thanks for almost blowing it."

"Screw you," Toro says. "He's my partner, and you might have given me a little warning instead of just expecting me to figure it out right away."

They start bickering back and forth. Jamia reminds Gerard of Frank, and he thinks he knows where she's getting some of the more particularly targeted insults she's hurling at Toro.

"Thanks for the cuffs, man," Bob says, picking himself up off Mick, though he leaves one booted foot on the small of his back.

"No problem," Gerard says, "they're Jamia's. I thought you were seeing a man about a Yorkie?"

"I was," Bob says, "but Dief came and got me once he realized what was going on."

"Good timing, too," Fraser says, smiling fondly at Dief as he uses his lanyard to bind William's wrists.

"You're Frank's Mountie, right?" Jamia's come up beside Gerard without him noticing, and her posture is indicating pretty clearly that she's not just making conversation, though her voice is friendly enough, so Gerard just nods.

"Good," she said, "I need to take this guy to the station, but someone needs to tell Frank that he let that fucker Donnie loose."

"Donnie?" Gerard says.

"That's not good," Toro is saying. He looks wrecked.

Gerard and Toro both try calling Frank, but he isn't answering his phone, and Gerard knows that he might not even be able to, while he's undercover, so he calls Mikey instead, his heart climbing into his throat, hoping like hell his baby brother will be able to get to Donnie before he gets to Frank.

*

Panel reviews were a normal part of passing undercover. There was always a point in whatever gig you were running where you had to meet the boss, and bosses never did anything alone; hence the panel. Frank had done panel reviews at poker tables, in grungy warehouses, on airport tarmacs. They were always uncomfortable, but never really that dangerous. There was only one thing that could ever really go wrong, and that was if someone on the panel knew you -- and even then, there was room to breathe. Small world of criminals; someone thinks you're one kind of criminal instead of what they were expecting, that's not half as bad as it could be. The problem happens when someone knows you're a cop, or thinks you're an informer, or has seen you in the station from the wrong side of the bars. But it wasn't the kind of thing you could actively worry about, unless your cover was a paranoid freak, because otherwise it makes you look twitchy, and what criminal who isn't actually a cop undercover scans a room full of strangers trying to see if anyone recognizes him? It's in the rulebook of Don't Do It If You Aren't Interested in Blowing Your Own Cover.

So Frank's look of shock when he sees Donnie sitting at the card table in the middle of the empty restaurant kitchen is pretty damn genuine, and it looks a lot like Donnie's own expression.

"You!" Donnie says, pointing at Frank, and it's a good excuse for the two bodyguards on either side of Frank to punch him even though they don't know why. Frank takes a couple of painful hits to the ribs before he finds his feet and starts giving as good as he gets. He actually knocks one of the bodyguards down when another crowd of people come rushing in and grab Frank by the arms like he's a scarecrow they're about to string up.

"What the hell," Evil Bad Guy says.

"He's a plant," Donnie says. "He's working with the cops."

"Fuck you, I'm not," Frank says. "Although I'd consider it after a welcome like this."

"Watch your mouth," Another Evil Guy says.

"Yeah, I was watching it get punched a second ago, asshole, want me to show you what it feels like?"

"Hey," Mikey says, coming in. "What did I miss, is this a game of pulverize the fence?"

"He's working with the cops, Leonard," Donnie says to the Evil Bad Guy.
"He's a fence," Mikey says. "Who says he's not selling to them?"

The thing Donnie isn't saying is that he was caught, arrested, and interrogated, at least Frank has that going for him. If Donnie reveals that Frank arrested him, then he reveals to Big Evil Guy that he got himself get arrested, a secret Frank's not sure how he's managed to keep quiet.

"Someone's bad here," Evil Bad Guy says. "And if my calculations of various percentages of bullshit are right, then it's either our punching bag Lemon here, Donnie, or --"

"It's me," Mikey says, stepping forward. Frank's about to protest when he catches Mikey's eye, and Frank manages to redirect so it looks like he's just trying to wrench away from the bodyguard.

"What?" Donnie says. "You're not a plant, you're from Canada."

"Heard you thought differently a few days ago. So if you really want to screw around with paranoia and interrogation questions in a dark room, why don't you let Lemon here go so he can actually sell our stuff and make us some money, and you can punch me all you want."

"Mikey," Donnie says.

"Fine," Evil Bad Guy says, though he doesn't sound happy about it either.

Frank thinks he might be able to walk out of this, except then Evil Bad Guy takes a knife and drives it straight into Frank's shoulder, alarmingly close to where he took the pastry chef's knife not all that long ago. "Just in case I was right," he says. Frank collapses on the floor.
*

Frank wakes up and the warehouse is empty. He's been lifted onto the card table, which explains why his feet appear to be hanging off into nothing. He peeks at the slice into his chest and has to look away. It's no good, but it's not the worst he's ever had, and he needs to get to the Consulate, so he tears off a piece of his shirt, presses it to the wound, and tries to walk straight. At least he's doing what Schechter said, and going back bleeding.

*

Frank's bleeding enough that when he knocks on the door to the Consulate, Brendon says, "Holy shit" and only in English, and Schechter, who's a step behind him, barks for Brendon to remember his training, which sends Brendon running off to the supply closet for bandages and allows Schechter to get an arm under Frank and haul him inside.

"What happened?" Schechter asks, all calm and seriousness, pushing aside Frank's shirt to look at the wound.

"I need Gerard," Frank says.

"You need to tell me what happened before I decide whether or not we're having this conversation in a hospital," Schechter says.

"Panel review," Frank says, and a look of confusion passes over Schechter's face and Frank thinks he's well and totally screwed because when he looks down, his shirt's as red as a Mountie uniform and he can feel his heart giving desperate, fluttery pumps, and he's not sure he can hang on to equilibrium long enough to explain.

"I think he's using a special kind of Chicago lingo," Buck says. "A panel might mean --"

At that moment, Frank knows he's in so much goddamn luck because Brendon is coming down the stairs with enough medical supplies perform minor surgery, and Ray Kowalski is behind him.

"Frankie," Ray says, as Brendon, the most determined and together Frank as ever seen him, cuts at Frank's shirt, and starts disinfecting his wounds. "What happened?"

"Panel review," Frank says, knowing Ray will understand. "I almost didn't pass."

"How did you?" Ray says. "Your cover was blown, wasn't it?"

"Yes and no," Frank says, and then he feels everything start to go black at the edges.

"Sorry," Brendon says, "stitches are always the worst."

"You're stitching me up right here?" Frank says, incredulous.

"I really am not going to get into how disturbing I find all the knife violence that happens in Chicago," Brendon says, "but thankfully I was the medic-in-training for three years on the Musical Ride, and trust me, this is nothing compared to a lance wound."

"Thanks," Frank says. Brendon doesn't say another word, just goes back to his work.

"What was your cover?" Schechter says, while he's checking Frank for other wounds. "Why'd you get stabbed?"

"Long story," Frank says.

"Short version," Ray says.

"Toro had me trying to find the leak in his case. Turns out it's his partner."

Ray stands and starts to take out his phone.

"Wait, it's worse," Frank says and then can't speak for a moment as Brendon's stitching makes everything go blurry. "Donnie's out, and they've got Mikey. He took on the panel for me," Frank says.

"They think Mikey's the plant?" Ray says. He's dialing the 2-7 before Frank can answer. "This is Kowalski, badge number 7-0-0-9, I have a 10-24 at the Chicago Consulate," and Ray leans in, "What's the last known address, Frankie?"

"110 Williams," Frank says, "Around the back. But they won't be there anymore. I need to talk to Gerard."

Gerard chooses that moment to come in the Consulate front doors. "Frankie!" Gerard says and then looks around at the scene, as though scanning for an assailant.

"They have Mikey," Frank says, as Gerard tries to push Brendon's hands away to see how bad Frank's injuries are.

"Where?" Bob says, appearing behind Gerard.

"Fraser, get here right now," Ray's saying into the phone. "You're outside? Well come inside!"

"I know where they're going," Gerard says.

"You're not going without me," Frank says, grabbing Gerard's arm tight.

"Frankie," Gerard says. "You're --"

"Mikey let them think he was the plant," Frank says. "That means at least some of them still think I'm the outside fence. I'm going," Frank says. Brendon's taping on a bandage across Frank's ribs. "I'm good, right?" he says to Brendon.

"You're passable," Brendon says. "No strenuous upper-body motion."

"Does hostage retrieval count?" Frank asks.

Brendon seems to consider it. "As long as you don't try to lift the hostage over your shoulder, you're good."

"Frank," Gerard says, deadly serious.

"I owe this to Mikey," Frank says.

"Okay, here's how this is gonna go," Ray says to the room at large. "I've got the units in the area converging on the last known location, I've got the guards who let Donnie out of their sight getting kicked in the head, and I've got Fraser with a minivan outside. Schechter, you got your Mounties ready to go?"

"Mounties! Immediate action rapid deployment!" Schechter says, and the room is a blur of red. Except for Gerard, who's helping Frank to his feet.

"Take these," Brendon says, zipping by Frank, and dropping two pills in his hand.

"Let's go," Ray says, and Frank's surprised at how easily his legs carry him out the door with Gerard at his side.

*

Dispatch tracks reports of suspicious activity to an abandoned restaurant supply warehouse by the water. It's clear they have the right place, because the warehouse is suddenly alive with people throwing punches.

Frank goes in behind half of the uniforms, his badge held in one hand, displaying it for anyone to see, his gun ready in the other hand. "Everyone needs to shut the fuck up and stand still. I'm Detective Iero of the Chicago PD and I have behind me Detective Kowalski, divisions 9, 12, 18, 22, 27, half of Vice, and a van full of our friends the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Anyone who makes so much as a move --"

Frank's nice speech is interrupted by someone's elbow connecting with his face. "Was I not clear about the standing fucking still?" Frank says, as he takes a swing at the guy, and then Frank's just another part of the commotion.

Frank's taking people down with a few swings, and it would be cool if it didn't mean there weren't slumped bodies on the floor tripping him, and he thinks he might have broken some bones in his hand. Still, he's shouting because there's nothing else to do but shout when the whole room has erupted into a brawl and people in chef's uniforms are charging him in a warehouse full of the kind of kitchen equipment that his best friend and roommate would beg, borrow, and more than likely steal to resell on the kitchen black market.

"Do you think this is strenuous upper body motion?" Frank calls out, putting his shoulder into a punch.

"I think it qualifies, yes," Gerard's voice drifts over to him, along with the sound of a solid punch.

"How much blood can I lose if I tear my stitches before I pass out?" Frank shouts back.

"A Class 3 hemorrhage is a thirty percent loss of blood," Gerard shouts. "Are you bleeding through your shirt yet, Frankie?"

"A little?" Frank says and takes a second to look down. He's rewarded with a wild roundhouse that comes from nowhere. "I said stand fucking still, you asshole, what was so hard to understand about that? Stand still and we won't beat the shit out of you!"

Frank sways on his feet, either because there's quite a bit more blood on his shirt than he thought, or because the guy whose windmill he just blocked is grabbing at his ankles. "Stay the fuck down," Frank says, "Do I need to call in the entire Chicago PD for backup?"

"Already done," Kowalski shouts. "And some division from the Yukon Areas."

"The Royal Canadian Touring Tuba Ensemble of East Fall River," Fraser shouts.

"Four guys," Kowalski says.

"Four guys with tubas," Fraser says.

"I will borrow a tuba and I will beat you with it, you hear that?" Frank says to the next person aiming a punch at him, and the world goes swimmy, blurry and soft, and then Gerard has his hands on Frank's shoulders, fingers digging in too tight.

"Frankie?" Gerard says. "Frankie, you're bleeding a lot, I need you to lie down."

"Best way to think," Frank says, without meaning to, which is how he knows he's close to losing consciousness. He grabs at Gerard's uniform, which is rough and red under his fingers -- and he knows he's getting blood on it, red on red. "Don't hurt Jamia," he says urgently, "unless she hurts you first. Hell of a left hook."

"She's not bad with her foot either," Gerard says, "Kicking, I mean."

"It's the toenail polish," Frank says, but before he can say any more, he's swallowed up in darkness, listening to Gerard's voice say words he can't possibly be expected understand.

*

"Frank? Frank!" Gerard yells, but Frank is out, slumping against him, and Gerard has to brace himself so he doesn't topple them over.

Kowalski looms up over Gerard's shoulder. "We need to get him out of here," he says, lifting Frank away, and lowering him gently to the floor. Gerard feels bereft without Frank, and Frank is so still on the ground. Ray crouches next to Frank, and starts putting pressure on the wound. "I can't move him in this." Kowalski waves at the crowd

Gerard says, "Got it," and dives back into the fray. He has to choke down his worry and focus, because everything is still chaos, all flying fists, and he's not going to be able to get Frank somewhere safe until Kowalski can go more than five feet without having to dodge.

In the midst of the chaos, Gerard sees Mikey, who is staring around calmly with the air of a choreographer who is slightly puzzled at how badly his dancers' performance is going.

"Mikey," Gerard cries, and yanks him out of the way of an enormous guy who's falling to the ground almost on top of them, conked out already and board-straight, like a felled oak. "We gotta get out of here."

"What?" Mikey yells. "I'm handling it!"

Gerard stares at him and almost fails to dodge someone's empty boot that comes pinwheeling out of nowhere. "Did you see that?" Gerard yells. "The whole warehouse is one giant fist fight!"

"How do you know that wasn't my plan?" Mikey asks calmly, and sidesteps as some goon comes lunging at him, and then karate chops him across the shoulder. The goon goes down.

"See?" Mikey says. "I'm fine!" And almost gets taken out by a bald guy, improbably wielding a katana. Gerard's heart stops, and then the bald guy is down, too, shouting, from a gunshot wound to his leg.

"Now you're fine," Pete says, stepping forward, gun still smoking, to pick up the katana and hand it to Mikey.

"Hi, Pete," Mikey says.

"You're not a baker, are you?" Gerard asks.

"No," Pete says, and then pauses thoughtfully to shoot a gun out of someone's hand across the room. "I'm DEA."

"Isn't anyone actually a real baker?" Gerard yells, and then he has to stop, and save his breath so he can beat the crap out of another goon.

"Patrick is, actually," Pete says calmly.

"What?" Mikey says, "No he's not, he's --"

"Nevermind!" Gerard shouts, interrupting him. "Mikey, this is serious, we need to get Frank out of here -- he's hurt, and there's too much going on and --"

"Oh, is that all?" Pete says, and shoots out the lights.

*

Afterward, Pete drives Gerard to the hospital, following closely behind Frank's ambulance, Mikey riding shotgun. Mikey's explaining, voluble for once, about how he'd come to Chicago to work on this case with Pete, and work in his bakery as a cover.

"So you and Pete aren't really dating?" Gerard says, still hopeful, despite his track record, "You're partners?"

"You can do both you know." Mikey smirks. "In fact --"

"Shut up," Gerard says, feeling his face flush. He looks out the window, not focusing his eyes on anything until the blur of trees and buildings and cars going past makes him dizzy. He doesn't want to talk about how he doesn't really have either.

*

Frank wakes up in the hospital. He's sleepy and numb from the pain medication, but he's still able to tell that it's Dewees who's sitting in the chair next to the bed, a towel draped over his head, covering his face and shoulders.

"What the fuck, man?" Frank says, his voice scratchy. Dewees flips up the towel so it drapes over the back of his head like a veil.

"There are uniforms all over this place," Dewees says. "This is a preventative measure. How're you feeling?" he asks, after scanning the hallway, presumably for more uniforms.

"I'm not feeling much at the moment," Frank says. Dewees nods.

"You were pretty fucked up, and I've seen your bloody chest more times than I'm platonically comfortable with."

Frank's mind suddenly clears. "Gerard," he says. "Is he --"

Dewees holds his hands up. "You don't think I would have started this conversation with a body count if there was one?"

Frank wants to say that no, no one ever tells the drugged up guy in the hospital bed anything, but Dewees flips the towel back down over his head as a couple of guys from the 2-7 walk by.

"Everyone's fine," Dewees says, cautiously peeking out from under the towel. "Well, fine might be a bit of an overstatement, hence all the uniforms in the hospital."

"And Mikey?"

Dewees gives Frank a look he can't read. "The kid was discharged a few hours ago, couple stitches on his forehead," Dewees says, "and according to Jamia, you should see the other guys."

"So what happened?" Frank says.

Dewees shrugs expressively under the towel. "I wasn't fucking there, I don't know." When he meets Frank's gaze, he sighs and says, "From what I heard from all the uniform chatter, they got Donnie and his gang on enough international drug trafficking charges to take down their entire bakery chain all the way back to Jersey. And they got Toro's partner on aiding and abetting, as well as a nasty bunch of bribery charges."

Frank tries to sit up, but the pain in his side makes him see flashes of red behind his eyes. "Okay, that's enough storytelling for now," Dewees says. "I'll let your Mountie tell you the rest, after you've had another nap."

"But --" Frank says, though he's fighting off sleep and losing fast.

"If you wanted to know the rest," Dewees says, "maybe you shouldn't have gotten stabbed," and he flips the towel back over his head with finality.

*

The next time Frank opens his eyes, Dewees is wearing red serge.

"What the fuck, man, you trying to give yourself a heart attack? That quack a few years ago was stupid for suggesting immersion therapy."

"Frank?" It's not Dewees in the red serge. Of course it's not. Frank decides he has to give a little more thought to whether or not he's actually awake.

"Gee," Frank says, and Gerard's face lights up, though it is, admittedly, swimmy.

"Are you okay?" Gerard asks. "Do you need anything? Ice chips? The nurse said you could have ice chips."

"I really don't get stabbed all that often," Frank says. Gerard makes a pained sound.

"You need another blanket? Are your feet cold?"

"Though I did get stabbed once at the Academy, if you count a piece of bamboo, and I do."

Gerard chokes.

"You ever been stabbed?" Frank asks, and that's it, he's officially not in charge of his mouth anymore. He is not even sure why he's asking.

"Not really," Gerard says.

"Well, don't do it," Frank says, and when he tries to point with the arm that's tied to the IV, he feels the weird, sick tug of the needle inside his arm being pushed in a direction it doesn't want to go.

"I'll try not to," Gerard says. "You sure you don't need anything."

"I need for you not to get stabbed," Frank says. "Not unless it's worth it. Unless it's for your partner. Or your partner's brother."

He hears Gerard sit back in his chair.

"Not that I have a brother you could get stabbed for," Frank says. "I don't know if I ever said, I'm an only child. But you shouldn't get stabbed for me, you hear me?" It was very important Frank get Gerard to agree to this, but he didn't know why. "You hear me?"

"I can't promise you that," Gerard says quietly.

"That's crazy," Frank says. "Just stay away from things that stab you and you won't get stabbed."

"Except that I have a partner who runs toward the things that stab him," Gerard says gravely, "and one of these times he's going to need me to step in front of him."

"Gee," Frank says, because Gerard's face is suddenly very close to his. Frank blinks, and he's gone.

*

Frank thinks he actually must have been out longer than a blink because the hallway outside his room is dim, and the lights in his room are entirely off.

"Hey, Frankie," Jamia says.

She's sitting in the dark, in the corner with the most shadows.

"Spook," Frank says, and she laughs.

"I see Dewees wasn't kidding about your propensity for injury."

"Don't listen to Dewees."

"He's a good informant, and you know it," Jamia says. "Just because you don't like the information doesn't mean I don't need it."

"Why in the world do you still need to know anything about me?"

Jamia sighs. "You're the one who decided you weren't good with partners," she says. "I never said that. I never believed that."

Frank's not coherent enough for an argument.

"Anyway, I'm going back home tomorrow," she says. "I wanted to stop in and say goodbye."

"You did good work," Frank says.

"Of course I did," she says. "So did you, you know. Though there are ways to save the people you care about without ending up in the hospital."

"Haven't found any of them yet," Frank says.

Jamia laughs again, and she must wait until he's asleep to leave because the next time he looks over at where she was sitting, she's gone.

*

Fraser and Kowalski don't stay around for the aftermath. Gerard is walking next to Elena, and trying to talk to her without looking like a crazy person, when he runs into Kowalski coming out of Frank's hospital room.

He nods at Kowalski as they walk past, wanting to see Frank again, but Kowalski stops him.

"Hey, Mountie," Kowalski says, and it's one of those obvious last minute things, the words ripping out of him when Gerard's already got the door knob turned, so Gerard lets go, and stands back, and waits while Kowalski collects what he wants to say.

"Send two Mounties on a simple stakeout," Kowalski mutters, mostly to himself, and then shakes his head. "I know you said something to Fraser while you were gone, and well, way he tells it, it was some weirdass story about Buck Frobisher pining for the fjords, which --" Kowalski eyes Gerard narrowly. "-- I'm guessing was only half of it."

"The half that doesn't make sense," Gerard says, bemused.

"Probably why he understood it," Elena comments.

"Too right," Kowalski says, sounding like he agrees with Elena, even though he can't hear her. "What I'm trying to say is... you said something to him, and I don't really care what it was, but I think I owe you, so... thanks."

"What on earth did you say to that boy?" Elena asks Gerard.

"I don't think I told him anything he didn't already know," Gerard admits.

"That doesn't really narrow it down any," Kowalski says, "Guy's a know-it-all."

"The ones who know everything always have the most trouble," Elena says, and her voice is innocent, but her eyes are narrowed thoughtfully on Gerard.

"You're going back to Canada," Gerard says, and it isn't a question.

"Official liaison to the RCMP," Kowalski says dryly. "We're tracking down the Canadian end of this little icing ring." He waves his finger around in a little loop on the word 'ring.' "First of many cases where I am gonna freeze my ass off in the snow, I bet." His tone is matter of fact, almost irritated, but his eyes are crinkling at the corners in real happiness. Gerard has this lightning quick moment where he knows exactly what it means to be happy like that, and the wake of it almost hurts.

Gerard shoves his hands into his pockets, and asks, "Did you say goodbye to Frank?"

"I did," Kowalski says with a little huff of laughter, "but he's practically sleep-talking in there, so who knows if he'll remember. If he asks, tell him I said goodbye and that he should mind his fucking manners, or I'll take a damn sled all the way back here to kick his ass."

Gerard grins. "I think I saw that sentiment on one of the cards in the gift shop."

Kowalski laughs. "What were you doing in the gift shop? Buying Frankie some flowers?"

"See?" Elena says, waving at Kowalski with a little flourish, "I told you to get the flowers."

Gerard flushes. He can't say anything back to either of them, even though he hadn't ended up buying the flowers after all.

"You should take my advice more often," Elena insists, "or at least your own. I hear it's pretty good." She looks pointedly down the long hospital corridor, where Gerard can see Fraser waiting, and then she vanishes with the finality of a punctuation mark.

"Take care of Frank for me, will ya?" Kowalski says, giving Gerard a knowing smirk, and then he turns on his heel and strides down the hall. His exit is dramatic; a flare of long coat, his boots ringing on the linoleum, but Gerard doesn't wait to watch him go, because he wants to give Frank the madeleines he brought.

*

Frank gets released from the hospital and spends the next few days in a foggy haze of sleep, until he finally gives up on his pain medicine and feels the world sharpen into clarity. His side aches unbelievably, but he can think again, and it feels less like he's swimming and more like he's walking, which makes being upright a lot easier. Dewees has taken charge of the phone, after Frank apparently had a conversation with Welsh about gardening that he doesn't remember. A sheaf of messages update him that Toro wants him to call to talk about how he is as long as they agree not to talk about the case; he's not supposed to come into the 2-7 until next week at the earliest and Frannie has instructions to throw him out if he shows his face before then; Kowalski sent him a greeting card; Gerard is up to his Sam Browne in paperwork at the Consulate, but all Frank has to do is call and he'll come by.

"So you're calling Gerard first," Dewees says, after Frank has considered the sheaf of messages. "He calls promptly at ten in the morning, three in the afternoon, and seven at night."

"So he's scheduled checking up on me into his calendar," Frank says. "I want to make sure Toro is okay."

"Toro's fine, I talked to Bob this morning," Dewees says.

"You talked to -- wait, what?" Frank says.

Dewees rolls his eyes. "Call Gerard," he says. "I know why you're thinking about not calling him and it's stupid."

"You know," Frank says, "I could do with a little less of you meddling in my life."

Dewees laughs so hard he starts to wheeze. "Your life!" he manages to say, and then he's hit with another bought of wheezy laughter.

Frank calls the Consulate.

"Hello, you have reached the Canadian Consulate, Chicago Office," Brendon answers. "Salut, nous-avons --"

"Brendon, hi, it's Frank," he interrupts before Brendon can get out all the translation.

"Frank!" Brendon says. "How are you feeling?"

"A little more put together," Frank says. "How's everything at the Consulate?"

"Crazy," Brendon says. "We've turned into the home office for anything to do with drug trafficking bakeries. I've never had such a practical example of international cooperation before, and let me tell you, I would never have guessed it would center on frosting. You want to talk to Gerard?"

"If he's not busy."

"Oh, he's busy," Brendon says, "between Inspector Schechter's idea of documentation and cooking for all our guests. But I have specific instructions to interrupt whatever he's doing when you call. Hang on," Brendon says, before Frank can say anything else.

"Frank," Gerard says, picking up the phone a few moments later. "Sorry, I was canning Meyer lemons. How are you?" Gerard's voice sounds as urgent as it did in the warehouse.

"I'm fine," Frank says. Gerard makes a sound that's too polite to be a sigh. "Listen, I feel like we need to --"

"Yeah," Gerard says, and Frank's thankful he doesn't have to finish his sentence with anything specific. "I have to make dinner for the figure skaters, but I'll stop by your place after. I mean, if that's okay?"

"Yeah," Frank says. "All I've really got on my schedule is a nap."

Gerard's laugh is warm. "I'll see you soon, then," he says.

"So," Dewees says when Frank hangs up. "I'm going out to check out a fire sale on some stainless steel ranges. I'll be back after midnight," Dewees says.

Frank sighs. "He's just coming here to check up on me."

"So you're not going to talk things out?"

"When have I ever been good at talking?" Frank says.

"Truer words," Dewees says.

*

It feels weird to have Gerard in his apartment, especially when Frank's been feeling weird about the place anyway, like he doesn't remember where he keeps anything. It's always that way after a case when Frank has been undercover, no matter how short an assignment it's been. Gerard seems kind of weird about being in Frank's apartment, too, like he's not sure where to stand, and so Frank offers him a soda. Which makes it even weirder, because then they're both in Frank's kitchen, but kitchens are kind of charged places for them.

So Frank decides to just, you know, stop fucking around. "Gee," he starts and then Gerard's eyes flick up to his face and Frank wishes he hadn't decided to cut straight to things because he's kind of already lost his train of thought.

"I was hoping," Frank says, "that I could do this without, you know, words." And then he leans in and kisses Gerard. Frank feels the soft press of his lips for a moment before Gerard takes a step back and Frank's kissing the air.

"I need words," Gerard says.

"Okay, well... then I need words, too," Frank says, pointing an accusing finger at Gerard.

"Okay," Gerard says, "I'll start. I'm not going back to Canada. I've requested a permanent transfer to Chicago."

"Okay," Frank says. And then he actually hears what Gerard just said. "Wait, what?"

"I want to stay," Gerard says.

"Because Mikey's staying?" Frank asks.

"I don't know what Mikey's doing," Gerard says. "But even if he doesn't stay."

"Oh," Frank says, and then because apparently it's his turn for a big confession, he says, "I took an undercover gig because I was afraid of how good we worked together."

"Why would that scare you?" Gerard says. He takes a step closer, so he's just this side of being in Frank's space.

"Because I always work alone."

"And that -- that was it?" Gerard asks.

"No," Frank says, thinking of what Dewees had said. "No, that's not all."

"So what --" Gerard says, and then Frank kisses him. It's a longer kiss this time; just enough for Frank to get the angle right, and then Gerard is pushing him back, though his hands linger on Frank's chest.

"I thought," Gerard says, and Frank's happy to hear he's a little breathy, "I thought you said you were going to use words."

"I don't have words for that," Frank says, and Gerard's eyes flutter closed. When he opens them again, his pupils are wide. He lifts his fingers to Frank's mouth, lets them drop back to where they were resting on Frank's shoulder.

"So is this --" Gerard says, and he tightens his fingers for a second in Frank's shirt. "Does this mean you're not scared anymore? Of how well we work together?"

"Oh, no, I'm terrified," Frank says, and kisses Gerard, this time wrapping a hand around Gerard's neck -- but this time, Gerard doesn't pull away.

Frank rubs his fingers over the soft skin at the nape of Gerard's neck, and Gerard sighs against Frank's mouth; it sends a jolt of need all through Frank -- to make Gerard understand, to feel Gerard's response. Then Frank's shoving his hands in Gerard's hair, yanking him close, kissing him, shifting their bodies so Gerard is flush against him.

"If this," Gerard says, sounding short of breath as Frank slides his mouth over Gerard's jaw, "is you being terrified..." but he doesn't finish, because that's the moment that Frank's mouth reaches his neck.

Frank presses Gerard against the counter, and Gerard tips his head back to give Frank more of his neck, and Gerard lets his legs fall open, perfect for Frank to slide a thigh between them. Gerard is giving Frank everything he wants just before Frank asks for it, and Frank is already dizzy with all of the things he wants to come next.

"Oh, Frankie, oh," Gerard says, rocking against Frank's thigh as Frank kisses his throat and up under his chin.

"You're gonna have to help me," Frank says, before kissing Gerard and momentarily forgetting to finish his sentence. "If you don't want me to destroy your uniform, you're gonna have to show me what to take off."

Gerard makes a short, bitten-off sound, which Frank feels in his chest.

"Lanyard first," Gerard says, guiding Frank's hands to the knot. "Then Sam Browne next," Gerard says, sliding Frank's hands over to the clasp, and catching the belt and sliding it down his shoulder before it falls, placing it on the counter without ever turning away from Frank. "Then tunic," Gerard says; Frank's fingers are already on the buttons. Frank slides it open, slides his hands across the faded Misfits T-shirt underneath. Gerard shrugs off the tunic, folds it neatly and sets it near the Sam Browne. Frank would make fun of anyone else for folding his clothes, but he knows what the uniform means to Gerard.

"Then boots," Gerard says, and Frank kneels to undo them but stops, hands on the soft leather, and looks up. Gerard's eyes are wide. Frank licks his lips without thinking, and Gerard gasps.

"Yeah?" Frank says, leaning forward, pressing the side of his face to the front of Gerard's pants. "You gonna let me?"

Gerard's hands fist at his side, and his eyes are closed. Frank opens his mouth, drags it along the length of Gerard's cock through the material, slides his hands up the back of Gerard's thighs. "Please," Gerard says.

"Take it off for me," Frank says, and rocks back on his heels. Gerard's breath is shaky as he reaches down, undoes his boots, first one, then the other, not looking at Frank. He takes off his socks, Frank reaching out to stroke over the top of his bare feet and Gerard's hands stutter at his waist. "Come on," Frank says, encouraging, and then Gerard's stepping out of his strange pants, just a normal guy in a normal T-shirt and normal blue boxers, lips red, neck flushed.

Frank has his hands on Gerard's thighs before Gerard is all the way turned around from folding his pants and setting down his socks and Gerard gasps. "Look at me," Frank says, and when Gerard meets his eyes, Gerard looks equally lustful and nervous. "Oh, Gerard," Frank says, and before he can say anything stupid, he reaches up, tugs at the waist of Gerard's boxers, pulls them down. He thinks about not even waiting for Gerard to step out of them, but it takes just a second more, but Frank doesn't let him fold them, just tosses them aside and then he's taking Gerard's cock in his mouth. He'd meant to lick and tease him, but he's just swallowing him down, hands sliding to the curve of his hips, thumbs brushing the soft hairs of his inner thighs. Gerard is still as Frank takes him all in, breathing in as his nose touches hair and skin, his inhalation full of heady scent, and Frank lets his eyes flutter closed, lets his throat relax, waits.

Gerard breaks with a noise that's half whimper and half whine, his hands brushing Frank's hair and face, his hips moving despite his obvious best efforts. Frank lets him go, pulls back and completely off, and Gerard whines louder -- then Frank swallows him down again.

"Jesus Christ, Frankie," Gerard murmurs, still trying to hold himself still. Frank loves that about Gerard, that he's just waiting, his whole body begging. Frank settles his hands at the back of Gerard's thighs, digs his fingers in, and Gerard thrusts forward. "Oh God," he says, and then Frank does it again, presses his fingers hard. "Fuck," Gerard moans and then he's pushing up into Frank's mouth, up, up, up. Frank groans in appreciation and it just makes Gerard push harder.

Frank hollows his cheeks, flattens his tongue, sucks noisily, jaw aching, spit sliding down his cheeks, and Gerard moans. Frank pulls back each time Gerard tucks his hips back, pushes forward each time Gerard bucks up. "Jesus, Frankie, I can't -- can't --" Gerard says, his hands still brushing wildly, randomly, over Frank's face, through his hair.

Gerard loses it when Frank rests his hands, palms open, on Gerard's ass and pulls him forward. "Frank, Frank, Frank," he moans and then he's coming in Frank's mouth, Frank swallowing even as some of it spills messily down his chin. Frank sits back on his heels, wipes his mouth on his sleeve, tries not to come in his pants at the way Gerard's slumped against the counter, elbows barely holding him up, mouth open, eyes closed, T-shirt half-ridden up across his stomach.

As soon as Gerard opens his eyes, Frank's stepping toward him, his mouth on Gerard's neck, just a brief touch, like it's important they're quiet now after all the shouting, saying, "Come on," and walking to his bedroom, stumbling over his own feet in his urgency.

Frank undoes his own pants as Gerard nips at his shoulders, whispers his name just at his ear in a way that makes Frank shudder. Frank steps out of his jeans, turns around and tugs Gerard's shirt, Gerard holding his arms up over his head. Frank steps forward into his arms and kisses him and Gerard slides his hands under the waistband of Frank's boxers, slides his fingers over the small of his back, then over his hips. When Gerard's fingers brush Frank's cock, Frank gasps into Gerard's mouth and shoves his boxers down, steps out of them, reaches for Gerard, who's already reaching for him, Frank's hand over Gerard's hand on his cock. Frank arches into the heat, the twisting pull of Gerard's fingers, their kisses broken by Frank's groans. Frank's heart is pounding wildly in his chest and he meets Gerard's eyes just as Gerard presses a hand to the middle of Frank's back, pulling them close, Gerard's hand between them still on Frank's cock. Frank's eyes fall shut, and before he can even take the breath he needs, he's coming over Gerard's stomach and hand, shuddering as he falls bonelessly into Gerard's arms.

Gerard steers them toward the bed and Frank's about to tell him there are some tissues on the upside-down industrial mixer well that's the closest thing he has to a bedside table when he realizes Gerard is licking his hand clean, swiping the come on his stomach away with his newly-clean fingers.

"Oh god," Frank murmurs when Gerard looks up at him, and Gerard holds his gaze as he licks his fingers again. "Jesus," Frank says, and lets his head fall back onto the pillow.

Gerard slides closer and pulls a blanket over them, kisses Frank's shoulder and it's so ridiculous it nearly kills Frank with tenderness. Who cares about his shoulder? Gerard tucks his arm around Frank's stomach hesitantly and says, "Can I stay?"

"Yeah," Frank says, and he wants to say more, but he just scoots back so he's leaning into Gerard's warmth, and tugs Gerard's arm tighter around him. He's asleep before he can do anything more.

*

Frank wakes up to an empty bed and panics for a moment, the sinking feeling disappearing as soon as he smells eggs and frying potatoes, butter rich in the air, something sweet that might be muffins. Gerard is cooking in his kitchen.

Frank brushes his teeth, splashes water on his face to little effect, re-bandages his wound, which looks gross but in the healing gross way, and puts on jeans and a T-shirt and wanders down the hall toward the kitchen. His heart speeds up when Gerard looks up at him and smiles. Gerard is scrambling something or some other fancy word that's more gourmet than Frank's kitchen has ever seen, even with all of Dewees's imports.

Dewees is sitting at the table, the remnants of what Frank thinks was an omelet disappearing into his mouth.

"I'm really glad you fucked," Dewees says and Frank winces. "Because Frankie's totally in love with you," Dewees adds. Frank freezes, unable to breathe. Gerard stills at the stove for just a second. Frank wouldn't have noticed except he was staring, desperate for some clue about what was going on in Gerard's mind. Gerard's eyes flick up to Frank, his expression unreadable. "This is delicious," Dewees continues, with the air of having said it a dozen times already. "Oh, hey, Frankie." Dewees looks up like he hasn't just ruined Frank's life. "So... I'll be going, thanks for the breakfast. And your uniform is in the closet -- sorry, I had to hide it."

Dewees looks genuinely pleased, both for Frankie and for the breakfast, as he takes the back stairs down to the warehouse.

Frank sits down heavily at the table. Gerard sets a plate of scrambled eggs and green onions in front of Frank, and a cup of coffee. Gerard then turns back to the counter to pour himself a cup of coffee, sits down at the chair on Frank's side, or he's about to, but he sets his coffee down, leans in gently towards Frank, his hands leaning on the table, presses a kiss to the corner of Frank's mouth, brief and gentle.

"Good morning," Gerard says, then sits down, takes a long sip of his coffee.

"Morning," Frank says, and they keep staring at each other, looking away, staring, looking away. Frank takes a bite of his eggs and god, they're delicious. He closes his eyes for a second and when he opens them, Gerard's still staring, but he looks a little less like he's trying to beat Frank for the door.

"So," Gerard says, "does your roommate often lie?"

Frank takes a few unnecessary sips of his coffee to stall. "Yes," Frank says, and he doesn't look at Gerard, so he doesn't have to see either the flinch or the wash of relief. "But not about certain things."

"Frank," Gerard says, his fingers brushing over the back of Frank's hand. Frank dares a look up. Gerard's mouth is a half-smile, his eyes soft.

"Dewees never lies about feelings," Frank says. "Trust me, it's not as noble as it sounds when he finds something he doesn't like."

"Frankie," Gerard says, and then he's sliding off his chair, crouching on the floor, his hands on Frank's arms. "So it's true?" He's almost whispering.

"Yeah," Frank says. "I mean, I wouldn't have said anything because --" but the rest of his sentence is lost because Gerard is kissing him, hands on his face, thumbs brushing across his cheeks, tongue hot and slippery and insistent against his. They kiss until Gerard ends up practically in Frank's lap, a knee balanced between Frank's legs on the chair, Frank's arms tight around Gerard's middle. Gerard breaks the kiss, presses his forehead to Frank's, then pulls himself away.

"You should have your breakfast," Gerard says, and he's smiling. Frank's never had anything that's tasted as good as the cold eggs and the room temperature coffee.

*

The phone is ringing when they step inside the Consulate, and Brendon is sitting at the front desk, staring at it like he thinks it'll bite his hand if he picks it up.
Gerard knows the feeling so he hurries across the floor, skids into the desk with a rattle, and answers it himself.

"Hello, Canadian Consulate," he says.

"This is Inspector Ross -- " is the reply, and Gerard would have remembered that tone if he hadn't remembered the name, so he doesn't hesitate.

"I'm sorry, there is no one here to take your call, please leave a message at the click," Gerard intones, and hangs up.

Frank just looks bemused, but Brendon is staring at him with something like hero worship, though all he says is, "You are going to be in so much trouble."

"I don't care if he is an inspector, he shouldn't be harassing you now that he's not your boss," Gerard tells him. "Anyway, if he wants to reprimand me, he'll have to go through Schechter first."

"What have you done now?" Schechter asks, coming towards them down the hall. "Nevermind, I don't want to know," he says, looking Gerard up and down, and raising an eyebrow like he's seen something surprising, but not terrible -- less of a bug in his cereal than maybe a super cheap toy. Then he's turning to Frank and saying, "Good to see you, Iero."

"Yes, sir," Frank says, and shifts from foot to foot like he's nervous, and Gerard isn't sure when that happened, when Frank had become nervous around Schechter.

Schechter grunts in response, "How 'bout next time I threaten you, you don't take it so literally? It took Brendon an hour to get the blood stains off the floor."

"Threaten!" Gerard exclaims, before he's even through speaking, but Schechter just accepts his glare calmly.

"I want to see you in my office in five minutes," Schechter says, and stalks off.

"Don't worry," Brendon says, "I don't think he's mad about the -- you know." He waves at the space between Frank and Gerard, as though them standing together in the entry hall of the Consulate is as subtle as a walk of shame. And then Gerard realizes that this is a walk of shame, though he can't say he's really all that ashamed. Apparently, the price of living at his workplace is that everyone could tell who Gerard had spent the night with once he brought him in the front door.

"Hey, Brendon," Gerard says awkwardly. "You still need a roommate?"

"You're staying?" Brendon asks, and his smile is wide and bright. It's more than Gerard thinks he deserves, considering what he's put Brendon through, but maybe he's still worried about the pirates. Or Inspector Ross calling again.

"Yeah, if Brian doesn't fire me in the next couple of minutes, anyway."

"Nah, he's a romantic," Brendon replies, and goes back to his paperwork, with the happy air of someone who doesn't know that his boss is like the uncharted territory of an old map, all "here there be dragons," and inked sketches of monsters.

"Once more into the breach," Frank mutters, and then smiles wryly when he catches Gerard's look.

"We can walk slowly," Gerard suggests.

"Having second thoughts?" Frank asks, but he's not waiting for an answer, and he's joking when he adds, "It's not too late for you to make a run for the border."

Gerard smiles. It's been too late for a while now.

The distinct rattling sounds of pills being shaken around inside a tiny plastic bottle greet them at the door, and when they go in, it's to see Buck at the tail end of a sweeping gesture that's sent Schechter's ever-present aspirin bottle tumbling on its side.

It's nothing at all like the last time he and Frank were called into Schechter's office like he was a firing squad of one, and even if Gerard hasn't noticed himself relaxing, he would have seen the change in Frankie, who has been holding all his tension puffed up inside like air. Now he's deflated like a popped balloon, as Buck is bounding across the room and slapping them on the shoulders.

"Ah, boys, there you are!" Buck says, bestowing a final few merry thwacks on Gerard's back. "Wanted to see you before I left!"

"You're leaving, sir?" Gerard asks, surprised, even though he shouldn't be.

"Back to Canada." Buck nods.

"Technically," Schechter says, righting his pill bottle, "you're in Canada now."

Buck ignores him. "Left Constable Miller in charge of the detachment -- gotta get back before he manages to flood the place, or start a pillow fight."

"Pillow fight?" Frank whispers to Gerard.

"He's notorious for them," Gerard whispers back, remembering how he went for years thinking his pillow was soft and comfortable until it slammed, brick hard, into his nose.

Buck is suddenly closer to Gerard's face, much like an unexpected pillow, and Gerard flinches reflexively, but Buck is only looking at him thoughtfully.

"Was going to tell you there's still a place for you at King's Creek, if you wanted to come back with me," Buck says, "but I can see you've made up your mind. Unless you're still considering becoming a citizen?" Buck asks Frank, who shakes his head in an emphatic negative.

"Right, then, thank you, Frobisher," Schechter says. "Constable Way does not have permission to leave, in any case."

"Not enough calcium," Buck says, seemingly randomly, but he keeps going. "That's what my mother always said about people who were always grouchy. Or was it not enough fiber?" he muses.

"Sergeant Frobisher," Schechter growls.

"Inspector Schechter," Buck replies affably, "will you also be staying in Chicago?"

Everyone freezes, even Frank, who mostly just looks confused, and waits for Schechter's answer. Gerard knows what he wants it to be, because, yeah, he thinks Schechter is scary, and he's aware enough that when he pisses Schechter off, it's not always intentional enough to be something he'll ever be able to control. Or stop.

But he kind of wants to give Schechter something back, to make up for everything he didn't give him when they were partners, even if it's only a cranberry muffin for him to have for breakfast. And it's hard to ship muffins to Canada.

Schechter's not giving Buck the squinty-eyed look of "impertinence will not be tolerated" that Gerard is used to; instead, he's going all straight shoulders and almost respectful, like he's taking Buck at his age and experience, instead of at the muddled words that he comes up with.

"I have submitted a request to be assigned here on a more permanent basis, yes," Schechter says, like the information is being pulled out of him, and he's looking at Gerard, "and I have every expectation my request will be granted."

"Well, then, I expect I'll see you when I make my way down here next, Constable Way, you'll have to save me some of that gorgonzola lasagna of yours for next time," Buck says, either missing or ignoring the tension. With a final exclamation of, "Boys!" and a few more handshakes, Buck is out the door and off to the Northwest Territories with an energy that implies he has every chance of beating Kowalski and Fraser there.

Schechter is shaking his head. "I had things I wanted to say, but -- just promise me you won't do anything crazy for the next week, and you're off suspension."

"Thank you, sir," Gerard says, trying to keep his face even and calm, because a shit-eating grin isn't the correct response to Schechter's concession.

"I mean it," Schechter says. "A week. That goes for you too, Detective."

"Sir, yes, sir," Frank says, and he's not trying to hide his grin, he's as irreverent as all fuck, and now Gerard can't stop himself from grinning too.

Schechter buries his face in his hands, and a beat later his phone starts ringing. He looks up again to order them out of his office with a barked, "Go be someone else's responsibility for a little while," and picks up the handset and yells something into the receiver.

"So," Gerard says, looking at Frank expectantly once they're out of the Consulate, and in Chicago again.

"So," Frank says, "how about I get to pick the case this time?"