This is set post Eclipse and CBaD, but it's a branch-off story, not a slot-in story. Thanks to Calico for nailing the flaw, even if I couldn't quite fix it, and Res for encouragement and advice. Belated gratitude to Hannah and the Theban Band.

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Third Person
____________

Frannie calls to say the bad guys been eyeballed at the docks. Eyeballed. That's a good one, Frannie. I slam the brakes, turn around, and floor it.

"Should have guessed," I say, to distract Fraser when I run a red light. "Had to be the docks or an empty warehouse." Vecchio's file is busting with freaky showdowns, but these guys are industrial-strength. We weren't gonna have the bullet-party at an onion farm or a dental school or anything.

I left it onto Broadway and then right it up the ramp to the motorway, and Frannie calls again with another sighting, closer to the bridge end. Fraser's writing lines of symbols and numbers on the back of a burger wrapper, and his idea about chemistry leading us to the hostages made about as much sense.

"If you had paid any attention to recent events, you would know this is not an opportune moment for questions," Fraser says. He sounds pretty annoyed.

"It's not a what?" I snip back. He doesn't need to get mad at me when I haven't even said anything.

"Not now, Ray." Fraser writes a few more lines and then throws down the pencil. He turns around and glares over his shoulder. I guess the wolf farted.

I take the exit ramp at Roltego, thinking we'll start at North and search down. It's way too close to midnight, and they're gonna be away from the water, someplace where everyone's gone home hours ago. I slow down to look into a lit building. Guys, fish, crates. Looks legal. My gut tells me they'll be further west; I go a right and crawl for a few blocks, looking for stoned-out streetlights or something, whatever it is that'll tell me here's the place.

"Oh, you're very welcome," Fraser says, in his fuck-you voice.

"What the hell did I say? Welcome to what?" My foot goes for the brake, but eventually I don't--we got a case, and the clock's ticking fast. "Now is not a good time for one of your weird conversations, Fraser."

"That's exactly what I said. I couldn't agree more," he says, really loudly.

"Fine," I snap. "So will you shut up, already? We got ten fucking minutes to figure out where these kids are, just keep writing."

Aha, dark street. I kill the headlights, and cruise along the alley looking for big dudes with big guns doing evil deeds. Or a big yellow schoolbus with dynamite taped to the side, but who'm I kidding, it's never that easy.

Fraser frowns, and writes even faster. He "ah"s and then "aha"s and goes, "of course, hydro-"-something-something-something, and finally says, "is there a furniture restoration service operating in the vicinity?"

"*Furniture?* Is that some weird thing you're saying, or do we need to know?"

"Yes, we should endeavour to find out. I believe the substance found at the scene is from a treatment used--"

"Alright, alright. Hold the mumbo-jumbo, we don't got time."

I call Huey, cause Frannie'll be too slow. Boom ba-da-boom, we got us an address; time to go kick some bad asses. I floor it for two blocks and then pull it in. Fraser and Dief are out and running. Deep breath, glasses on, a pat to my vest, and I'm in there behind them, ducking behind a big wooden cupboard thing.

Guns go bang, and my cover has four bullet holes through it. I drop to the ground and fire off a few around the corner. Guess they don't make furniture like they used to.

"Ray," Fraser yells, "get behind the Chesterfield."

"The *what*?" I yell back, over more fire. I wish Fraser would get a gun and shoot blanks, so at least the other side would *think* there were two guns aimed at them. I belly crawl over to him.

He shakes his head. "Never mind. The bus is by the east door."

I check my watch as we slip forward a few rows. "We got about five minutes left." Dief runs to the left, barking, and I shoot off some more to cover him.

"True, but hardly relevent, since caribou don't mate in the summer," Fraser yells over my noise.

"*What*?" I try to take down the closest guy, but he's shooting through a gap between two wardrobes.

"No, it went much higher up than that," Fraser says. Great. If the second guy's up in the rafters, I can't see him until he fires. I shoot at where I'd take cover if it was me up there, and end up exploding one of the lights. *Fuck.* Now I can't see anything in the shadows.

"Are you doing this deliberately?" Fraser shouts.

"You told me to shoot there!" I yell back. We run left, scuttle behind an ugly ritzy cupboard thing.

I reload and look around. "Can you tell where they are now?"

"I'd be more effective without your irksome commentary."

"*What*? Fraser, I can't shoot them if I can't *see* anything!"

"Is there an afterlife authority I can report you to?"

More bullets. I crouch lower, belt off six rounds into the blackness just to feel the gun firing in my hand. "What the fuck are you talking about, you stupid freak?"

Dief runs back to us, yelping.

"Ray, they're making for their vehicle. We need to act quickly." Fraser looks furious.

"Yeah, I *know* we do." I grit my teeth and reload. "Ready?"

"Not *now*, for God's sake!"

I duck back down. A few more bullets fly. "Well, *when*? They're getting away!"

"No, now, now. Go!" He pushes me out from my cover and runs around in the other direction.

I make it two thirds of the way across when the rear door flips open, and a grey van screams out. They shoot behind them, I have to scramble, and when I get to the street, it's empty.

"Son of a *bitch*!"

Fraser's behind me. "Ray, I'm terribly sorry. I've got the license plate."

I hurl back to the car and call it in. Fraser runs for the bus and dives under it. I get an E.T.A. on the bombs guy then go back and crawl under it with him, cause I know they won't make it in time. Red numbers tell me I got one minute and twenty-two seconds to live. Fifty sticks of blast-o says they'll bury me and Fraser and twenty kids all together, in a fucking matchbox.

Fraser's got his knife out and a black wire is cut. "If you know so much, which one next?" he snaps.

"Are you nuts? Maybe Vecchio was hot but I know jack shit about this!"

"Never mind." He grits his teeth and cuts a green one. The numbers start flashing.

"Whoa whoa whoa what does that mean?"

"You couldn't have told me earlier?" He yanks out the yellow one and the white one, the numbers disappear, and he slumps onto the concrete. Okay, so we're not dying any second now. Good, cause I want to kill the Mountie myself.

Now my heart's not blocking my eardrums, I can hear kids crying. And way in the distance, sirens. Always in time to be useless, fuckwits.

"We safe now?"

Fraser nods, and we get out and open up the bus. Godalmighty it's bad--the kids are tied up with wire, and bleeding on one another, and fucking hysterical. We get a system going--I undo them, then Fraser hugs them and gets them out of my way. Dief runs up and down the aisle; sounds like he's crying too. He goes up to the two littlest girls and licks their faces, and they start bawling into his fur.

Some of the older ones put on brave faces and help Fraser with giving hugs, and I feel like a total schmuck--what's a little bank robbery compared to this?

Eighty decades later, our backup finally shows up.

* * * * *

Back at the station, and we're sitting in the break room, waiting with the last kid. Poor bastard, nobody can find his junkie mother, so his grandmother is driving down from Milwaukee. He poured on the tough act about it all, wanted to walk home by himself to an empty apartment, but now he's asleep in the Mountie's lap, hugging Dief with his bandaged arms. He looks small and gradeschool instead of bitter slum-teen. I finish the reports and go sit in there with them, on the other side of the room.

The clock ticks; the lights are bzzzing. Fraser doesn't say anything, no matter how hard I give him the dirty eye. Won't even look at me. I should walk out on him, but I'd just show up at the Consulate two hours later. I couldn't go to bed mad at Stella, either, which usually meant no sleep at all. Obviously Fraser doesn't want to wake the kid up when I start yelling, so I shred bits of paper all over the table, and wait him out.

Two a.m., the woman finally gets here. Kinda face you only see this late, in a cop shop or outside an E.R. Fraser's already booked her a hotel room around the corner, walks them up there while I park her car. He's waiting for me in the foyer. We head back to the car, and since I can't say anything yet, and Fraser doesn't know what'll set me off, there's just this cold-night-heavy silence.

I should be satisfied, everyone safe and sound and Grandma getting teary all over everyone, but on my eyelids is those red numbers, counting down, and it's wired up to a bomb inside of me. We were that close to twenty-two black crusted corpses. I'm smoking out of my ears. Scared, mad, whatever--I just know that Fraser flaked as much as he coughed up the goods, and maybe I wouldn'ta done any better solo, but if me and twenty kids had died when I cut the wrong wire, at least it wouldn't have been because a fucking nutcase said "caribou".

"That was a stop sign, Ray."

"FUCK the stop sign!" I yell, slam the brakes in the middle of the intersection.

"I'm sorry," Fraser says. "I'm sorry. Ray, I am so sorry."

"What the hell was wrong with you?" I feel the explosion happen in my chest. "You stupid, stupid cunt, Fraser. Your ears stop working? You suddenly forget how to speak *English*?"

"I can't explain it," he says, and then slams his fist on the dash. "I don't *care* what Buck did!"

"Fraser shut the *fuck* up!" I'm so mad at him I just punch the horn and let it blare.

"Ray. Ray. Ray. *Ray*." Fraser pulls my hands away from the wheel, but I jerk away from him. "This won't happen again. I swear."

"It better not, do you hear me?" He nods but I'm damn not happy. "Do you *hear* me, are you fucking *listening* to me? Never again!"

"I will deal with it," he swears.

Cars are beeping behind us. The car's stalled; I fire it up and start driving again. I should pull over and get a grip but I just want out of here.

"You know, there's a *word* for that."

"A word for what, Ray?"

That's it. That is *it*. I yank the car up onto the sidewalk. Something about him being deliberately dense makes my eyes go red. "What do you mean, a word for what? If I knew the fucking word I would have said the fucking word, wouldn't I? And I don't know if they do it different in Tuckle-Yuckle, but here you don't fucking rub it in when somebody doesn't know the word for something."

"Ray. Ray. Ray." He puts his hand on my arm and sort of strokes it, awkwardly.

"Don't. Touch. Me." I nearly hit him.

He lets go of my arm and shifts up against the door, looks out the window. "I assure you, I had no desire to, ah, rub anything into you." Eyes to the front now, and I'm breathing hard through my nose and he's stepping real careful. "I only meant that if you described in more detail the phenomenon to which you refer, I might be able to provide the word so that we could continue our conversation."

Right, *obviously* he doesn't want to continue the conversation. I'm about to put heat on him till he cracks, but Dief puts his head on my shoulder and whines. Poor wolf, there's blood streaked through his fur, and he had to be dragged away from the kids when the ambulances came. I rub his head and he licks me.

I take a deep breath. Okay, it was a bad case and it's late and I'm tired, and Fraser looks scared, and kind of breakable, and I can talk the talk because his shit is fucking dangerous, but he came through, and he'll guilt-trip enough without me adding to it. I can't put knives into his back. The red in my head drains out, and all I care about is that he's sorry, so I don't have to be mad anymore, and I can go to bed now.

I sigh. I'm going soft on the freak. "Never mind, it can wait. I'll just drop you home, okay?"

Fraser leans his head back on the car seat and closes his eyes. "Thank you, Ray, I appreciate it."

* * * * *

I pull up outside the consulate. By now I must be too tired to think sense, cause that big bright flag looks really pretty, floating under the stars. After such a shitty day, it looks like something I could believe in. I tell Fraser that.

He does this smile that looks half like crying. Must be too tired to be all perfect. "I think so too, Ray."

"See you tomorrow, Frase." Dief slides out with a whuff and a whine at me. He probably wants me to bring him donuts tomorrow. "Just this once," I tell him, since he deserves them. Yup, I'm zonking right here and now.

"Ray." Fraser leans in the window, does that thing where he tilts his head like Dief, except Dief does it when he's scepticising you, and Fraser does when he puts his guard down. He's the bruised end of stupid-mistake and could've-hurt-people. "The word is 'non sequitur'. And I'm truly sorry."

I've been there so many times, it hurts to look at him. "S'okay," I tell him. "I failed French, so I won't remember it anyway."

"Understood," he says, and I watch him in the mirror, watching me drive away.

* * * * *

Didn't think the Mountie could do bad temper, but he looks wired for violence and kind of dangerous, under his statue thing. Something about him this morning makes me think him having a wolf isn't so weird after all--there's a feralness prowling around behind all his blank, polished red.

Guess he hasn't slept. I tell him he needs coffee, but he shakes his head. Candy would lighten him up, but I'm not sharing mine. Neither of us gave a rat's when Welsh said some cushy-assed baby-kissing suit was giving us a medal, so now Welsh is mad at us too.

Fraser sits in his chair, reading reports and looking madder and madder. I let him. All I care about right now is getting Jorgen and Mendelson locked up somewhere where they'll never be able to sit down without screaming. They are not fucking sliming out of it this time.

"Very well," Fraser says. "I admit there are parallels." Whatever it is he's admitting, he doesn't sound happy about it. I make a vague *huh?* sound, cause I'm gonna belt him if he's starting on the weirdness again, but when Fraser's talking to himself, it's sometimes worth listening in.

He searches through his pile of folders. "There was a case of my father's whose outcome may have some bearing on this. Do you have the transcript of the interview with Mr. Mendelson?"

I dig it up and give it to him. He reads it, fast.

"Ray, what do you make of this?" He circles a paragraph:

        HUEY: You expect me to believe that? Jorgen's telling
        us the same thing about you.
        DEWEY: Cause you two got a rap sheet a mile long that says
        you did it together.
        HUEY: And your fingerprints are in it, man.
        MENDELSON: I swear to God, I *was* in the van, but I
        took off when Rob showed up with the bus. I didn't
        know. Kids, man, I wouldn't do stupid shit like that.
        I'm small time, they throw away the key when you do that
        kind of shit.

"Make of it?" I ask. "He and Jorgen do this routine every time. 'No, *he* set *me* up.' What's the big deal?"

"There are a number of discrepancies." He's got another file out now, reading it while he talks. "Mendelson is correct to point out that he is neither violent nor a risk-taker. The treatment of the hostages is not characteristic of a man who won and kept the custody of his own children. You also may recall that you noted, during one of our previous interactions with Jorgen and Mendelson," he touches his nose, and I nod, "that Meldelson was the 'details man', and although the theft itself was immaculately planned, there were a number of flaws in the logic behind the use of the hostages."

Okay, I'm listening. "You think Jorgen really did him over this time."

"Mendelson confessed unreservedly to the initial theft, so yes, I am inclined to believe he did indeed flee when the bus arrived."

My brain's ticking fast now. "That was a two-man job all the way, Fraser. There were bullets from two places."

"Then I suggest we look for a third person."

Holy flapping cowshit. "The bus driver!"

"My thought exactly."

"What's his connection to Jorgen?"

Fraser looks blank.

"Gimme his name." I type it in, and then punch at the keyboard till it bleeps at me. Fraser doesn't offer to help, but I don't want him to anyway. Stupid machine, it is *not* smarter than I am. Somehow I get it up. "Damn, he's clean. One D&D, in February."

"Ah." Fraser studies at the screen. I almost think he'll touch it and then lick his finger. "If I recall correctly, Ray, that date coincides with Jorgen's most recent arrest."

"Same holding cell? Find out."

I hit keys until it does the printout, pass Jorgen's file to Fraser, and start listing the Mendelson stuff. He's been a pain in the ass for years, but he doesn't hurt people, and right now that counts. I'll scare him until he's bleeding shit from every hole in his body, and then cut him a deal on the robbery. With Jorgen in the slammer he might even stay clean.

"I'm well aware of that," Fraser says. "If you've nothing intelligent to add, don't let me keep you here."

"Fucking *what*?" I stare at him; the Mountie our Saviour is being a rude prick. But there's no *way* I said that shit out loud.

"Nothing," he says, like that was... *nothing*, or something. "They were both held at the 23rd Precinct on the night of February 16."

I really want to slap him one, but I call Frannie over, get her to phone the driver, tell her we need him for more witness stuff. It'd feel better to go kick down his door and hold a gun to his head, but she'll lead him right in here and sit him down at my desk with a coffee, and sit there and file her nails and chat until I'm ready for him. Lamb, slaughter.

Fraser looks at me like he doesn't approve, but he starts the arrest paperwork. Good, I don't want to hear a word from him right now. I get up and go update Welsh, and behind me Fraser starts an argument with Dief; I hear the word 'vindictive', and I know what it's about. When Welsh is done chewing on my ass for not listening to him 'cause I'm thinking about punching Fraser in the mouth, I slam back into the bullpen and sit down right in front of him.

"Fraser."

He puts down his pen. "Yes, Ray?"

"Last night in the car."

If he was the wolf, his ears would slump and his tail would drop. "Yes, Ray."

I don't care this time. If he thinks I'm vindictive, he's fucking going down. "It wasn't an opportunity for questions about what?"

"Inopportune, Ray."

"Innoportune, right, whatever, like I care. It wasn't inopportune about what?"

Fraser clenches his fists. "You're not going to help me out at all here, are you?" he says, not looking at me.

"Help you out? Help *you* out? I'm the one with the problem here. You know, I'm here, I'm Ray Vecchio, here I am." I stand up and yell it to the whole damn bullpen. "This is me, Ray fucking Vecchio, okay?" They all shuffle papers and pick up phones. The Mountie just sits there like he's trying to shit a brick. "And me, Ray Vecchio, has this partner, right, and supposedly they get on just swimming, they're buddies and solve cases and all that, but Ray Vecchio is just, all of a sudden, he just suddenly can't figure out how come he and the Mountie have this great partnership when the Mountie keeps saying completely fucked up weirdness all the time! You seeing my problem here, Fraser?"

"Ah," he says. "I think I understand your dilemma, Ray."

I jab him in the chest, not nicely. "So you help *me* out, okay? You *remind* your partner of what the secret language is, or give him the decoder ring, or whatever it is you gotta do, 'cause I swear to God, we ain't partnering if we ain't communicating."

Dief whines at him. Fraser tells him to say something constructive or stay out of it. That's it, I need cigarettes. I get my coat.

"Ray, Ray. Wait. Come over here."

He takes my arm and leads me around the corner, opens the closet, pushes me in, closes the door behind me. It's fucking dark.

"Fraser!" I yell, but then the light comes on, and he's standing right beside me. "What are you *doing*?"

"Look around you. What do you see?"

I look around. "It's the frigging supply closet. I see a bunch of supplies. What the hell kind of question is that?"

He turns around and punches the wall. *Jesus*. "Fraser. Frase! Jesus." I take his hand, the skin's all torn on his knuckles. He pulls it away and puts his forehead on the wall.

*Jesus*. I did *not* sign up for this. I'm thinking there's a fucking shitload of things I didn't sign up for, cause I didn't read the Vecchio fine print. But like Stella would say: you signed it, you bought it. So I bought a new name and a hot virgin for a sister and a crunky green car, and now a partner from Canada who talks in frigging nursery rhymes and punches closets. Why the hell wasn't Vecchio a pack-a-day guy?

Fraser straightens up, does the wooden soldier thing. "I'm sorry. This is-- I just thought I would be able to--" He turns away. "Will you please stop *doing* this to me?"

"Okay, it's okay." He's on a ledge; I dunno what else to do, here. "We can forget about it, okay? It's not that important." It's bitter to say that; it's what I said to Stella, every time.

He rubs his eyebrow. He looks pretty hopeless, under his blank face. "No, it *is* important, Ray. It's just a difficult problem to--"

I get that stomach lurch thing. "Wait, oh god. Frase, I'm sorry. You're missing Vecchio." Jeez. Fucking *stupid* of me not to think it earlier. Whoever Vecchio was, he musta been really something, to have the whacked out life he did. And here I am, put here because I was mostly a nothing, trying to be his something and never getting the *really* something bits of him right.

He looks kinda surprised, and then stares at his feet. "Please don't believe it's a reflection on you that I sometimes wish my friend were still here."

"It's okay," I tell him again, and I mean it this time. "But you gotta make, what's the word? Allowances."

"I will endeavour to do that. I value your partnership more than I can tell you, Ray."

Well, that's better resolution than Stella and I usually got. "Yeah, okay, same here. Let's just drop it and get back to work."

Just as he's reaching for the door, my brain goes *ping*.

"Waitwaitwait," I grab him, feeling like my gut's been punched in. "A closet! You and your partner. You and him are in the *closet*?"

He looks alarmed, way freaked out. "I-- No! We weren't-- ah--"

Shit, thought I had it. "You and Vecchio weren't doing The Thing?"

"No," he says, very definite. "We were not."

No, I can smell blood here--there's something fudgy in what he's saying. "Were you trying to tell me that *you're* in the closet?"

Fraser takes a deep breath and shakes his head. "No, Ray."

He's not telling the truth. Well he *is*, but he's having a different conversation from me so that his words won't say what they mean. I let go of my conversation and try to have his, so at least whatever truth he's telling me goes onto the right page in my head.

"No you're not *trying* to tell me that. But you *are* in the closet?"

He flinches.

Holy fucking crapola bars.

"Okay, okay," I start pacing. Welsh is gonna wonder what we're doing in here. Suddenly that's a way bigger problem than I woulda thought it would be. "Were you, y'know, after him?"

"No," he says. I check. Yeah, truth.

"Did he know about you?"

"No, I don't believe so."

True again. I'm still not on the right page, though. He looks like a man before the music starts, holding his partner in position, waiting for the second he has to dance.

No choice, I've got to nail him.

"But you *are* gay?"

He opens his mouth, and then closes it, and eventually nods. "In a word, yes."

Basically true. True enough, minus the gory details, but he's panicking like a statue. I put my hand on his shoulder. "Relax, okay, you don't have worry about it with me. We're cool. Not a problem."

"Understood," he says, still looking totally freaked. I don't want to think what he thought I'd say about it.

"We sorted now?" I say, thinking we really better get back to my desk before somebody finds us in here.

"I believe so."

Not true. Wrong page. *Fuck*.

Time to put this whole goddamn dance out of its misery. One bullet, sharp and quick. "What aren't you telling me?"

"What aren't I telling you about what, Ray?"

...and he dances around the bullet. I punch the wall by his head and start yelling. "Stop fucking me around here, okay? Maybe Vecchio could do it but he's not here and I am. *I'm* the one who's gotta work this gig now, and you'll get people killed if I don't know what's going on with you, capiche?" Fuck, that hurts. Now I got skin off my knuckles too.

"Understood." He licks his lips, closes his eyes.

He's cracked, so I soften a bit. "You don't gotta tell me everything right away. Just give it to me in a nutshell, okay?"

"In a nutshell?"

"In *brief*, Fraser. The executive summary."

He opens up again, and looks straight into my eyes. "I would be lying if I said I've never had reason to doubt my sanity."

Truth, but also a little fudgy. "Are you telling me that you're crazy?"

He does a crooked little smile. "Sometimes," he says quietly, "I think I might be."

Basically truth. Right page. Explains a lot.

"And Vecchio was hip with that?"

"He... became accustomed to it, yes."

Vecchio did a lot of good work with Fraser, and Fraser's sharp as shit when he wants to be. I take a deep breath, and try to wrap my head around that, but it needs more simmer-time than what I've got. "Look, if it worked for Vecchio," I tell him, "I can go with it."

And finally, he relaxes. Dance over. Music fades. Time to bow to your partner, and get the fuck out of the closet.

There's a knock on the door. Oh, crap.

Fraser opens it. "Yeah, you're Ray Vecchio, all right," Huey says to me.

So Fraser and Vecchio hung out in the closet, and people didn't get red tongues about it. Two years, and they haven't caught the clue bus to where Fraser is. Amazing.

"Fraser," Huey says. "Thatcher called. She wants you to pick up the new Consulate curtains, pronto." He hands him a note with the address.

"Thank you kindly, Detective."

Huey closes the door behind him when he goes.

Fucking A-mazing.

Fraser turns to me. "I, ah. It would be gratifying to remain here for the day, but duty calls."

I shrug. "When the Ice Queen whistles, you gotta heel."

He takes a deep breath. "Would you join me for dinner tonight?"

It's probably only cause I've suddenly got a gay partner that it suddenly sounds like a date. But it's not like I'm gonna start coming up with other plans three times a week. "Yeah, sure. I'll pick you up when I'm done here?"

"I look forward to it," and he steps out. I yank off the light, and go see if the driver's been brought in yet.

* * * * *

The rest of the day is interrogations, and yelling till my voice cracks, and then being pulled off the case by Welsh, in a three-ring circus of a showdown with him and Stella. As soon I can get out of there I make dust.

I half expect Fraser to be standing by the street, but he isn't. I go inside, and his boss is screaming her head off, and Fraser's jeans have green paint spattered on them. "There was an incident with Constable Turnbull, Diefenbaker, and an extensible ladder," he explains out the side of his mouth. "I'll get changed as soon as I can get away."

"Don't bother," I tell him, opening my coat and showing him the ink all over my shirt. "The driver tried to bunk it, getting fingerprinted."

I'm suprised that he actually doesn't bother, just excuses himself to Thatcher over her yelling, and walks out. Dief howls and scratches from somewhere as we leave. Guess he had a beyond-crappy afternoon too.

We go for Chinese, since I got a craving for crispy noodles. There's a place Elaine liked, and I kind of miss her, so I take us there. It's got soft chairs, and is lit mainly by all the fishtanks. Funky place, I like it. Listening to the water trickling and the jazz from the speakers, I can get my hackles down a bit.

I order Fraser a beer, even though he doesn't want it. I don't care what he says, a man needs beer in his diet. When our drinks come out, Fraser starts a huge conversation with the waiter. In Chinese. *Sheesh.* Once I'm over the shock, I realise they know one another--it sounds a lot like laughing over old times.

Fraser points to his jeans and says something that sounds pissed off, and the waiter laughs and brushes his fingers over the stains. He's pretty young, and totally good looking. Holy *fuck*. My beer goes down the wrong way. The guy hands me water and slaps my back. Fraser says something in Chinese, the waiter raises his eyebrows and says something back, and then scrams.

"Ray, are you okay?" Fraser asks, leaning over the table.

"M'fine. Sorry. I didn't mean to--" I wave in the direction the waiter went.

"He's an old friend." He sounds a bit disapproving of what I didn't even suggest.

I try to think how to say I'm cool, but it looks like I'd be the one not telling the whole truth. Anyway Fraser probably knows that quote about too much protesting. Finally, I say, "there are holes bigger than Lake Michigan in your story, you know."

"Understood."

I start tearing the paper napkin in strips, and break it to him about being pulled off the case. He calms me down about it. Nobody else was on that bus, I wouldn't hear it from them, but when Fraser tells me an Inuit story about how revenge ends up hurting you, I can kinda listen. At least, the warrior had a good reason to kill everyone in the other tribe, so I guess that means Fraser knows how I felt. So maybe Stella was right, I could have handed them a Get Out Of Jail Free card, but I really needed to be the one to bring those guys down, so she and Welsh ain't forgiven, yet.

"I too feel deprived of the necessary closure," Fraser sighs.

"Sorry," I tell him. "Jorgen was being so smug, I shoulda known he wanted me to lose it."

We lean against the window, feeling our dissatisfaction, and watch the people walking by.

Fraser must have ordered to the waiter, cause food arrives. There's heaps of it, and it keeps coming, but that's okay, I'm starving. The two waitresses bring us drinks we didn't ask for, and I don't know Chinese but they're talking women's language with their hips. Fraser must have bionic pheremones, or something.

Fraser uses the chopsticks like he was born holding them. I use a fork. He notices my hand, and studies it.

"Cut it out, it's nothing." Actually I forgot I'd already hurt it when I put my fist through the door of Interview 2. It hurts like fucking hell.

He frowns. "There are splinters under the skin. You need that attended to."

"What about yours?" He's washed it, but it looks as bad as mine.

His hand disappears under the table. "It's fine. I have a high resistance to--"

"No way, buddy. I'm not getting mine fixed up unless you do too."

He looks checkmated. Big dumb soft tough-guy Mountie. "Very well." He switches his chopsticks to his left hand and leaves his damaged hand on the tablecloth.

Fraser's waiter friend comes back and takes some plates. Fraser introduces me as "you remember Detective Vecchio," but the guy stares at me, and they have a quick conversation in Chinese again. The waiter writes down his phone number on a napkin, and goes.

"You met him when he worked at the Shanghai Dragon, near the old Consulate," Fraser says. That's not the whole story, I bet. Fraser probably saved his sister from gangbangers, or something. The waiter had that gratitude thing about him, even though he had a whole lot else, too. I finish my beer, and sit back in my seat and really *look* at Fraser. Good looking man, yeah. Eye candy no matter what you angle towards. Amazing that men don't go as crazy as women about him, but they don't. They actually connect with him, I realise, cause he doesn't have all his walls up. Well, Kowalski, you got the right answer to *that* sixty billion dollar question, now.

All this stuff swims in my head, trying to sort itself out, and it's craziness, but all I can think of is the day I first showed up in the 27th and met Francesca, so I start telling him about it. When the FBI guys introduced me to her, she looked at me like I killed her puppy, and ran out of the room. Welsh patted my back and said the family was taking it pretty hard. A few minutes later she came found me, and she was still sniffling, but says I'm family now, and come meet everyone tomorrow night. Her eyes were all messed up but I thought she was so damn beautiful. I still do, but now I know she's a fruitcake. Back then I just knew she was crying about her brother but trying real hard to be nice, and I adored her so much I felt like there was a sun rising inside of me, or something.

Next day I crashed down hard after the first ten times answering to "Vecchio", and got way too many friendly tips about who I fucking wasn't, and I spent all day remembering her and telling myself this job was still my second chance. I got to the Vecchio house thinking 'heaven', needing some warm sad quiet, but Frannie fought with her sister until their mother burst into tears and her brother-in-law yelled and banged his fist on the table, and the sun inside me went down after that.

"Francesca is the Platonic ideal of a sister," Fraser says, doing his not-smiling thing.

"Hell yeah. Best little sister I ever had," which is so true I laugh my ass off. I don't tell him the rest of the story, about how it felt when he came back, and turned out to be totally nuts as well. From the way he's looking at me, I guess he knows that already.

"You're not a disappointment, though," I tell him. And, truth like a poxy hooker, he's not. He's almost kinda Frannie in reverse.

We finish up, and call for the check. Fraser argues with his friend about something, and I'm guessing it's whether we're going to pay or not. I end it by throwing down my card and telling the waiter it's on me, not him. The two waitresses bring out our leftovers, but it's even more food than was on the table. Fraser argues some more and then says something that sounds like "thank you kindly". They try to jostle one another out of the way when they wave goodbye.

If Fraser thinks he's crazy, I don't blame him. If this happened to me, I'd think I was locked up in a nuthouse somewhere, zooming around on a happy-pill carpet ride.

"C'mon," I say, pulling him to the car. "It's right on my way."

"Thank you, Ray, but I'm in no hurry. Truth be told, tonight a long walk is something of a necessity."

I look at the splatters on his jeans. If there's that much paint on *him*, it must be fucking *everywhere*.

"Get in the car," I tell him. "You're staying at my place tonight." He looks at me for a minute, then gets in. Hell, it must have gone all over Her Majesty's face, or something. "Should we rescue Dief first?"

"No. He and Turnbull have earned one another's company." Woo, he's really mad.

"And you've earned mine?" I joke.

He just looks tired. "I certainly have."

* * * * *

Inside, I put on a Ben Harper CD, dry and bluesy, and let Fraser sit me down and dig splinters out of my knuckles. He has to get the needle into the swollen parts, but his other hand is gripping onto my wrist when I flinch.

"This is the worst one, it won't take long," he apologises. "Make a tight fist, so the skin is smoother."

I clench my hand. Feels weird to do it when I'm relaxed. Well, relaxed except for the pain thing. "I wouldn't let just anybody do this to me," I tell him.

"I know," he says, and smiles.

He looks really... *human*, now, with his tired face and ruined clothes; he's not bright and perfect like a page in a kid's storybook anymore. He looks like somebody from a long book about a guy with a hard life who moved to Chicago, and lots more shit happened to him there. If Fraser's a book, though, he's one of the ones that start halfway through the story, and slowly you figure out everything that happened before. I'm still only halfway through it, but I might finish this one. He's warm and glowing by the lamp, but with part of his face in shadow, and I think about today, and last night, and think maybe I'm just getting to the good bit.

He wipes up the blood that's oozing out of me. It's on my tongue to say something about blood, and be careful... meaning him not me, but he might think that wasn't what I meant, so I bite on it. There are three little dark splinters sitting on a bit of paper next to my hand. He digs once more, scratches in the hole a few times, and adds another. Puts the needle down, gets a cloth and puts yellow stuff on it. I hate that stuff. He touches the cloth to my hand, and I hiss through my teeth.

"Nearly done," he promises. His hand is really warm, and his fingers are so gentle. He's not... he's not coming on, I don't think, but he's not all businesslike, either.

"Can I ask you something?" I ask.

He nods, screwing the cap on the bottle.

I don't know if I'm gonna say it this time. "Do you find me attractive?" Hey, what do ya know, I said it.

He looks at me as he tears a bandage with his teeth. Starts winding it around my hand. "Very much so, yes."

"You not just saying that?" I'm riding this hunch to the end of the line. I gotta know.

"In every regard, Ray, I am attracted to you."

He ain't too worried about saying it, this time. Okay, I get the feeling that Fraser ain't worried about any of it.

I'm thinking about the waiter, and hunching like mad.

"Huh," I say, as bits go click-click-click in my head. "You don't wanna get down with me."

He puts the stretchy claw thing on my bandage and leans back in his chair. "It's not a matter of wanting or not wanting, Ray. In my view of this partnership, any inclinations toward physical intimacy on my part are of negligible relevance."

"Frase, you're a smart guy. I bet if you wanted, you could say that in small words for me."

He gets out another needle. "It our friendship which matters to me, not whether we 'get down' or not."

"That's what I said, ain't it? See? I got you all figured out now."

"You do?" He's big surprised.

"Well, I'm not saying I could hold it up in court or anything, but that's your job. You're the details man. I'm the gist guy, and I got your gist."

He flicks his eyes up at me, curious, like he wants to know what his gist is.

I watch him as he starts cleaning up his own hand, trying to figure my gut into words. This guy thinks *really* big. Not just the big picture; he's got this whole art gallery in his head, full of all the nicest paintings in the world. And maybe in one of those paintings me and him are doing the wild thing, but in all the rest of 'em we're just good buds, kicking down the bad guys and helping little old ladies cross the street.

I bet even more that when Fraser meets a guy he likes, his painting is of the guy looking totally happy, with his arm around somebody else.

Big dumb soft tough-guy Mountie. He'll get it some day. "You ready for sleepy-byes?"

He nods, and puts the hospital shit away. He didn't put a bandage on his hand, but he probably knows I'll ditch mine in the morning. "Do you mind if I..." jerks his head at the bathroom.

"Knock yourself out."

"Don't worry," he says over his shoulder as he goes. "I'll be careful not to slip."

Har-de-har-har. "Towels under the sink."

"Thank you kindly."

"And if there aren't any clean ones just use whatever don't stink too bad."

His face says har-de-har back at me, and he shuts the door.

Shower starts up. I wonder if I got any spare shorts, but he wouldn't fit in them so why bother. I pull out a blanket and chuck it over the couch, and then flop down on it with the remote and turn on the box and think, unwinding my bandage as I go.

Fraser probably doesn't have paintings of himself with his arm around anybody. Except maybe people like the real Vecchio, that postcard, but that's just buddies. Maybe there's a really small one, dark and fuzzy and hidden in the basement, of him and somebody with no face, but he doesn't think that one matters. Meanwhile, there's probably a big ritzy painting of me with a nice woman, but I got an ache the size of Stella that says that I don't want that ever the fuck again. Me and women are doneski.

What would I tell him to paint instead? I take a deep breath and close my eyes, and instead of looking at that fuzzy little tv screen, I'm looking at the big picture of a second chance. A big picture second chance, at *everything*. Me with the life of a guy who's really something, and a boss who tells IA that I'm a good cop, and maybe a gorgeous baby sister to drive me nuts, and now I think the biggest painting should be me with my arm around a partner who is a walking Twilight Zone story where everything you believe comes true.

I used to love that show. I'd sit right up close and guess at what the deal was, but not try too hard, in case I ruined the surprise.

The shower stops after about thirty seconds, and two seconds later he comes out, completely dry except for his hair, with the rest of his clothes all folded. I bet my bathroom's heaps cleaner, too.

He's just wearing his shorts, and his hair's a bit spiky, and he's real, real pretty. He looks worn out, but that just makes him look real. Alive. A real live person, cracked out of his red Mountie shell. It makes me warm and fuzzy that in his Twilight Zone, this crazy guy likes me.

"You can sleep in the bed if you want," I say.

He's shocked. "Ray, I wouldn't dream of displacing you from your own--"

"Sheesh, don't stress it, I ain't Miss Manners you know. I meant, in bed *with* me."

Woo, even more shocked. "I couldn't possibly invade your space in such--"

"Fraser." I stand up. "Are you playing hard to get here or what?"

"Ray," he says. "Ray. Ray." He's so appalled he's gonna blow a gasket. "I was sure I had successfully conveyed to you that I don't--"

"Get off your courtesy horse for just one second, will ya?" I jump over the back of the couch and push him towards the bedroom. "I understood you fine, Fraser. Nothing needs doing. But--" I think about explaining it, but he won't get it and I don't know what I'm thinking anyway. "I got a hunch."

"A *hunch*?" He says it like I'm being totally stupid. Heh, he's too flipped out to even be respectful. Coolness.

"Yeah, a hunch." He's still not moving. I push him harder. "You and me. Getting down. Hows about it?"

He'll only tell me some crap about something weird, so I don't let him answer, just grab him and kiss him. Not my smoothest move but he moans, so I cruise with what grooves, drag him onto the bed and climb on top. His body's warm, and straddling him is a major head trip. And it feels really good, better than I thought five seconds ago when I got this idea. I don't know what the plan is here, but I'm not the plan guy, I'm the results guy, so a bit more slobbering on him and I got me a totally turned on Mountie. Beautiful.

"You getting my gist now?" I ask.

"I believe I am," he pants.

"Okay. Great. So let's smoke this cat."

"Cat?" he says, and I growl, and finally he kisses me. I'm rolled over and covered with him, ground between him and the bed and he kisses me deep and dirty until I start losing track of what day it is. I don't worry about that, this snowball's on the roll now, and I can ride it fine without my brain working.

I shove his shorts off, take off my shirt while he deals with my pants. He's heavy but I like it; it makes me sure that I'm not alone in this bed for once. He sucks my neck, hot and hungry, and his big hands hold me down while he licks all the way south, licks my belly till I'm dying of it, and then moves his arms to stop my legs kicking, and goes for my cock, and Christ on a big fucking popsicle, he sucks it down.

*Boom* like the first time I saw Stella. I'm writhing all over the place, he's grabbing hold of everything that won't stay still, and this is me being blown off my feet by somebody, even though I shoved him off his first. I'm yelling his name and grabbing his head, and he's letting me. I come so hard it feels like a big fucking bang at the start of a new universe. It's the best feeling since forever.

The deal's done: His mouth and my cock have just done the happy ever after thing. They've floored this thing all the way to Vegas, so's that my gut and his head got nothing to do but stare at the dust. My arms have gone jelly but I pull him up and kiss his face. He just lies there, all big warm body, with Christmas all over his expression. And how cool is it that I didn't have to work it every day for six years to get him to look at me like that? It's fucking legendary. I lie there and laugh.

"You seem to have recovered from your earlier disappointment," Fraser murmurs, rubbing his cock against my leg like he's trying not to.

I try to give him a lovebite. "I got my resolution," I tell him, licking the mark. Yeah, Fraser's in my bed and suddenly, all's right with the world. The world's hottest blowjob will do that for ya--I feel like one of those toys you can't push over, springing back up and all set to smite another day. "You ready for yours?" He moans and looks like he's dying for it.

My mouth and his cock I can't quite introduce yet, but I put my hand down and feel around a bit. Fraser wriggles and says something demur-ful, but I tell him to shut up, and get my fingers around him. He's really hard, and hot and jumpy. My hand says a little 'hey nice to meet you,' like you say when you don't know if it's nice yet but you're covering your bases anyway. His cock is all 'delighted to make your acquaintance,' so I do all the stuff to him that works on me, and the angle's weird but hey, these two are hitting it off fine. My shoulder really likes his lips kissing there, and my ears feel real good about the noises his throat is making. Looks like we're gonna be one big happy family.

I pull him on top of me, get my tongue into his mouth for some more hot wetness, and he goes so wild that my brain could come from it. I break off for air and stare at him panting, and at the pink in his cheeks, and he's alive and worked up and glowing all at once. He says my name, I kiss him again, and he rubs all over me, kissing me back harder. Faster thrusts, and he gasps into my mouth, and comes. It's messy. And kinda hot. I think I like it. He hugs me hard, and tells me he loves me, and falls asleep right there on my chest, without cleaning up.

I'm not Frannie, I never fell for Fraser's Perfect Mountie shit, but I'm falling for him now. Who the fuck cares if he's not perfect? Stella was perfect; enough said. Anyway, what would some dream SuperMountie want with Stella Smith-Hammond's scruffy beat-up ex? Nothing, that's what. So maybe this might-be-crazy in-a-word-gay Fraser guy is the best thing the Mountie's got going for him.

* * * * *

I'm dreaming about high school when Fraser rolls away from me. Outside it's still quiet--not morning yet. It's cold without his body against me. I squeeze an eyelid up, but his back's to me now, stiff and hard.

"Dad, get the fuck out of here."

O-kay, so on top of *all* the other weirdness, Fraser swears at his father in his sleep. The man is a god damn *freak*.

"*Gratitude*?" he snaps. "You're even crazier than I am."

If this happens every night, I'll have to make him sleep on the damn couch. I sit up and whack his head with the pillow. "Shut *up*, you fucking nutcase."

He rolls back over and puts his arms around my waist. "Understood." He pulls me back down and I squirm around till we're bugs in rugs.

"Besides, nobody's crazier than you," I say, and he kisses my neck and sort of laughs. He feels good wrapped around me, and he's getting hard again. Okay, he can stay in the bed.

* * * * *
end

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