Episodic Romance

Episodic Romance, a due South adventure of the Fraser/Kowalski variety.
Rated as "R" for your sanity convenience. Somewhere around 70,000 words.
Film students, dead gangsters, becoming Ray Vecchio, Old Chicago, and familiar faces.

Written for the Red Ships Green Ships 'zine and findable here

Introduction and Story Notes
Episode 1 Shadows and Men That Do Not Exist
Episode 2 Not Greta Garbo at all
Episode 3 Nothing like drowning
Episode 4 Your Own Personal Ghost
Episode 5 Nothing Would Be Easy Ever Again

Episode One: Shadows and Men That Do Not Exist

Ray almost wakes.

Ray doesn't want to wake; he wants to drown in sleep. Sleep is cool and placid and leaches away every single thought, just as sure as the water sucked the warmth from his muscles in the Henry Allen. Ray doesn't want strong arms grasping him, or hot breath forced between his lips and into his lungs; Ray kicks and tries to wrench free. He wants to go back, dive back under, burrow under his comforter to find the serenity of the drowning. That still moment when nothing matters any more, because everything is certain and everything is a long and dreamless sleep. But the more Ray struggles, the more Ray tries to wrench free and have the current take him; the more aware Ray becomes. The more awake Ray becomes.

The more Ray remembers.

He screws up his eyes and tries to fall back into the silence only to hear the television playing in the living room.

Oh yeah, Fraser. Didn't think he should be left alone last night. Probably right, he always is. Mounties never screw up; it's the way they are. Actually, Mounties never screw period. Leaves the question of how you got Fraser, but Ray knows it's got to be storks or maybe pathogenesis. Or maybe some angels went and dumped him on the stoop or something, because, Fraser simply isn't human.

Yeah, Mounties never screw; up, down, sideways, in a tree.

They leave all the screwing up to Polack cops with bad hair and worse eyes. And let's face it, Stanley, it's the only kind of screwing you do these days. Perhaps, it's the only type of screwing Ray's ever done. Stella, Beth Botrelle, same difference. He screwed up on both of them. Gave Beth a death sentence, while lucky, lucky Stella only got fifteen years. And any other kind of screwing? Not happening 'cept in Ray's head, chastely beneath the covers of his comforter, undercover, huh.

Yeah, Fraser was right not to leave him alone. Doesn't make it buddies though. What fucking screw up sentence has he given the guy? Oh yeah, he got not to go back to the home he loves, the gig he loves, the people he loves. Instead he gets to put his back out, and it isn't as if Fraser's back is exactly hot shit as it is, on Ray's bumpy lumpy couch and…

(Ray places the noise.)

…and watch bad television.

Which is so not regular Fraser activity; he should be out on the snowfields frolicking in snowshoes with Dief, not watching crappy junk television. It was like feeding the Diefster donuts; he was ruining a beautiful wild creature. Next thing you know, Fraser would turn into a couch potato and start subsisting on potato chips and Jolt cola.

It was cruel. That's what it was.

He'd chained up Stella and Beth and now he was doing it to Fraser.

And Fraser would be the only one polite enough not to tell him where to get off. He'd just run to seed until one day those wacko stunts he pulled would get him killed, 'cause Ray would zig instead of zag and yeah, even then Fraser would never blame him.

No, not just Fraser. Beth Botrelle as well. He could have coped if she'd hated him for what he'd done. But no, she was all grateful. Like Fraser would be.

And…

Then, Stella only gave him what he deserved.

Fraser gives him a big smile as he stumbles into the living room to the sound of clunky electro pop and a gravely voice talking of flights of shadows and men that do not exist. Clearly, getting out of bed by yourself is an act equivalent to the creation of David by one of the teenage mutant turtles; not a sign that you're too fucking screwed up to sleep and want desperately to stop thinking and start sleeping again. And Ray's favourite sleep aid or at least stop thinking aid (and once he's stopped thinking the sleep doesn't bother him as much) is currently somewhere where it wasn't last night.

Fraser is too fucking good to him. He's fucking poison and Fraser takes away his means of poisoning himself back. He hopes Fraser hasn't poured it down the sink or nothing.

He hopes that Fraser knows that just because he keeps a bottle of vodka on what ought to be Stella's night stand (or Luanne's, or Suzanne's, or Fraser's) doesn't mean that he has a drink problem. Not that Ray doesn't have problems; but the booze just dissolves them, washes them away and leaves him alone in his head.

The way things ought to be.

Not like this, with Fraser grinning at him like he's a rugrat that has just learnt to quit eating snails and dirt. He's babbling, "It's a wonderful conceit, Ray, how the circularity of the narrative effectively resets the status quo in each episode thus removing the need for the viewer to watch the episodes consecutively and providing a pleasing symmetry to the whole endeavour."

Only Fraser would find repetitive shit interesting, but then he gets to write out envelopes for the Ice Queen's diplomatic sashays. Ray tells him so. Sticks his finger in the big broad Mountie chest, tries to mess with the perfect henley, which looks too good for something that's been slept in, let alone slept in on Ray's ratty couch.

Fraser laughs, giggles, whatever you fucking call it because guys don't giggle, especially guys like Fraser. In Ray's head Fraser has a deep manly laugh, not the weird giggle thing he has going. Ray's brain does overdubs, sometimes, and when Fraser doesn't quite react right, it goes all wonky. Like a record player skipping tracks and he has to move the needle 'cause this track ain't dancing music.

"But, Ray–" Fraser begins, before he tears Ray's world into little pieces and burns them and then jumps on them, politely, unintentionally "–surely, you would have to admit that the idea that everything goes back to the beginning at the end of the adventure and nothing has repercussions is quite wonderful. There are times, Ray, when I truly wish the world worked like that… it would be quite… it would be so much less painful."

Ray knows Fraser's saying something important, Fraserish important, important to Fraser; but he doesn't really take that in. Not at all.

Ray's realising that life is just like that, and nothing will ever change. He's just Vecchio's stand-in, study under; one day, Vecchio will be back and he'll be out the door and kicked off the studio lot faster than quick. He'll be put back in the box, just like all the other spare pieces. For a moment he can almost see a hand like Albert's swooping him up and dropping him in the cardboard box of chess-pieces like another knight off the board. Or maybe Fraser will just slip in the shower and poof! He'll never have been at all. Ray Vecchio replaced by a Polish flatfoot with experimental hair, what a crazy idea! Benny better get that head checked out. Properly, no mutant moose goop today, Benny, let me get you my ugly car, what do you mean it exploded? Hospital, now, Benny.

His mouth is suddenly dry, and the only thing he wants right now is Fraser out of here, right now. Now. There's no way Ray can make Fraser understand this, the wrong, the hurt, not even intellectually. Fraser will just scoff politely and tell him that they are solid, as forever as any two mortal beings could be. He'd put the solid into those little air quotes of his, show off his grasp of the American patois. And then Ray would show off his fist, and then they'd write Vecchio back in.

Or cancel the show, 'cause he'd have wrecked Vecchio's cover beyond repair and it would be Vecchio getting cancelled, out in the Vegas desert with the crazy-named jackals and the wildlife.

And he'd promised himself never to hit Fraser again, anyway.

Never said anything about hitting Constable Perfect's imperfect buttons, the ones under his serge, under his skin. Ray thinks that sometimes he's the only person who can see them at all. He starts and lets Fraser's worse nature finish, "Fraser, not that I don't appreciate the whole pampering the shitty cop routine, but don't you have things to do, things that don't involve being a lesion or nothing?"

Lesion. Liaison. It's a sore point, Ray knows that. Fraser will never admit it, but the "duty" stuff he pulls out is probably the only thing stopping him from telling the Ice Queen to stick her Royal Canadian paperwork shit up her… tunic. There are places Fraser will never go, not even in his head.

"Fraser, don't you have stamps to lick, dry cleaning to run, Turnbulls in china shops to manage?" He's being an asshole, he knows it. Fraser hates; no, Fraser detests,

maybe dislikes, Fraser would never hate anything; Fraser detests being cooped up in the Consulate. Cooped up in the Consulate and at the beck and call of a very scary woman. Not that Fraser's sexist or anything, too much the contrary, Ray sometimes wonders if Fraser would put up with this shit if Thatcher was a man, if he and Thatcher hadn't had a ‘thing&rquo; as Vecchio's little undercover Cliff Notes put it. Vecchio had written that they had a ‘thing’ and neither of them knew what to do with it, and they spent all their time dancing around the elephant in the room by being all formal and Mountie-ish.

"And when I was by last, there was gum all over the doorstep. I think Thatcher will want you to do something about that. Can't really trust Turnbull with ice cubes on a public thoroughfare, can you?" He shouldn't really be so shitty about Turnbull either, he's a good kid and it has to suck being a rookie somewhere as exciting as the Consulate. Okay, he was probably a rookie somewhere else first, but then he got posted here pronto, which was shitty, all little rookies screw up a little, it was the nature of the game. Small wonder he'd been losing his marbles ever since he got here. Maybe that was what Fraser's so afraid of, as much as Fraser can be afraid of anything, of losing his. "I mean, ice-cubes are like marbles and you don't want to lose those either, people might slip up," and never let you go home, Ray adds in the silence inside his head.

Only then does Ray notice the silence outside his head.

Fraser is just staring at him like he'd pulled down his pants to reveal black lace panties and a garter belt and screamed "Fraser, take me!" like he'd learnt his seduction technique from somebody less subtle than Frannie Vecchio.

And Fraser is just staring.

And that is so bad manners, Benton buddy. Sure, so is everything Ray's just done, but then Ray was not raised by librarians of ninja politeness in a secret valley in the depths of Yukon Tibet. And Fraser's mouth is moving like he does when he's not really sure what to say, when he's been knocked for a loop. He set himself up and Ray knocked him down.

Ray suddenly feels rather shitty, 'specially when he sees Fraser's fingers clutch at his hat as he holds it against his stomach and finally gets out, "Well, I see, you clearly need some time to yourself, and while I'm sure I could excuse myself from my consular duties on your behalf…" A pause, the guy can talk the legs off a donkey and then persuade it to give some suddenly benign street kid a ride home, pausing is so never a good sign, it means things have really gone bad in Fraser's head, or more likely in Fraser's heart, just there. Just where Fraser gets him every time and the more vicious part of Ray's mind, the bit that is the smart-assed punk that everyone seems to think he is, goes and says "ha! See how you like it, freak! Perhaps you should reconsider licking everything, 'specially your lips, in future and stop making me want to fuck you until you give up being a perfect freak and be mine instead." And sure that voice normally scares the rational part of Ray, but if you hadn't noticed, the rational part of Ray is no great shakes right now.

The rational part of Ray managed to get a woman sentenced to death row and only just managed to save her, and currently is curled up in a corner and wanting everything to go away. Including Fraser and every other grateful freak on the planet.

"I suppose I better be going," Fraser concludes, after an eternity and the wolf doesn't even argue with him, which says something. Maybe the wolf can smell it, the way Ray's thinking, and knows that getting Fraser out now would only be a kindness really.

Doesn't feel terribly kind.

And if Ray has just broken things rather than, say, just pissing off his best friend in the universe, hell, they'll be frolicking in fucking snow where they belong as soon as Fraser can get that transfer form in. And everything will be right, and Ray might get another partner, one who doesn't pretend that he isn't pond-scum, or maybe he'll just go under again and just pretend to be somebody else until it's true.

It doesn't feel like much of a victory, but it's what he needs to do.

And now, Ray's apartment is as it should be: a Mountie-free-no-wolf-zone. And, yeah, he's still got a friend with him, kind of see-through and living in a bottle like some kick ass genie. He just has to find it.

You see, Ray knows Fraser wouldn't have taken it, or thrown it out, or poured it down the sink, because that would be de facto stealing or at least interfering with somebody else's belongings. And Fraser knows how much Ray likes his belongings interfered with from when he broke in armed with the landlady back during the Ellery case. And yeah, at that point, Ray has to tell his dick that Fraser interfering with his belongings like that so isn't going to happen, even though it's unlikely that he's done anything more than got Fraser's goat a little.

Conclusion: it has to be somewhere in the apartment. While Fraser's normal anti-alcohol tactics, the ones he uses on any drunks foolish enough to be in the tank when he's around, and Ray if he does something particularly dumb like get drunk and let Fraser find out, is more on the lines of a lecture on the importance of looking after the liver and how alcohol is often used to cover up low self esteem and how one should look into alternate methods of boosting said self esteem without recourse to alcohol, which is only ever a temporary solution, even if you go as far to even describe it as a solution. Ray lets his mental Fraser ramble on some, and just tunes him out. While Fraser will lecture you, he won't run away with your booze because that stops you making a decision for yourself, Fraser good as told him that one once.

Fraser thinks it is wrong to remove choice from people, says Dief is only with him in Chicago because he chooses to be, which kind of ignores where Dief would go if he chose otherwise, like, because there aren't many openings for a half-wolf in the big city beyond the dog pound and a backstreet rug shop.

Fraser's a cunning son of a gun though. Ray says ‘gun’ because he saw the look Fraser gave Dewey when he said ‘bitch’. It was not a nice look. Ray knows from the files that Fraser's mom died when he was a kid and something makes him wonder how well Fraser handled it, there has to be a reason Fraser's so good with the stoic crap. And that almost distracts him from how bad he will be with the stoic crap when the big hand from the sky scoops him up off the board. And it's not as if Fraser will ever end up in the box with him, because if he's a knight, then Fraser's a king. The whole game revolves around Fraser. He's at the centre and all he's going to get to do is share a box with the freaky psycho chick queen.

Anyway, Fraser's cunning, so Ray's other best friend won't be where he expects it to be, unless Fraser's expecting Ray to know that, but what if Fraser's expecting Ray to know that Fraser knows that Ray knows that Fraser won't be hiding the vodka anywhere obvious. What then?

Ray goes into the bathroom, lifts the lid on the toilet, and there it is, floating merrily. Fraser may be cunning, but there aren't many places to hide shit in an igloo. Ray grabs an old towel from the linen cupboard, one of those floral ones he swore he never bought and knows Stella never bought either. And that means it's one of those things that appears in mysterious ways, like the bicycle and the packet of alka seltzer on the counter, which Ray would have sworn weren't there when he woke up. Yeah, Ray's got it wrapped in a towel because you think the things are dry and they never are and then you get rings on your furniture and everyone you bring home (okay Fraser, the wolf, Ray's mum) thinks you're a total slob. And grabs a mug from the kitchen, washes it out under the faucet and tips the alka seltzer into the garbage on the way back.

Hits some music on, something quiet and sounding like a choir of angels got probed by some stray aliens, and crashes on the sofa, which is still as lumpy as hell and had probably been doing cruel and unusual things to Fraser's back. Kills the sound on the idiot box so at least he doesn't have to listen to David Hasslehoff making the world safe for kittens and puppies. And ignores the way he remembers his cousin Modest, the man with a worse name than Stanley and proof that bad names were generic… huh genetic, telling him that the Hoff had gone to high school in Chicago. As if. Nothing good ever came out of Chicago apart from pizza, just look at him.

It's going to be more than a couple of hours before there'll even be a decent game on. Ray hates talk shows, particularly the low rent ones, they remind him too much of work. Too much of work without Fraser and work without Fraser would suck, because it would mean out of The Amazing Wacky Mountie Cop Show and back into the research department of Jerry Springer or perhaps America's Most Horrific And Pointless Crimes: The Ones Where They Do Horrible Things To Cops.

Let's face it, he's never going to get a gig as good as this, never going to get a friend as good as Fraser. But there's no way he can hang on to him, Fraser doesn't deserve Chicago, doesn't deserve this shit and sure as hell doesn't deserve a partner who wants to get him out of those pumpkin pants and replace the stick up his ass with something else.

And finally, things are beginning to get quiet.

Sure, Ray feels sad. Ray wants to cry. But things are getting quiet again. And Ray doesn't know why he wants to cry, just that he does. So he buries his head in the cushions and when he starts to fall asleep it doesn't come as a surprise. Because for it to be a surprise, he'd have to think about it. Ray is done with thinking.

And Ray dreams strange dreams, curled up there in the couch, the lamp failing utterly at keeping away the dark thoughts that oozed out of the shadows and out of the bottle and into Ray's body, mind and soul. He's watching David Hasslehoff driving stick shift, it's not as if he's going anywhere, the scenery keeps repeating and he never changes direction and the car is strange and quiet and dead as Ray sits there in the passenger seat without being really there.

It's a really dumb dream. Ray knows that the 1982 Camaro Z-28 is automatic transmission.

And there's this voice again telling him about shadows and men that do not exist, crusading for justice and maybe that's him.

And then the voice starts beeping, high pitched and kind of desperate and the car starts to dissolve and all that's left is the red sand of the desert, and Ray suddenly has a body again, now that he's not floating, watching Michael Knight driving his mystery machine. He's standing there, in the rising dust, when the voice starts speaking again.

"Vecchio, Vecchio, I know you're there, because the Mountie's here. Now, it would be very pleasing to actually see your smiling cheerful countenance in my office. While I'm a tolerant man and wouldn't normally disturb your little pity party you've got going there, if I'm interpreting ‘Ray's ah indisposed ah and doesn't really want ah company ah’ the right way; I have a crime with your name on it. So kindly stop the Sleeping Beauty routine because it's eleven o'clock and you and the Mountie have a bucket full of disturbed Canadian students to interview."

Fuck. Welsh. Ray tries to go off in three directions at once and ends up on the floor tangled in his comforter. It's like quick sand, and every time he shifts, tries to squirm out of it, he just tangles himself more. He sucks, you know, sucks beyond suckitude; he can't even kick his scummy floral comforter in the head.

Maybe he's more tired than he thought. He doesn't even remember going to bed. Barely remembers anything of yesterday, must have spent it all asleep courtesy of his buddy Mr Vodka.

Doesn't get why he's so tired, or why the shower and the stuff with mint doesn't wake him up, or the way his hair's still kind of limp even when he puts enough gel in it to stick a kid to the ceiling of the bullpen. Why he didn't think of doing that with the bounty hunter chick's bundles of joy, he doesn't know either. No wait, he knows that one; he hopes it's the sixty-four million dollar question, 'cause he knows what the answer is. Fraser.

Sure as hell doesn't know why the alka seltzer is back on the counter. Maybe he has a poultry gheist or something. So he brushes past, scooping up his keys and dumps it into the trash again. Ain't like he's hung-over or nothing, ain't like he drank too much, nah.

And he knows that he has to burn rubber before Welsh gets irate or inconvenienced or any other word like that. Fraser wasn't the only one who swallowed a dictionary as a kid. Maybe Welsh is into those word-a-day email things the way Stella is. It ain't as if he meant to snoop or anything, she just left him in her office and there it was on the screen. As if high-powered lawyer girls need vocabulary builders that should be the reserve of no-brainers like him. And his vocabulary works fine. People understand him fine. They don't look at him like he came from planet Zog or nothing.

And some moron hits his horn for no freaking reason and he makes a left then a right and swings into the 2-7. And then he's running into the bullpen like Bambi on ice and he hates the way his legs go all over the place and they're going all over even more 'cause it looks like somebody's got a little over enthusiastic with the floor polish or something. And he's sliding all over the place, he swears, and it's a miracle that he doesn't stomach-surf along and meet Welsh's feet with his head.

Which would be cool, if he was still a kid but he isn't and the evil look he'd have got from Welsh and the "I'd have thought a man of your striking intellect would be as proficient at walking as he is reputedly at kicking people in the head, detective," that would have killed any adrenaline rush dead. Maybe that's why Fraser spends so much time being all lone wolf up in the frozen north, because he has his own Welsh waiting to tell him off for dog sledding under his nose or something.

Fuck, Fraser. He's leaning in all concerned-like and Ray hears an echo as he says, "I was so worried about you, Ray." And with that everything dissolves, his fears about being bawled out by Welsh, his residual curiosity with the case, everything. All he can think is that everything has just cycled round again, gone back to the start, and it's like none of it happened. Stella, Beth, Fraser; none of it happened. And suddenly he feels very sick and has to turn and run and slide to the men's room like somebody put marbles under his feet, before he proves to the world that the rocket's really in his stomach and about to go boom.

Boom! Tidal wave! Tsunami! Whatever!

By the time Fraser catches up with him, he's already praying to Saint John. Ray swears he hasn't eaten anything, not that not eating is good when you can already hide behind a rake on a stakeout, so he's busy thinking about how anyone can produce so much puke. Okay, not thinking, because that's suddenly beyond him, but looking and getting as far as "boy, that's a lot of puke." It's barely intellectual or anything. Not that he's going to ask Fraser anyway, too much opportunity for freakiness, though even Fraser wouldn't lick his puke would he?

And Fraser's just there, he's got Ray's back, really, and as Ray begins to retch, he rubs it like he's Ray's mom or something. There's so much, maybe not love, but there's something big in there. None of Ray's other partners would have done that, most of them just applied for transfers faster that you can say Jack Robinson, and the rest they just weren't there the way Fraser is, not at all, except Donaldson, fashion plate boy, busy sporting this season's look of oak casket and headstone. Fuck, Donaldson wasn't undercover work, never could be, stuck out even worse than Fraser in his way. Fraser's just good looking, Donaldson was handsome and that's a different kettle of fish, 'cause Donaldson had something that made you want to keep watching him, charisma. And sure, Fraser has some, but not all the time. And sure, the guys couldn't take their eyes off him, which is why at this moment, Donaldson is full of bullets and Ray isn't. Ray feels sick again.

'Cept, Ray knows none of this is real. He's just Ray Vecchio's replacement double guy, he doesn't have a life, doesn't have a motivation beyond being a square peg with a mission in a round hole. There's nothing beyond this, 'cept a little bit of childhood shit to make his little character bit work. Give the audience a way to empathise with Fraser empathising with him. Not that Ray's sure why Fraser didn't laugh him the fuck out of Dodge. He pissed his pants, his noble fight for justice goes down to pissing his pants. And lying about it.

Nothing really bad happens anyway. It isn't as if Fraser and Vecchio are dead or nothing, and they should be, pulled off crazier shit than Ray has ever imagined. Nothing bad happens, or at least nothing too bad, sure Fraser's got a bullet in his back, but it doesn't stop him or his wacky Mountie stunts and guys with bullets in their back end up in wheelchairs don't they, just look at Superman, all he did was fall off a fricking horse.

And then Fraser opens his mouth and starts going on about cirrhosis and other fun games you can play with alcohol and Ray just wants it to stop, stop, stop. He is so not going to be the star of the special episode about the dangers of alcohol… except, that's not what Fraser's saying, not what Fraser's saying at all. Ray tries to clear his head and hear him and gets, " …my own experience and that of people close to me, alcohol clouds the senses and results in poor judgements, sometimes even fatally so," for his troubles.

And right now, that so isn't greatness, because one, Ray's learning all about lack of judgement and alcohol right now, though puking isn't fatal but should be; and b, now is so not the time for a story about Little Johnny Inukshuk's uncle who got drunk after the big walrus hunt and fell off the iceberg. That and Fraser should know that interrupting somebody on the phone is just plain bad manners, even if Ray's only calling Ralph. They've got a job to do haven't they? He tells Fraser so, and watches as Fraser struggles with himself because he can't get snippy about it without not being the super Mountie of awesomeness ready to spring into action or form-filling with the very mention of duty.

And maybe Ray might have pushed it a little far, going on about, or aboot, "poor little traumatised Canadian exchange students stuck in a horrible violent foreign country" especially since he needs Fraser to fill him in beyond that, but if that kind of blackmail is good enough for Welsh then it's good enough for him.

Ray knows he went too far when Fraser quits opening doors from him and he nearly gets a bruise saying "push" in mirror lettering, like he's been signed by da Vinci or something, not that he would do skinny fucks like Ray or nothing. Ray doesn't totally suck at art, kind of liked it back before he went to college and proved himself to be totally d-u-m. 'Cause Ray doesn't get what makes some shit art, while really beautiful stuff like the Champion logo aren't, but the smart rich kids there and the Stella later made it clear that whatever he thought, really wasn't it. And yeah, he gets from Fraser that the kids are ‘guests’ of DePaul over in Lincoln Park, the one with the really funky painting on the side of one of the buildings and it's so simple and wonderful and Ray has to remind himself that he knows nada, zip about art every time he sees it, just to make himself not tell the folks on the el about the sheer awesomeness. 'Cause they'd think he's crazycakes, or high, or something. It's just not something you do unless you're a Mountie and warp the rules so much it's like you're a sun or something and make them curve like gravity. Ray likes good scifi, too. He doesn't tell people that either.

And somehow, it isn't fair, Fraser not opening doors for his obviously totally sick as a half wolf partner. But then, sympathy has never been one of those things Fraser has tons of, or at least, not when it comes to Dief when he's eaten too many donuts and the wieners from Mort's bag lunch. Ray should be happy about that, means that he's inside Fraser's inner sanction thing 'cause he isn't treated like little old ladies or vicious knife wielding thugs with paper cuts. It's like Fraser can't act snitty (he still wouldn't make asshole in like a million years) except to people he likes, really likes, not the way he likes everyone. Or Frannie, that girl is in a category all of her own when it comes to Fraser. That much is clear, just like Fraser would never ever sleep with Ray's fake-o sister. Ray wonders if Ray Vecchio ever got this treatment. Everyone says they were great buddies, but that means nothing, 'cause Fraser can act great buddies with hustlers trying to look incontinent… inconspicuous on Halstead. Maybe if Fraser wasn't such ‘great buddies’ with Vecchio he'd have made a move on Frannie by now.

Anyway, if Fraser had a dog house, rather than a nocturnal wolf blanket, Ray would so totally be in it, 'specially when he just starts turning up Halstead towards Lincoln Park and Fraser starts that thing where he thinks that if one "Ray" gets some of Ray's attention, then a whole pack will get the full set. Like anyone would want Ray's undivided attention right now, except a freak, which Fraser totally is. Can't read body language for shit sometimes; Ray wonders exactly how alone Fraser was up there, particularly as a kid. Raised among the books and the polar bears and maybe the odd walrus coming to just hang out on the ice flow. Being able to spot a narwhal in a shitty mood is such a great skill in Chicago, 'specially when the gang-kids decide to push you through the drywall. Ray could read body language by the time he could bite, needed to, to be so totally daredevil with the big kids, always knew when they were gonna hit, always knew when to bite or dramatically fall over.

Ray's always been a fake, an actor, now he fakes his living, and his job, and a big ass Italian family that hugs him and gives him presents on a birthday that isn't really his. Ray doesn't know what to do with all that, the aftershave, the silk ties, the books about gangsters and Buicks.

And Fraser's doing the Ray thing, like the record keeps skipping and maybe somebody in the mixing room is having fun making the Mountie sound like Max Headroom. And it turns out, perspires, transpires that the kids are actually in Oriole Park, filming a movie. A baby movie, a moovette.

Irony doesn't even cover it, and Ray decides that he's better off thinking about the asphalt and just feeling the Goat, it's like everything returns to the start. He has a dad back and no clue what to do with him, and he has the car of his dreams back and everything's like Stella, the Academy, everything never happened and he's a teenager with the coolest car on the lot again and black enamel all over his fingers. Everything is resolved and sorted ready for the next episode, and nothing ever changes, and who cares that Ray has a different car, 'cept the sort of people who write into the networks 'cause they don't get the television isn't real and they're too busy writing letters asking where JR is these days.

Everything is nicely resolved before the end of the show, Ray goes to bed weepy, but next episode he's back to normal fighting crime. Badda bing bang boom.

Small wonder Ray doesn't want to talk, wants to lose himself in the Goat and the way it shudders when he goes from asphalt to the side streets with poured concrete and potholes and the way they make the steel frame shudder slightly. Nothing like driving a pool car at all. They're dead, the Goat's alive. Ray wants quiet, but Fraser he doesn't want to give it at all, and when Ray ignores him, he starts talking to the doughnut hound, 'cept it doesn't make much sense for a conversation with Diefenbaker. Dief conversations tend to be about things which are, okay, little beyond what a old lady will tell her little cotton ball fluff dog, don't eat that, come here, quit with the 'tude. The thought "face his fears" flits through the back of his mind, and no, Ray don't wanna do that at all, he wants to burn rubber and achieve communion with the automotive gods.

And this? It doesn't fit and Ray can't help but hear even if he's concentrating on the road, the ride, not talking and most of all not thinking. Some vodka would solve the last one, but he's meant to be working here and crashing the Goat would be like poking his own eyes out and if something happened to Fraser because he was standing on the roof or something… It would not be pretty and neither would Ray. And then, maybe he'd poke his eyes out for real, because that's what you do when you're mad and the gods want you deader than last week's meatloaf.

And it doesn't matter what Ray's doing, Fraser's voice, he always hears it, even when Fraser isn't there and that's freaky enough shit. He can tell Fraser isn't talking to him though because he's all "as you know" and Ray doesn't know, doesn't know that Fraser's old man thought that conquering Fraser's fear of the dark could be done by teaching the kid to make a fire and then dumping him in the woods at night with bears. And there's a pause and "Mother didn't terribly approve either, did she? I was in the back room in the dark and I was scared enough without you arguing like that; it was the one thing that scared me more," and that's scary because Ray starts wondering how young Fraser's talking here, and he has visions of Benton in the dark sucking his pacifier and trying to make the sparks come. There are times when Ray really wants to punch the late great Bob Fraser, normally whenever Fraser starts comparing himself to the guy.

And Ray's got to make this box junction and it's tough because something's happened with a truck full of oranges, and as he turns into Fullerton, he sees that it had a near miss with a truck with "Gross's Rubber Novelties" painted on the side with a rubber duckie that looks plain vicious, some punk's sprayed horns on. Ray has to get the siren out of the glove by himself, 'cause Fraser's too busy talking about his grandparents wouldn't let him touch the oil lamps. Which Ray would get if they're freaking antiques or something, but clearly, it's like banning a kid from flicking the light switches. A kid that's afraid of the freaking dark and wondering where his parents have gone. Somehow, being raised by ninja librarians does not sound high on the fun stakes. Ray waves to the traffic cops on the scene as he passes; it pays to be friendly with the guys with the keys to the tow trucks. Never know when you might need free parking, though they can't help with Monopoly.

And Ray doesn't know what has set Fraser off, because Diefenbaker wouldn't even be a little wriggly thing back then, but clearly the dark is not Fraser's friend, or at least, not when he can't make light. File that in a box marked interesting things about Fraser that they never told me in orientation. Like Fraser's orientation, and what happened with Fraser's mom, and even if Fraser has a middle name and if it's worse than Benton.

Fraser's starting to scare Ray now, really, more than jumping off buildings and in front of bullets.

And that's saying something. Might explain why Fraser has such a hard time letting go of control, though, letting somebody else take the lead. Because, if somebody responsible for Ray ignored something like that, something that scared Ray more than anything, then Ray would probably clock them. He hasn't been so frightened by Fraser since the thing when they jumped off the Canada Mill warehouse, and this time, punching Fraser is really not an option. Wherever Fraser is right now, it really isn't here, and the best idea, Ray thinks, is to floor it again and get to the scene. Then Fraser can remember that he's a Mountie. Not that Fraser isn't being a Mountie; he's just being a Mountie lecturing his pet wolf – who was never there – on how he feels betrayed over his childhood fear. He needs to get to the kids, and then he might remember to be Super Mountie again. Ray has tried so damn hard to get under the Mountie mask, and now he has and doesn't even think Fraser's noticed that he has, too wrapped up in the darkness in his head. Now Ray can see Fraser as a regular human being and can't get why it scares him so much.

Only, Fraser just peters out before Ray's even got there. One minute, he's going, "That is all a very justified point intellectually speaking. However, it is rather noticeable that five year olds are not known for their intellectual faculties, rather like some half wolfs I know. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, you never advocated taking me out behind the cabin and shooting me, did you? Or is that just another hole in my recall, like when mother left this vale of sorrows, and all I can remember is your beard and your weeping and wailing, and it was like I'd been left there, in the dark, again. And this time, mother wouldn't be waiting with a warm blanket and soft words would she? You see my point" – and then there's a pause, and he's almost angry – "At least you could dignify me with an answer, even if you don't think you did anything wrong in the least, even if…" And it's like the fight goes out of him there, like it hurts so much and is hurting so much more now he's back here, in the Goat with Ray. Ray barely hears the "Even if you're not sorry" over the sound of the engine, and he knows it's the only time he's ever going to wish that he'd taken out a pool car instead.

If it weren't for Fraser's fingers anxiously clutching the brim of his hat, after he'd ended that long silence gone and said to the wolf, "I think I've made my point," and Dief barking like a happy wolf; you'd think the weird had never happened. But thinking about it, it had happened plenty of times before. He'd seen Fraser talking at a closet once. He didn't even have the wolf for cover, that time. And he hadn't noticed Ray come in, so Ray had snuck out and come back making way more noise and stopping to ask why there were no paintings of beavers in the corridor.

There aren't any paintings of beavers in Oriole Park either. Just kids playing in the spray pool and the sandbox, and they'd hug any beavers to death, anyway. Running right up to the remains of the crime scene tape and screaming and one of the kids is making with a finger gun and shooting. Ray shoots him back, and starts looking about for forensics. The circus had moved on though, and clearly somebody thought there was no evidence to be had. Jerks. But then, they never had a Mountie with a magic tongue and a really questionable grasp of reality. Not that Ray has anything to stand on when it came to his grasp of reality.

And yeah, Fraser has his case face on. Right now, Welsh would be getting Frannie to turn the place over for the file in Fraser's hands. Ray knows because he can read upside down better than right way up some days, and this is so not the file they're meant to have. Ray doesn't know where that one is, probably in Fraser's pants or something. Maybe Fraser's memorised it. Speed-read it like Superman and now can recite it backwards. Kind of disappointing when Ray leans over and sees a file inside the first one; he wants to know what the first one is, though.

"Ah, this is a report of gang related crime by district, and if I have my facts correct, then there has been a recent spate of such activity in the sixteenth district." Now, Ray hasn't heard that, so clearly somebody is trying to keep it under wraps, though whether that's the precinct or the mayor's office trying not to scare the 'burb dwellers, now Ray won't bet on that. Leave all the statim… statistical stuff to Fraser.

Ignorance may be bliss, but finding out that somebody is keeping quiet and being generous with the hush fund to keep little John and Jane Q Public from making trouble sucks. Not that you can't really not notice an attempted shoot out just outside the junior basketball court. Unless, you have a bunch of teenage Canadians all out on the bleachers and making with movie cameras that probably cost more than Ray's rent and a year's supply of turtle chow. And they're back there and look about as traumatised as Ray's turtle, busy laughing and one of them is falling over backwards and kicking his legs in the air, clutching at his chest, and it's fucking hilarious. Cue the rimshot.

Ray already hates them.

And not just because they remind him of his six and a half seconds at college with the rich kids and their fucking pretentious art group.

No, more because there's something about the way it's all a joke to them. An attempted gang shooting and next day they're making like the six year olds in the play park and going shooting each other. Not only is that kind of, Ray doesn't know, disrespectful, it's dumb like shouting wolf. The one on the floor is doing just that, didn't notice Dief creeping up on him and is now screaming his way through slobbery wolf-kiss. Waving his legs around and screaming, "Argh! wolf!" Dumbass.

"Ah, Diefenbaker, I think the gentleman is awake and very much not subject to injury," Fraser's saying that for the benefit of the movie kids, not Dief. The wolf's still busy gazing into his victim's baby blues and giving him a good face wash. Go wolf! "Hey, kid, quit struggling, rich ladies would pay a bomb for exfoliation like that. And a tip, the wolf is actually a half-wolf and reads lips, so just tell him to get off nice and slow and clear."

Fraser's already talking to the most together of the students, kid wearing a baseball cap with a 'hawk awkwardly jammed underneath, and somehow, Ray can't shake the feeling the kid should have a pocket protector and soda bottle glasses instead. The cap's got ‘Guelph Film Society’ machine-embroidered on it. Ray thinks the one director's chair on the ‘set’ is his; sure, nobody's in it, they're pretty much avoiding it. So, Ray takes it, and kicks back and does his best to look too cool for school.

And if he didn't look like that, then he'd have to sue his stylist, give one of Stell's lawyer pals something to do. And anyway he'd lose because his style is just his own. He's got the shades on, the fancy prescription numbers that Stella bought him back in the days of milk and honey. The 'script's a teeny tiny bit out of date, but it beats the sun getting in his eyes. It's a compromise, he gets to look cool and Fraser gets a partner who can see some. Not that he's discussed it with Fraser or anything.

And, yeah, he tips his head back and stares at the sun like it doesn't hurt and listens in to Fraser talking to the director-guy. Ray doesn't want to ask questions quite yet, doesn't know what questions to ask beyond the standard "you guys seen anything?" and he sure as hell knows nothing about art house cinema. He almost chokes when Fraser asks the kid with the mohawk, "Tell me, have you seen Frank's cock?" And he tries not to jump out of his chair, 'cause that would be uncool and it's probably just a movie about Canadian chicken fanciers which got shown at the Kugluktuk International Film Festival in front of an audience of seven and Jamey Mukluk's pet walrus, Carpenter. And just in time to distract Ray from the really attractive other theory, the one where Fraser is actually the cock-sucking slut of the Northwest Areas and Frank's cock is interesting because it has a hinge or something, one of the girls, dressed in what might have been an attempt at poodle costume asks if he's from the police.

And the way she's looking at him, it means that S Raymond Kowalski – wearing prehistoric sunglasses and that black shirt with the blue-grey piping around the neck where the stitching has almost given up – is still attractive to women. Okay, girls in puffball skirts and poodle ears, but Ray isn't complaining. 'Course, part of that is she has nothing to do with the justice system, the PD, anything like that, and so hasn't heard the Stella story over her latte mochaccino. And yeah, there's nothing really new, attempted gang shooting, everyone made like something that disappears very fast, and yeah, she didn't really see anything, just thinks it's her duty to speak to him. Ray wants to find what they put in the water up there, and ship some of it down to Chicago, then people would actually talk to him or better still not shoot each other to start with. Curling is a totally acceptable side effect.

And then Fraser comes over and all serious like tells the girl that while he hopes she will take a great interest in the cultural highlights of this fine city, she really shouldn't go to the opera in that costume since it could constitute a statutory offence. Fraser's looking out the corner of his eye at mohawk boy in his t-shirt with an anarchy ‘a’ and all that shit. Ray wonders what the fuck they were talking about besides cocks and Canadian movies.

Everything is practically normal. Ray's detecting, Fraser's freakiness is only exceeded by that of the nerd punks and the poodle girl.

Pity it's too good to last. 'Cause the gang are here, sauntering like they own the place, with baggy pants and 'tude, and none of the film kids could give the cops or Ray colours or anything identifiable, too shook up by the big bang. And Fraser's moving and oh god, Fraser, no…

"Good afternoon, gentlemen, or should that be bad afternoon? Ray?" – a pause and Fraser's giving Ray that look, the caribou in the headlights look, and Ray's too busy falling to really notice or say anything, do anything – "Ah, well, I am Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and my colleague Detective First Grade Ray Vecchio and I have been made aware of some altercation in this area, I believe you'd call it something going down…"

And that's when everything starts to fade out but good; and Ray can't stop falling, all these thoughts are flying past, flying up past his head, but really they're staying still and it's Ray that's falling. And he can't grab on to any of them, they're slick and his fingers just can't get a grip.

'Cause he's the one that can do gang-speak, Ebonics, whatever you're calling it this week. He can talk with the brothers, the homeboys, his homies, real bad. Which means good, Fraser, except when something's really bad, then it's just bad. It's like there's a sheet with his name on and a list of little facts: divorced, drink problem, bad with girls, good with disaffected black kids, boom, boom, boom. And somebody out there's in the office at the studio wondering why they don't balance out the ethnic thing, cancel out some of the white-guy-cop-hood thing and do another episode where Ray gets to use his funky-ass gang lingo.

And Ray isn't sure how it happened but he's in the Goat again, and there's a faint voice he thinks is Fraser's telling him that it must be delayed shock about the last case and he'll get Ray home and he'll be right as rain soon. And Fraser's got the keys and it's like there's no time at all. It's like he's floating in space and he doesn't even care how slowly, how carefully, Fraser's driving past the Twinkie Factory on Diversey Avenue and the way Dief's pressing himself against the rear windshield as they go past.

Everything is like a dream, everything's so very far away, like a disaster on a television screen. It's like he isn't really here at all. Like he's been hypnotised by the tapping of typewriter keys instead of the sound of the Mountie Rule Book. And let's face it, the Mountie Rule Book is longer even than those dungeon and dragons ones and they give instructions for how to kill your dragon. But he doesn't remember anything about when Fraser put him under, 'cept the weird craving he got for cabbage that had him back in the old neighbourhood hunting down jars of the stuff. Like he was pregnant or something, with a mutant Mountie love child.

Right now, he's almost here, almost with Fraser and the twinkie-obsessed half wolf. But he's not, it's like he's in a tofu… fugue state thing, and he can hear this clacking noise and that yeah, "RAY GETS INTO THE GTO AND DRIVES ACROSS TOWN TO CONFRONT THE 22S" except he's not, because he's funked out, he's funky beyond funk. And nothing and everything is real.

And Ray knows that, because one minute he's in the Goat, the next he's on his battered couch, looking up at Fraser leaning in close to him yet being impossibly far away. And Fraser's looking into his eyes, and then there's a pocket light, and it hurts, but then it's gone, and Fraser's talking, sounding like he's at the other end of the ballpark or something, "Ray, while I really shouldn't leave you, I have a recipe that might be efficacious in dealing with both your hangover and your current emotional turmoil, however, I don't have all the ingredients with me and so must repair with all due haste to the corner store." Then Fraser sort of fades out again, though Ray can see him talking to Dief and pointing and he just knows he's telling Dief to phone for a bus if he gets any weirder.

Ray's head suddenly jerks forward, like his roller coaster car suddenly stopped at the top of a peak. He feels like he's going to break his neck, he feels like he's going to fall.

And yet, he feels this strange push inside him. "Goat." The sound of his own voice startles him, it's raw and sounds like he hasn't used it in years. "Take Goat." He's not really being articulate much, but right now, it seems like so much effort and it's like he's breaking through ice into the sunlight. And maybe Fraser does that, the breaking through ice thing, back in the frozen north, and he's thinking of that and it's making him smile.

Then Fraser comes back to him, leaning into him, sweeping one of those big Mountie hands across his forehead like he's some fragile treasure… no… like he needs to be touched, reassured, made safe from fear, "Ray, you'll be fine, I'll be back momentarily and soon you'll be as right as rain again," and that's what Ray feels, safe.

Totally unlike the little kid crying in the dark because he's meant to be a big boy and light his own fire. The thought's there only a moment, before it gets dissolved in the fog that's in Ray's brain, and we're talking horror movie fog here, the real thick pea-soup stuff that only ever thins for something really nasty to come out and gut the unwitting. If anyone's unwitting 'round here, it's Ray, he doesn't even know what ‘unwitting’ means, but he's pretty sure it's him. So, Fraser is totally witting. Fraser is probably going ‘wit, wit, wit’ as he runs down to the twenty-four/seven to find his miracle cure, stopping only to help a little old lady across the street and puffin face a kid until it stops crying.

And Ray's stuck in here, with this thing, this thing in his head that he wants out.

Sure, he wanted out those dreams where Fraser would lick his lip and sound all deep and sexy and laugh all manly. But then, he didn't know better. Right now, Ray would kill for one of those dreams. Not exactly guilt free, but they brought on the warm ‘n’ fuzzies just fine, like Frannie says chocolate does to girls. Maybe if Ray brought Stella more chocolate, they'd still be together, and she'd have slowly puffed up a bit so she couldn't fit into her Chanel and it would turn out not to be the chocolate, but a baby, and they'd downsize the apartment and Ray would quit doing such dangerous jobs…

…and everything would be fine, wonderful, greatness. The way it should have been. And Ray and Stella would cha-cha at their daughter's birthday party. And the kid would never make up her mind between wishing they were dead and wishing she was dead.

Ray feels dampness on his cheek, but he's not really crying.

No, he's not crying at all, but his heart feels like it's been wrenched from his chest and it takes him a moment to realise that it's not really Stella or the daughter he'll now never meet that he's crying for.

Well, he is.

But.

But really, it's Fraser.

If that had happened, he'd never have met Fraser. Might have seen him somewhere in the Police Department for five seconds while he busted some kiddies for a little light B and E, maybe he'd have even wondered what a Mountie was doing in Chicago, but they'd never have met, talked, endangered each other in mind-blowingly dangerous ways…

Okay, not mind-blowing, Ray knows he's going to have to work on the adjunct… additive… describing word until he finds one that totally gets the way Fraser can endanger your life and make you like it, crave it, and yeah, crave Fraser too.

And it's now that he gets what he was angling for, the whole him and Fraser sitting in a tree thing. But he's been crying and he can't enjoy it. Can't just lose himself in the feeling of Fraser's lips on his own, and Fraser's tongue in his mouth and Ray sucking so hard. Can't forget that he was drowning, that it changed nothing, Fraser said so, that everything would be back to normal. Can't forget he had his eyes closed because it was cold and maybe if he closed them, he could just pretend he was washing his hair in the bath or something. He didn't want to see his arms thrash around when the air ran out. It would be kind of pathetic, so instead he was just going to curl up in his head, in the dark, and pretend that it was just another wet day in the windy city…

…and then, there was warmth pressing between his lips and Ray thought that was it, he was hallucinating and hell, it was a nice hallucination, he'd go with it, but Stella's lips had never felt like that even when she didn't wear slip-slide lipstick, and she'd never pressed quite so, been so, aggressive, even when he asked. And he opened his eyes, expecting to see Saint Peter or an evil undersea dead girl monster, and he got Fraser taking his face in those hand and stroking him like he was a fretting kid immune to puffins as he stroked in with his tongue.

And it was so warm, and hot, and totally unlike the water, which was getting in around the edges, but Ray didn't care, all he wanted was more of that tongue. So what if he died hallucinating that he was making out with his Mountie partner, nobody would ever know or anything, except perhaps Saint Peter and he was pretty damn sure that drowning in a rust bucket ship while pursuing truth, justice and the Canadian way counted pretty high in extenuating circumstances.

But Fraser had other ideas, because Fraser wasn't a hallucination and then they were swimming down tunnels and shit, and Fraser was pulling Ray along in places 'cause Ray still can't swim worth shit.

Ray can almost feel Fraser kissing him again, here on his ratty brown loveseat, which is stupid, because they never kissed.

Fraser said so.

And the thing is beginning to come out of the fog again, as Ray's little flashlight of hot kissing and really dirty bad thoughts about his partner flickers out. It's like the holiday special in which they almost split up. Only they don't and everything is fine, and – what's Turnbull's phrase? – hunky dory. And there was some kissing that they're totally not going to mention again and if anyone does mention it, then it was saving Ray's life, stress of the moment, Fraser's picture perfect memory failing because of water-logging. It doesn't matter that buddy breathing is really done through the nose.

Because they're never going to talk about it again.

They're like Starsky and Hutch. Kind of. Maybe. His dad thought they were kind of fruity, and claimed only to be watching for the cars, same as Ray. They looked a little queer and they were best buddies, but they never really went over that line, sort of hovered a bit, but they were always back to manly guy-hood at the end of the episode. Even if one of them, the one with the cardigan thing Ray thinks, got horribly addicted to drugs, they'd hug and he'd be all right and then they'd bust the bastards' asses all the way to Sing Sing.

Well, not Sing Sing, because they were in California, but yeah, you get the idea.

And now, Fraser's back ready with his hug in a mug and tomorrow, Ray will be all together in his guy-hood and none of this will matter anymore, because none of it will have been real.

Ray isn't sure what was in that mug, some kind of herby flowery thing that so wasn't bought at Casey's 24-7 Everything Emporium, and it tasted kind of funky but good and now Ray wants to sleep so much and even the couch is kind of comfy now.

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