due South


Old Shit, New Shovel

Title: Old Shit, New Shovel

Author: Bone

Author's E-mail: thisisbone@aol.com

Author's URL: http://www.mrks.org/~bone/

Fandom: due South

Category: Slash

Series: Old Lock, New Key

Sequel to: "Old Lock, New Key"

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski

Summary: See title. ;)

Archive: Do not archive, repost, publish or link without discussing it with me first.

Disclaimers: The due South characters remain the property of Alliance Atlantis. Written for pleasure, not profit. For adult readers only, please.

Notes: This story follows "Old Lock, New Key." Spoilers for 'Burning Down the House' and 'Eclipse'. In one scene, dialogue has been lifted verbatim from 'Eclipse.' Many thanks are due to…gosh, a raft of people—Kat Allison, Aristide, Crysothemis, JiM, Anna, and Dawn—for beta-reading and encouragement.

Man, I hate the lighting in public johns. What kind of psycho invented fluorescents, anyway? Fright lights. And these mirrors are brutal. I look like I'm fifty. A hard-drinking fifty, which is just sad since I don't even drink. Much. Anymore.

Fraser's waiting for me. We're done eating. Now we're headed out to watch Pantelli's warehouse, and I'm getting in one last piss and a good hand washing before we go numb our butts for hours on end. I can still smell this afternoon's bust on me; last thing I want to do is add another layer of bad guy dust. The water from the sink feels good, makes me want to take a shower, see if I can't get rid of the old man staring back at me.

I look in the mirror sometimes and wonder who the hell that is looking back at me. See my dad sometimes, recognize the lines of his face. Sometimes I see the kid I'll probably never have, and I wonder what I'm doing, why I'm here, who I am, all that philosophical shit. Probably why I don't spend a lot of time looking in mirrors. What am I going to see? What my dad saw: a guy who doesn't eat enough, can't remember to get a haircut, too pale—too much up time, not enough down time—and big dark circles under the eyes. A real prize, there. A real winner.

A real loser.

I've done some stupid shit in my time. Really stupid. I started young and just kept going. One fuck-up after another. Always making up for something, always climbing back out of some hole I dug for myself. So far I've been lucky; my stupidity hasn't killed me. But I don't really expect to be gumming bananas at age eighty, either. Cops can't count on making it to a nursing home. Cops usually just count minute to minute, heartbeat to heartbeat, trying not to think about anything beyond how many shots the other guy's already fired, how long until he's emptied his clip, how long before it's your turn, your turn to count bullets.

It's not all bad. No question you're living, then. Oh, what a feeling. What a rush. Yeah, it's all fun and games 'til somebody puts an eye out. So it's not that. It's not those times when the glass breaks around you and you're looking yourself over for slices; it's not the times when your heart's living somewhere under your cheekbones thumping like a jackhammer.

No, it's the dumb shit that kills you. Not kills you dead, but kills you inside. I can pile my mistakes into a slimy, stinking garbage heap so big I can't see over it. I do that sometimes, just pile them on, look them over, looking at all the places where I could have done this and instead I did that, and look where it's gotten me.

Look who I am. Look at me.

I'm not even me anymore.

I'm somebody else.

And I think I'm managing to fuck that up, too.

It feels like all the things I screwed up are…hell, what's it called…congealing. No, that's not right, but something like that. Like the dumb kid and the rotten husband and the queer cop are all climbing up my back, yelling in my ear, all at once. I can't seem to get away from them, any of them; all I have to do is look in the mirror.

It's been a month since I switched precincts, ditched my name, and took over Ray Vecchio's life. It's no big loss, my old life. It's not like there's some gaping hole now at my old precinct. It's not like anybody's missing me. The new life's okay. It comes with a family as oddball as my own, and a job that's pretty much what I'm used to. And for the last two weeks, it's come with a partner who's like nothing I've ever seen before.

He makes me feel like I've got something to prove, and now I've got somebody to prove it to.

He makes me want to do good, when I'm much better at going bad. He makes me want to bury my garbage heap, just bury it all and start over, do something right for once in my fucking life, and instead I'm afraid…yeah, I'm afraid…I'm screwing this up, too.

I don't get him at all; I can't begin to figure him out. It's like when he straps on that uniform, he's tying himself right up, muzzled like a dog. I listen to him talk (and talk and talk and talk), but in two weeks, I haven't heard him say anything close to the kind of beans he spilled that first night. Not even close. We're…not close, and I'm not sure if that's my fault, or his, or if fault's even a good word. I can't even decide if I'm being stupider than usual, or if it's just that compared to Fraser the Saint, anyone would look bad. Could be that. Fraser the Saint. Fraser the Freak.

Fraser, who shook all over me and sank his teeth in me and put his hands on me like he had a right to, like he had a need to, like he knew just what to do with me. He did, too. He knew what to do. First day I met the guy, we did that. Just jumped right in. Jumped right on. Right on.

Fraser, who crawled out of my bed before it even started to get light. I heard him fumble his way to the door, knocking into things and apologizing. I didn't say anything, stop him, help him, none of that. I just laid there in the mess I'd made, shirt twisted all up, pants stuck to me, and listened to him go.

Taking him home with me seemed like a good idea at the time: he was in pretty bad shape, and I had something I could offer. What did I know? I think there's a good chance I'll look back on this, this Fraser thing, and it'll make the Stella fiasco look like a party. Cake, ice cream, pin the tail on the jackass. Yeah, this might make that look good.

Remember when I said it didn't have to mean anything?

I lied.

I told him it could just be what it was, what it is.

What it is, at least what it's turned out to be, is sex.

I'm using him for sex. I think.

He's using me. I guess.

I don't have to be smart to know that's a really bad idea.


Ray's been gone a long time. If he were Ray Vecchio—the real Ray Vecchio—I would have checked on him minutes ago.

But still I sit, fumbling in my hatband for enough American dollars to cover the bill, stacking our dirty plates in the center of the table. Anything to occupy my hands while my mind deliberates whether to track my partner into the men's room.

I would say that, in general, I'm a decisive man. In my line of work, indecision can mean the difference between life and death. Waffling benefits no one.

But I haven't one earthly idea what do about Ray.

Not at this minute, not at any time.

Two weeks with this Ray, and I'm no closer to understanding him or his motivations now than I was that first confusing, arousing night.

This Ray. My Ray, is how I find myself thinking of him, differentiating between the Ray I know now, and the Ray I knew then, who was never—whatever else he may have been—mine.

This Ray is a mystery to me. Usually I like mysteries; they compensate for the duty that settles too heavy a mantle on me sometimes. Mysteries are merely problems to be solved, but Ray…I think Ray would say he's a problem, but nothing I can find about him supports that.

Yes, I've been doing some covert research on my new partner. More covert than measuring his nose. What I've found is confounding, much like the man himself. His fingerprints bring up a record under the name S.R. Kowalski, citations mixed with reprimands, nothing in the way of personal information, and a stunning silence regarding his transfer to the 27th. I should have expected that; it's the whole point of the exercise, and yet it still surprised me.

It's as if he disappeared without a trace. Just like Ray Vecchio.

What is clear from my meager findings is that a chasm seems to exist between Ray's perception of himself and others' perception of him. Even my father said that he's a good man, and both my instinct and logic look at his actions since we've met and agree.

But it seems there's no telling Ray that.

As I'm standing, hat in hand, ready to brave Ray in the restroom, he emerges, wiping his hands on the sides of his jeans. My eye is drawn to the movement, to the swing of his hips, the long lines of his legs. My mouth goes dry.

"You ready?" he says as he reaches me.

I nod.

"What do I owe you?" he asks, pointing to the bill in my hand.

I make a stab at emulating his usual nonchalant dismissal of payment from me. He quirks an eyebrow at me in response, but just says "thanks" and heads toward the door. He moves lightly, his feet barely touching the floor, quick, graceful, but I see worry in the tight line of his mouth, as if he carries a weight he's afraid to show. He is a walking contradiction.

"You coming?" he asks, holding the door open, and I realize I've been staring. "Come on, we got perps to peep."

Indeed. I pay the cashier, taking time to count my change and thank her while I listen to the steady tap of Ray's foot on the floor behind me. As I finally turn to the door, he gives me a look I'm learning to read easily—it's his 'I'm dying of waiting' look.

"I didn't realize you were so eager to apprehend these particular suspects," I say as I pass him. "Not," he says. "It's just, you know, why sit?"

"Aren't we on our way to spend several hours doing just that?" I ask him.

He shakes his head. "That's different," he says, as if I should know that already and he shouldn't really have to explain.

I wonder if perhaps a Ray-to-English dictionary could be arranged.

As we walk to his car, I see the sun setting behind a wall of clouds. At home, that would mean a storm brewing on the horizon. Here, it's just the end to another day, the half-lit prelude to another night. I wonder if tonight will be any different from the other nights, if we will forsake action for words, if I will manage to piece together more of the strange, jumbled puzzle that is my new partner.

We haven't really talked since that first fateful night. I accept the blame for that, if blame is to be assigned. I've done my best to knit together the gaping wound that led me to speak so impulsively, and to act even more impulsively. I manage very well during the day, when we have cases to work, clues to track down, suspects to apprehend.

I don't do as well at night. I don't do nearly as well.

Although I don't understand why he does it, and we've never discussed it, I continue to take what he offers. Perhaps because it's something that feels simple in a situation that has become increasingly complex. Something straightforward in a place where nothing seems to be making sense.

Touch…any touch…from him is welcome, even if I don't understand what prompts it.

My body exhibits none of my mind's ambivalence. I've never been very good at saying no to this, not when I…want it…so badly, and I seem to find it impossible to say no to him. The best I've been able to manage is to not invite myself back to his apartment; at least I haven't succumbed to that temptation. To do so, when I don't know how he feels, or what drives him to act as he does, would be beyond irresponsible. And I do still maintain some semblance of responsibility here.

At least I tell myself so.

There is no reason for the depth of my feelings for him; no reason to it. There's no basis for it, beyond the physical. Like a stray dog, I soak up the attention he gives me, pretend it's affection. I let him do what he wants, the way he let me on the first day I met him, and I try not to ask for more.

I don't let myself reach for him. Ever.

But I let him reach for me. Always.


Me of Little Brain is having trouble focusing.

I've got the binocs, and the lukewarm coffee, and a picture of the guys we're supposed to be keeping an eye out for—like anyone else is going to be skulking around the warehouse district at nine at night. If I were a good cop, which I'm not taking for granted these days, I'd be thinking about Pantelli, and how good it's gonna feel to scrape his ass off the pavement.

But my mind's not on my work, so Fraser's going to have to fill that Good Cop role for awhile. Easy for him; just another night on the job. My mind's having a hard time going any further than the seat next to me, and the man in it, and my body's having an even harder time, if you know what I mean. Everything's hard.

I get close in the dark like this and it's hard to think about anything except how much I'd like to get this samba on the dance floor, get as much of him as he's willing to give me. I want what I had that first night, only without so many clothes, and without him being so sad.

You know, we could probably have let that first night go; we had some good excuses lined up if we needed them. We'd had ourselves a hell of a day, and I don't know have to know Fraser real well, and I don't know Fraser real well, to know that talking about him and Vecchio was probably a lot harder on him than anything else we did that day, and we did a lot.

Harder to excuse the next day, and the next, and all those days (all those nights) between then and now, when we work all day, and he'll go eat with me, but he won't go home with me. He hasn't set foot in my apartment since that first night. I don't know what's up with that, but whatever. He does that heavy-starched thing he does—you know what I'm talking about. He's all polite, all official, napkin in his lap, right up to the part where we're headed home and I pull in an alley somewhere, where it's dark. Where it's quiet.

Right up to that part, I know jack squat about him.

Then he lets me in a little. Just a little.

What he'll do is sit there in the car wherever I find a place, just sit there and look at me and not say anything and not do anything until I reach for him, fumble around with his pants, get him out and start to suck on him, and then he lets go enough to plant his feet on the floorboards and thrust himself up into my mouth, lets go enough to get his hands clenched in my hair, and I hear that stifled sound he makes when he's going to come. He won't yell. Won't moan. He just stops breathing and makes that sound, like it hurts, like it's hurting him, and then I feel him, hot and salty, pouring into me, and I hear his dick saying loud and clear everything he won't let his mouth say.

I hear that.

The rest I have to…what…interpret? intuit? Fraser doesn't tell me a thing. What little I've figured out, I've figured out on my own: he can't ask for it. He won't start anything. But he never says no. I never hear anything that sounds like no. He lets me, likes me to do it; I know he does. It's just that he can't do the reaching, or he doesn't know how, or he's been taught not to.

For two weeks I've been sucking him off in the front seat of my car. Makes my head spin sometimes, makes me dizzy. Feels like drinking a beer too fast, drinking him down. Heady stuff, that Benton Fraser. Heady stuff. We don't even try to make it last—why bother? We're taking chances enough as it is. I suck him quick and dirty, do a few things I've learned he likes, and before we can even get the windows steamed up, he's shooting. Slip, slap, that's that.

We don't kiss. Never have. I've never seen his chest. Never seen his back, or his thighs or his bare feet. I only ever see his dick, red and thick and stretching toward me. It's all the naked he lets himself be. But he's always hard when I reach for him. I never have to work him up. I wonder if he was like this for Vecchio; I wonder if he made Vecchio feel like this.

And I wonder if Vecchio made him feel like that, like naked was bad. Reaching out was bad. Giving in was something to hold out for, until the last minute, until you couldn't stand it anymore, and God help you if you groaned a little.

What kind of screwed-up life is that? Makes mine look pretty normal.

At least when I fuck up, I only fuck myself up. I didn't fuck up anybody else. Miz Stella's cool without me, no worries there. My folks have got it made without me, out in the RV in AZ. I took myself out of their lives and only fucked myself over. Vecchio, there, he did the opposite—took himself out and fucked Fraser over.

I've got a list as long as my arm of things I want Ray Vecchio to answer for if he ever decides to sashay his ass back into our lives. Like, what did you do to this guy? And why? And have you got any tips on how to undo a button or two? Cuz much as I love his dick in my mouth, much as I love the taste of him sliding down my throat, there's more there, lots more, and I'm not getting any of it.

I won't let him suck me. He hasn't offered, I wouldn't ask. Somebody's got to keep their eyes open, and his 20/20 beats my 20/300 any day. Sometimes, if I'm really desperate, I'll put his hand on me, and he'll finish me off into his snow white handkerchief, but usually I go home and whack myself silly, thinking about him and that sound he can't bring himself to make. I'm dumb, but I'm not dumb enough to try anything more while we're out there exposed. Alleys aren't the safest place for us, but I'm not pushing him on the my place thing, and his place is like Fort Knox. So if we're gonna do this, and we are, or at least we have been, alleys it is.

I wonder if he and Vecchio did it in alleys. I wonder if that's why he's always hard when I go for him.

I still have trouble picturing it—him and Vecchio. Naked, rolling around, fucking each other. I just can't see it. Fraser's wound tighter than a golf ball, and he was the one who seemed pretty okay with the whole thing. Hard to imagine what Vecchio was like. Maybe I'll ask him sometime. Yeah, and maybe me and Stella will get back together, open up a cooking school, and have a litter of kids.

But I think I will. I'll ask him sometime. Hell, maybe I'll ask him now—might help get my mind out of his pants.

Cuz I'm not sure I'm doing him any favors, here. Maybe it's not just me I'm fucking up this time.

Maybe, when you get right down to it, I'm no better than Vecchio.


Ray and I have been sitting in the car for almost two hours now, watching a building approximately 300 meters away. Just watching, through binoculars, as nothing happens, and then more nothing happens. Two more hours of this, then the next shift will relieve us and then they can watch nothing happen.

Ordinarily, a stakeout like this wouldn't bother me at all. I've learned there's an art to being still—when the body must remain at rest, the mind must awaken. Unfortunately, in this particular instance, my mind hasn't a prayer against my body, which now sees a dark alley and…responds. Helplessly. Rashly. Regardless of my admonitions to it. It is a learned response, a lesson absorbed through the skin. My body responds to my commands as well as Diefenbaker, which is to say not at all.

I have spent nearly two hours stretched on a torture rack. Erect without relief; an unknown state recently. My body has become accustomed to immediate, almost instant gratification, the fear of discovery lending an undeniable jolt to what's already a mind-boggling experience. My body has learned to seek Ray's mouth, to resist holding back, to give in quickly, completely. My body has a will of its own, and it bends, willingly, to Ray.

I wonder if he's experiencing any similar difficulty, and even as my mind forms the thought, I see him shift in his seat, tugging at the center seam of his jeans. Yes, we're of similar mind. Or at least of similar body. I feel the tension ratchet up another notch, feel it as heat in my face, a pulse in my groin, and I brace myself for his hand burrowing through my clothes, wait for him to lean toward my lap. I'm ready. I've been ready for some time now.

Instead he leans the other way, props his elbow on the sill of the car door, and coughs once, clearing his throat.

"So, Fraser," he says.

I exhale. Tonight, it appears, we will have words. I feel my braced muscles start to relax; all but one, which would have been as content with action.

"Yes, Ray?" I answer. I have trouble finding a balance; too often I say either too much or too little. Perhaps I'll do better tonight, or perhaps he will provide the balance.

"How'd you and Vecchio hook up?" he says. He sounds as if he's making idle conversation, but his body's tense, and he's drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. He should know the answer from the research he apparently did, but I don't mind telling it again.

"Well, as you know, I first came to Chicago on the trail —"

"Yeah, yeah, Fraser, I know the story. I didn't mean that. I meant how'd you…you know…hook up?"

Ah. Now that's a different matter. How like Ray to…how did he put it once?…cut to the chase. How like Ray to do that.

I suppose it isn't odd that our relationship is odd. Most people meet, exchange pleasantries, facts about who they are, what they do. General information leads to specifics, and then, if there's enough interest, to personal, even intimate interaction. Ray and I have gone about this entirely backwards. We started with intimate, moved on to personal, and have yet to find our way to specifics about each other, let alone the basics of general information one would expect to know.

I see the trend is about to continue, because as it was on the first night of our acquaintance, I find myself incapable of prevarication with him. When he can bring himself to ask a direct question, I feel compelled to answer him as directly.

"You'll probably think it's strange," I begin, and I hear him snort softly beside me.

"That's a given, Fraser," he says, but he blunts the edge with a smile.

I feel myself smiling back; something else I can't seem to control when I'm with him.

"We first…acted on our feelings…after an extended stay in the hospital," I tell him. They were my feelings, more than Ray's, but I can't bring myself to reveal that. If I were to be completely honest, I would say that I thought Ray touched me for the first time out of pity, then was surprised at his own response.

Surprised. Too small a word for his astonishment, his appalled fascination. But once he started, once we…one touch led to another, and another, until there was no stopping him. Us. He offered a reluctant oasis of comfort in a desert of hurt, and in my pain, my…need, I ignored the uncertainty that shifted beneath the surface and accepted his sacrifice.

While I can't determine what makes this Ray reach for me every night, there's no hesitation in him, no dissonance, never any sense that he wishes he were somewhere else. It's that, I think, that propels my own reckless response to him. It's…wonderful…to feel so wanted.

"What were you in for?" he says, and it sounds like a question that might be asked of a former prisoner, which isn't too far off base.

"Gunshot wounds," I say, hoping he'll be satisfied with that; certain that he won't.

"Both of you at the same time? Shit, what happened? Bust go bad?" he asks. He's looking at me now, turned toward me in the seat, and though I know he's physically no closer than he was a moment ago, he feels closer.

Do I tell him? He already seems to feel some animosity towards Ray, which is entirely my fault, though I didn't mean to leave him with a bad impression of his predecessor. I could let it go. It's not in the record; I know that. But part of me knows there's enough here already that we're not saying, there's enough that we don't know.

I rub my eyebrow. "It was a mistake," I tell him. "He was aiming for…someone else."

The fidgeting comes to an abrupt halt.

"He, who?" Ray asks.

My silence must provide ample answer for him.

"He shot you?" For a whisper, it's remarkably loud in my ears.

I don't think I've ever seen Ray so still—he looks frozen in his seat, contorted to face me, his face shocked white.

"Where?" he says.

"At the train station, on one of the platforms," I answer.

He moves at that, a sharp, uncoordinated jerk, and his hand comes down heavy on my arm. "Fraser, no, where on you. Where did he shoot you?"

Oh. It will sound bad, won't it? It will sound bad when I tell him. "In the back."

"In the…fuck," Ray mutters. There's more muttering, but I can't decipher it. The stillness is gone, replaced by agitation so extreme I think he might pull the steering wheel right off, then he's shoving open the car door, scrambling out, and by the time I catch up with him, he's leaning his hands on the side of one of the warehouses, his head down.

"Ray —"

He wheels around and drops back, letting the wall take his weight. "I do not like this guy, Fraser. How come I couldn't come in and be somebody else? How come I gotta be this…jerk? Huh? Jesus."

I don't know how to answer that, and am trying to formulate an adequate response when I realize the question was rhetorical. He is, in fact, already continuing.

"So where'd he get his? You shoot him?" His tone is belligerent, rough, and though I know it's not directed at me, not really, I find myself bristling.

"No, Ray, of course not," I say, and take a deep breath myself. "Actually, he was trying to save my life when it happened. He placed himself in the path of the bullet."

Like someone else I know.

Ray's pacing now. "Let me get this straight. First he shot you, then he saved your life, and then you started crawling all over each other? That's seriously fucked, Fraser, you know that, don't you? Seriously fucked."

I watch him stride back and forth, and listen to him dissect my relationship with Ray given the little information he has, and though I wouldn't phrase it quite so succinctly, I think there's more than a grain of truth in his pithy assessment. Ray and I had, at best, a damaged relationship.

But it had grace notes, too. I don't know how to explain to this Ray what the other Ray meant to me. How his friendship warmed me. How the mistake he made kept me from making an even bigger one; how eventually I was able to see that the physical pain I endured was nothing compared to the inevitable destruction of my soul had I gone with Victoria.

Ray Vecchio saved my life, in more ways than one, more times than I can count.

It wasn't his fault that I loved him for it.


Okay, okay, that's one way to wilt the willie. Sex isn't even on the list of things I want to do right now. No, I want to punch somebody. Damage something. Shed this new skin I'm in and go back to being my own self. Wearing that asshole's skin makes me feel like I need a shower from the inside out. Makes me feel dirty.

I can't decide who's worse off—Fraser, for falling for somebody who'd shoot him in the back, or fuckin' Cruello deVecchio, for more reasons than I feel like going over again.

Hey, at least I don't have to look at that face in the mirror everyday.

He didn't just hurt Fraser, he hurt him.

And I've got to wonder what else Fraser's not telling me. I know that's not the whole story. No way is that the whole story.

One signal's coming through loud and clear, though, the more I hear about Vecchio, but I bet Fraser doesn't have a clue. That story about him looking like Armando Linguine? Bullshit. I bet I wasn't the only cop pulled off a district for undercover duty cuz of some fuck-up. Fraser said he didn't think anyone knew about them, the two of them, but I'd bet money they knew. Oh yeah, they knew. The sexual hijinks, the shot heard 'round the precinct, all of it.

They're playing musical cops, shifting the fuck-ups where we can do the least damage; least that's what it looks like from here. Fraser's been acting like it's some noble gesture or something, Vecchio going off to the Mob, me sliding into his shoes, but there's not a damn thing noble about this. About any of it. Except maybe Fraser, who seems like a good guy right down to the tip of his toes.

Good guy, unless we Rays drive him around the bend and bad him down with us.

But still…nothing I've done is as bad as shooting somebody I love in the back. I guess Vecchio loved him; Fraser seems to think he did. Or maybe Fraser just loved him enough for the both of them. That works, sometimes. Worked for me, for a long time.

But…Christ. The shit Stella and I pulled on each other looks like kindergarten next to Fraser and Vecchio.

How do you get over something like that?

"Well, you try to put it behind you," he says, and that's my first clue that I said that last bit out loud.

"Put it behind you?" I ask him. "You're kidding."

He shifts his balance from one foot to the other. We're into it now, aren't we? Yeah, Fraser, give me a little something here.

"What's done is done, Ray," he says firmly.

"Really? I don't believe that for a minute." See? I can do firm, too.

Don't care how calm he looks, I just don't believe he's done with all that. Yeah, I know, he must've been living with it for awhile; makes sense that it's only a shock to me, but that's it. It's a shock. In the bare light from the security lights nearby, he looks more serious than I've seen him since the first day I met him. Like he's been pushing some things down, and now they're bobbing back up to the surface again. He must not like what he sees on my face because he steps closer, makes me look at him.

"Isn't there anything you've done that you wish you hadn't? That you've had to learn to live with?" he asks me, moving even closer.

How long've we got? It's gonna take more than a couple of hours to list them all. I jerk my head at him. I guess it was a nod.

"Then you understand," he says, like that's it, that's the end of the discussion.

Defending that asshole. Defending himself for defending him.

But damn it, I do understand. I understand perfectly.

Not how Fraser can defend him; I'm never gonna get that one. But the other, yeah, I understand.

I look around. Probably wasn't too far from here, now that I think about it. Ratty bars and warehouse districts—now there's a combination plate for you. It started in a bar, nowhere cops go, more likely to find bad guys than good there. That's why I went. Wasn't feeling good. Wanted to be a little bad. Met a guy there, blond, like me, like Stella. Blue-eyed and a little soft, not fat exactly, but bulky. Frat boy, probably, I thought. Slumming. Of course I felt right at home.

Had a couple beers with him, thought he looked good wearing a smile. Felt something I hadn't felt for awhile stir up inside, didn't even recognize it at first, then he turned, looking over his shoulder at something, and his thigh rubbed up against mine, and it was like he'd licked me, that's how it felt. Like he'd touched bare skin. By the next beer, I was so hard I had to stand up, and then I was closer to him, almost leaning over him, and he kept it up, a bump here, a subtle rub there, until I thought I'd either just slip him the tongue right there over the peanut shells, or we'd have to get the hell out of there.

We got the hell out. I asked him if he wanted to go with me. He didn't ask why, or where, just threw some bills on the bar and followed me. Walked a few blocks, side by side, found a place a lot like this—warehouses on both sides, just enough light to see.

Jesus, I was stupid. He could've rolled me, fucked me, killed me. I could have been one dead Kowalski. Instead, he nudged me back against the wall, went down on his knees, and unzipped me.

Maybe I'm sicker than I thought. Maybe I keep doing that to Fraser, that exact same thing, cuz it turned me on like a motherfucker when I got it done to me. I'm there, leaning back against the wall of some greaseball's warehouse, and this kid, this soft, blond kid, has my dick out and he's looking at it, and I'm looking at him, and down at myself, stiff as a poker, twitching, pale skin against dark jeans, and before I can even ask him his name, he's grabbed it, and he's stuffing it in his mouth, almost chewing on it. Fuck, I never felt anything like it before. My hips shot forward, and I tried to stop, tried not to choke the poor guy, but he held on tight and swallowed me right down, so I put my head back and just…let him.

I didn't know what the lights were at first. Wasn't thinking at all, then, didn't have a single brain cell working on anything except the fact that if I'd known guys sucked cock like that I might not have worried so much about breaking up with The Stel. It was the sound that finally snapped me to. Familiar sounds—radio static, door slam. Realized the guy was off my dick about the same time the flashlight hit me.

Indecent exposure. Hard-on out there waving in the breeze. Exposed. Indecent.

Public drunkenness. If I hadn't flashed ID, I'd have been paddy-wagoned. Got spared that anyway.

That was pretty much the end of me and beer, and definitely the start of me being queer.

Six months later, Viceboy got himself a promotion.

I'm sure at some point somebody said his name. I don't remember it.

Me, I got a transfer to the 27th.

I figured out, one night when I couldn't sleep, replaying the whole thing over and over in my head until I thought I'd go crazy (and I still came thinking about him) that they had to know what the kid had been doing. I mean, shit, my whole dick was covered in spit, flashlight beam bouncing off it, and I don't bend that far. They had to know.

I'm not saying I didn't fuck up. I did. I fucked way up. But I didn't do it alone.

So, yeah, I understand about done being done, and learning to live with things.

I hope that little blond kid's learning to live with himself.

Hope I'm not the only one.

All my hot under the collar goes cold and clammy thinking about it, and I tuck my hands in my armpits so Fraser won't see how shaky they just got. I'm one heebie-jeebie from losing it completely.

How'd we get this far off the subject, anyway? How'd I manage to start out working on him and end up working myself over?


I don't know where Ray's gone. A minute ago he was incontrovertibly present, eyes blazing, fists clenched at his side, and now he looks miles away, his eyes down, his arms crossed over his chest.

He seems to take it all personally, remarkably so for a man who has only known me for a handful of days. But perhaps it has nothing to do with me. Rather than any affront on my behalf, it may simply be that he resents having to take on the identity of a man whose actions he can't condone.

He certainly seemed to resent my mild attempt to defend Ray. I could take this opportunity to set the record straight, to explain in more detail what happened…with Victoria, with Ray…but I don't know what purpose it would serve.

It took me a year to reach the resolution that I just tried to press upon Ray in a matter of minutes.

It isn't fair, and it isn't smart, but I want him to be all the things for me that Ray Vecchio couldn't. That Victoria wouldn't.

I want…so much. From him. From myself.

I'm not sure what just happened, but as tempted as I am to force the issue, this isn't the time or place. We're risking discovery standing out here, so I do something I haven't done for two weeks: I reach out and touch him. I put my hand on his shoulder. It startles him and he jerks under my hand, his eyes lifting to meet mine.

He looks…haunted.

Obviously, there's more going on here than our conversation indicates; as difficult as it was, something worse is unfolding inside Ray.

It strikes me that a puzzle is too tame an analogy for Ray—he's a lake at spring thaw, with the temperature rising; each step closer to the center carries a higher risk.

I haven't let risk stop me before, and I won't now.

Not when there's so much at stake.

But it isn't the time. It isn't the place. I have to repeat these truths to myself because reaching out, touching him, puts my body on red alert. Being this close to him triggers signals that speed through every part of my body in rapid, focused succession, each stronger than the last, but it's definitely not the time for that, and it's certainly not the place.

"We need to get back in the car," I tell him.

He shakes his head, not arguing with me, just shaking off the grip of whatever held him.

"Yeah, okay," he says, and he steps out from under my hand and heads back to the car.

There's an awkward moment as we get resituated.

"Are you all right?" I feel compelled to ask. He seems shaken, but it's obvious he has no interest in sharing what caused it.

He nods. "Yeah. Just…I don't get how you could…with him…" His voice trails off, as if he's said more than he meant to.

How could I? How could I not?

"The heart isn't always wise," I finally respond, even though I'm not sure he was looking for an answer. I don't have any other response for him.

He narrows his eyes and I feel the full impact of his gaze for a minute, then he nods again. "Now that I understand," he says.

He says nothing more, and I don't push him. We settle into our accustomed spots, sipping tepid coffee, and spend two more hours watching nothing happen, not talking about anything of substance, not touching.

He doesn't reach for me. I don't reach for him.

Two more hours of nothing.

I can only conclude, as I'm standing on the steps of the Consulate at the end of our shift, watching his tail-lights blur in the distance, that we're not making much headway.

I'm still standing at the edges of his lake, listening to the ice crack. A precarious perch, to say the least, but I won't let it stop me from stepping out. I will reach the center of him, whether it's safe to do so or not.

If I learned anything from Victoria, from Ray, it is that there are degrees of safety. I'm grateful to them both. Without them, I wouldn't know how much I need to do this, how much I already need this Ray. I wouldn't know that the effort is worth as much as the result, that love…my mind shies away from the word even as my body embraces it…is a worthy endeavor, regardless of the outcome.

Without them, I wouldn't know myself.


Ruth Ellery's obit was in the morning paper.

I had something to prove, someone to prove it to, and finally, a way to prove it.

I had some unfinished business to take care of.

I stopped listening to Welsh's messages after the first one came in. I wasn't about to clean up another one of Vecchio's messes. No fucking way.

I had better things to do with my time.

Thought I did.

How come I can never just scratch the surface? How come I always gotta open a vein?

Maybe it was the dust in the crypt. Or the whole death-is-all-around us thing. Or maybe Fraser just started asking the right questions. I dunno. All I know is that right there in front of the sometimes-a-cigar-is-just-a-cigar boys, and the crazy lady with the worms, Fraser and I started getting into it. Into it, instead of around it, like we usually do.

I opened up a vein and just bled all over him. I heard it coming out of my mouth—Stella, Ellery, pissing in the bank, oh, and by the way, do you think I'm attractive?—all that, just dribbling out of me, all over him.

And Fraser…well, he took it all in stride.

It worked out all right, today did. I don't know whether Vecchio headed out to the Mob with nine kilos of industrial strength smack under his belt or not; I don't care. I do seem to care about the rest of it—Welsh's been good to me, and it's for sure not Elaine's fault, and even if the jury's still out on The Ducks, nobody deserves to get their short hairs pulled by those I.A. fuckwads, so…

It worked out.

And then we had ourselves a party. Complete with trout and a cabbage pinata. A party, for a guy who's not even here. Any excuse, huh.

I know, I know, it was for me. Fraser did all that, and more, for me today.

Warms the cockles of my heart.

Warms the heartles of my cock.

Fraser went above and beyond today. Not that that's anything new, but he did it for me, and that makes it…It's like some little time bomb that's been ticking in my chest for twenty years finally clicked off.

Yeah, something finally clicked.

"Party's going rather well, I think," I hear him say, close in my ear.

"Oh, yeah," I say. Good as a traditional Yukon celebration's gonna go without snow. Got the penguins though; maybe that counts for something.

Look at Fraser there, dopey guy in a party hat. Never met anybody like him.

We're partners. We're friends. He said so.

But we're more than that, too. Lots more. I think it's time we bared more than our souls.

I think it's about time we got a little naked.

Don't know whether he's reading my mind, or what, but we head out at the same time, stepping over Huey (pretty much; I might have nicked him on my way by).

"You know, Fraser, that was weird, seeing Ellery," I say.

"Yeah, I should imagine," he answers.

"I mean, that guy dogged me my entire life, and now it's like, uh, the sky opened up or something. I dunno," I tell him, and he stops, turns to face me. It's cool to have somebody I can say that to, and not have them look at me like I'm one can short of a six-pack.

Of course, being Fraser, he's gotta take it one step further: "You know, Ray, my father once told me that the sky isn't just above you, that if you look at the horizon, you'll see that it actually touches the ground. So if you think about it, wherever you go, you are actually walking in the sky."

Uh-huh. If you say so, Fraser. "You're a freak."

My freak.

"Understood," he says, and damn if I don't think he does. Understand, I mean.

I don't ask him if he's hungry—we had more than our fair share of cake, and Dief won't need to eat again until tomorrow. I don't ask him if he wants a ride to the Consulate. I just put the car on auto-pilot for my place. If we can deal with the shit we've dealt with today, I think he can handle sitting on my couch.

When he realizes where I'm going, he says, "Ray?"

I just say, "Okay?" and he looks at me for what feels like a long time, then smiles and says "okay" back.

That's more like it.

The rug's pulled back; my dancing feet show. The pictures on the desk are in different order, and my coffee cup's sitting clean in the dish drainer. He really is a freak.

He stands for a minute in my living room, rubbing his hatband in his fingers. Then he clears his throat and says, "Ray, I hope you know that under ordinary circumstances; that is, I never would have —"

"Don't sweat it, Fraser," I tell him, waving off his apology. "I'd have done the same thing, if it was you."

At that, he relaxes a little, goes from 'atten-hut' to 'at-ease'.

I want him more relaxed than that. We had a good day today. A real good day. Never would have thought it'd turn out this good.

"Take a load off, Fraser," I say, pointing to the couch. "Here—give me your coat."

He looks startled at that, but I keep my hand out, walk over to him. Come on, Fraser, it's a baby step. Watching him unbuckle and unbutton and slide out of his uniform coat makes me hard. He's still got on suspenders, and some kind of long-sleeved undershirt, but there's the neck I sucked on two weeks ago today. I'm standing close enough that I can see the pulse beating in it. While I'm watching, I can see his skin turn pink, then red, until his whole face is blazing. In his eyes I see every minute I spent on him in the last fourteen days.

I could jump him right now, and it'd all be over in about three minutes, like we've been doing. Or I could take his coat, walk away from him, hang it up, and tell him over my shoulder, "Take off your boots if you want," like I don't care either way, then we might drag this out for…maybe…ten minutes.

I go in the kitchen and gulp down some water, try to get my dick to back off, and when I get back to the living area, he's sitting on the couch in his thick white Mountie socks, his boots at the door, like he could jump into them on his way out if he needed to.

Now we're getting somewhere.

I sit beside him, take off my own boots, and socks, too, just because, and then I turn toward him, lay my arm on the back of couch and say, "Thanks, Fraser."

I can read the "what for?" on his face, but he manages to just come out with, "You're quite welcome, Ray."

I guess I get to pick what I'm thankful for. My eye settles on the dreamcatcher. I put it on top of a lamp when I got in, and it's making weird shadows on the ceiling.

"That'll work out here, right?" I ask.

He nods, like he thinks there's actually some magic in a bunch of string and a feather or two. Hell, maybe I do, too.

Guess Vecchio's gonna be having some bad dreams.

I can't seem to make myself feel bad about that.


Ray thanked me.

Despite the challenges of the day, or perhaps because of them, he has gained some measure of peace. I see it in the relaxed sprawl of his body on the couch—so different from the vibrating tension I had almost decided was his natural state. I'd like to think this is his natural state—open, comfortable—and that if I try hard enough, I can attain that state as well. There's nothing I'd like more.

As interesting and intriguing as that frayed Ray can be, I prefer this one. I feel more at ease with him. The more open he became, telling me his fears, his history, his disappointments and worries, the more open I found myself. Right now, I feel I could tell him anything.

I stare for a few minutes at the shadows the dreamcatcher has painted on the ceiling. Light, striped with dark. That seems fitting somehow. Yes, it will work out here. It can work anywhere, if you believe in it enough.

"You know, I was very fortunate," I tell him, indicating the dreamcatcher.

"How so?" he asks.

"It used to be that you had to wait weeks for an eagle feather, even if one happened to be available. But with the advent of fax technology, it takes only a matter of days to process a request," I say. I know it's not subtle, but it's important to me that he knows, that he understands, who the gift was for.

The smile hits his eyes before his mouth, and his hand moves, clasps the back of my neck and squeezes. I'm tilting toward him before I can stop myself, and then, when I still have the chance to pull back, I…don't. I lean forward instead, let his hand on the back of my neck ease me to him, to meet his mouth.

It's daylight. There's no fear of discovery. There's no rush. His hands, rather than targeting my lap, are pushing down my suspenders, tugging my shirt out from my pants. I feel one hand, steady and warm, slide across my back, and I shiver under the intimacy of it: His bare hand. My bare back. His mouth on mine is hot, his tongue slick, and it feels just as erotic there as it always has…further down. Moreso, perhaps, because I can respond, twine my tongue with his, give him a small measure of the pleasure he's been giving me.

This is how it should always be.

This is how I always wanted it to be.

He edges closer to me and releases my mouth. A minute later, a quick tug has my henley over my head and tossed over the back of the couch. Then he's working the buttons on my uniform pants, sliding them off, and my undershorts and socks as well, until I'm naked, sitting on his couch. He follows suit, and then we're there, a heartbeat apart, both breathing hard, looking each other over for the first time. He's built in long, clean lines, sharp angles. I feel his gaze on my skin like fingers, like a kiss. Automatically, I lean back, open my body up to that heat. I can't watch; if I do, there's a good chance my primed body will finish this before it's really begun, and that would be a shame.

I wait, each second dragging, slower by far than my pulse, which has started to race. I feel the rough fabric of the couch under my back and arms and legs, aware of its stroke on every single nerve ending until I think if he doesn't touch me soon, I'll…I'll…

"Yo, Fraser," I hear him say softly.

I force my eyes open. He's sitting back, still staring at me, but the heated intensity has shifted to concern. I lean up on one elbow.

"You're okay with this, right?" he asks, trailing the fingers of one hand from my chest down to my navel.

The confusion I'm feeling must show, because he moves closer again, shifts his hands to either side of me and leans over me. "You want this?" he insists.

Yes, yes, yes. I don't understand why he doesn't know that, but I answer anyway. It isn't the strangest thing I've been asked in similar circumstances.

"Yes," I whisper.

"Can you show me?" he asks.

Show him? Show him what?

"Ray," I start to say, and am shocked silent at the sound of my voice—raw, almost pleading.

He swallows hard. "I'm not jerking you around, Fraser. I'm not. I just…I want to make sure we're doing this right, or at least that we're not doing it wrong."

I look up at his face, already so familiar. He's laid himself bare before me.

He sniffs, then leans down, rubs his forehead on mine, and says, "I know I signed on the dotted line, and I'm gonna be him wherever I have to, and if I have to with you, then I'll try, I swear I will, but I can't make any guarantees. I don't know if I can do it. Keep doing it. I'm, um, I'm not really into that passive-aggressive shit."

It's hard to think. My mind and body are at war again, viciously so. I'm sweating, aching, pulse throbbing so loud in my ears I have to concentrate hard to hear him. But I have to hear him; it's vitally important. Once again, he's opened up, and once again, I have to sift through what he's said to figure out what he means.

I slide my hands up to the back of his neck, and lift his head so I can see his face. "Passive-aggressive?"

He straddles my thighs and sits up, and the brush of his erection against my stomach sends flickers of flame through me. Concentrate. Concentrate.

"Yeah, you know—you passive, me aggressive. It's, well, it's not me. Of course, I'm not me, either, but here, I mean, when it's just us, I'd like to just be me, if that's okay." He stutters through the last part, but I've fixated on the first, and that message came through without any distortion.

It feels like a fist to the face: He's been giving me what he thinks I wanted from Ray Vecchio—aggression to my…passivity.

I remember his hands, reaching for me in the car in the dark, his urgent mouth, the silence between us in those moments. How rarely, very rarely, he would take my hand and put it in his lap, ask for my touch with a touch of his own, and I'm ashamed of myself.

And I think about those lost, stolen nights with Ray Vecchio—my groans stifled against his mouth, my hands pushed away, the feel of coarse sheets at my back. I can see him above me, feel him deep inside me, deeper than I ever felt him anywhere else. It was the closest he ever let me; the closest I ever felt to him.

Ray Vecchio always closed his eyes. Every single time.

That wasn't what I wanted. It's what I settled for.

"We live what we learn," I tell him, letting my hands rest feather-light on his thighs. I can see the response to that small touch in his penis, which twitches and swells. "We only know what we're taught. You're the same way, Ray."

He moves above me, a slow twist that somehow manages to combine seduction with comfort. "What's that? Haiku?"

I feel warmth spread through me, different from the heat the closeness of his body engenders. Ray would never talk to me when we were like this, close like this, together like this. We talked before, and after, but never during. It's a nice change. I like it.

I stroke him slowly, feeling the heft of muscle in his thighs, the bristle of hair under my palms.

"I just meant that we're all conditioned to respond—" I have to stop because he's leaning over again, curving his face into my neck, sliding his erection against mine, and I momentarily lose my train of thought. I lift my hips up to his, already seeking his rhythm, and conversation loses all appeal.

"I'll do anything you want," I manage finally, and I can hear a fine tremor in my voice.

He shakes his head; I feel it in the brush of his hair against my neck, and he presses his thumb to my collarbone and makes a buzzing sound. "Wrong answer, Fraser. Try again."

Oh, dear. He still wants to talk. I don't want to talk. I want to feel, I want to disconnect my brain for awhile, live in my body, live on his. He's pulling back now, lifting me (I didn't know he was so strong), and before I can take a breath, we've reversed positions. He's stretched back on the couch, his head over the arm, completely open, completely…vulnerable. Now I'm the one above, the one with the leverage, the one who can choose to stay or go, how hard, how much, how long.

I feel a smile begin somewhere down around my heart, feel it come into full-bloom on my face.

"You'll do anything I want?" I ask, my hands homing in on the smooth, sleek space below his rib cage and settling there.

He raises his head and grins at me. "Closer."

One more try, and then that's all the talking I plan to do. "We'll do what we want?"

His head drops back again, and my eyes are drawn to his throat, to the movement in it as he says, his voice lazy and warm again, "Now you're getting it."


I'd figured getting him out of his clothes would be like washing Lake Michigan off Dief—lots of barking, a snap or two, but eventually he'd see reason. But he just…let me. Just sat there while I unwrapped him like a present.

I couldn't figure that out.

Then he dropped back on the couch, closed his eyes, and laid there, like a lump on a log. Like he was waiting for something. Like some kind of sacrifice or something. And I started thinking about Vecchio, and him, and how he never really did tell me anything much about the two of them—except the whole thing about getting shot, which still gets my balls in a knot just thinking about it—but I had a good idea, looking at him.

Yeah, I got a real good idea what that was all about. Looks like it was all about anything but Fraser, and what he might want. And it seemed like Fraser just lying there, waiting for it, was a lot like Fraser sitting up in my car, waiting for me to go down on him; like that's all he knew how to do—wait for it.

Which sucks.

So I'm glad we had that little talk, hard as it was, glad to see him liven up a little, grab a little something for himself. If I'm right, it's about damn time. If I'm not, it's still good for him to turn it around now and then, do the pouncing instead of getting pounced on.

Pounce. That's what he did. Soon as I told him he was on the right track, he went for it, and now we're half on the couch, half on the floor and he's licking me, just slobbering all over me, and it's cool, it's good. His mouth's hot, wherever it goes, hot and wet, and he's already making more noise than I've heard in the past two weeks put together, humming on me.

We're still not gonna make it very long; he's already moving me onto the rug, covering up all those lonely footsteps, nudging my legs apart and crawling in between them, his eyes hot on me, hot like his hands, like his mouth. He's really beautiful. Is that queer to say? I guess it is, but you know what? I am what I am, and he's…really beautiful.

He looks good up there, and I have to put my hands out beside me, hold onto a little bit of rug so I won't just yank him down and get this freakshow over and done. He almost does me in when he leans over—God, could he go any slower?—and rubs his head on my chest. I think maybe he's been spending too much time with the wolf. Or I have, cuz even just that feels damn good to me.

"Ray," he moans right against me.

"Yeah," I say back, shifting him up so he's got one of my nipples in his sights, and then in his mouth. Good shot, Fraser. You're a good shot, too. Oh, yeah.

"You really are Ray." He stops licking me long enough to look at me. No ghosts there. No shadows. "It's your name."

"Uh-huh," I say. "All my life."

"It suits you," he says, then he wanders back down to my nipple and wets it down again.

Yeah, it suits me. I live with it, answer to it. Share it with somebody who didn't have a goddamn clue what to do with an unwrapped gift like Benton Fraser. His loss. His fucking loss.

My gain.

I keep my eyes on him, make sure if he wants to swap who's doing what to who, I'm ready, but he looks like he's doing fine. Spends more time on some places than I might, like the inside of my elbows, and my armpits. Should have figured that one, Mr. Scratch-n-Sniff. But if he likes it, I'll try it. Doesn't hurt to try new things.

Bury the past, start over, retrace my steps and…

Oh, shit, he's moving down, his head's going down, that mouth of his slobbering someplace that actually appreciates it, and it's good, so good I have to move, jack my knees up to get in deeper, get my hands on his cheeks, feel myself going in and out, and we're both making noise now, good noisy noise.

His eyes are open, watching me watch him, and I stay with him right to the end, right to the good part. I make him let go before I shoot, and we both watch that, too, me swelling up in his hand and going off all over everywhere. I get it all over us—his hair, the rug, my belly, his hand, even got a line on my collarbone.

He comes back up and licks that off, of course, smears us both down, and then I get him, all of him, all probably 200 pounds of seriously misguided Mountie sprawled on me and moving, thrusting, that big red erection I've been getting to know finally getting to know a little more of me, introducing itself to my hip, to my wet stomach, matted-down hair there, soft dick.

Makes an impression. A good one. This is so much better than anything else I've done, better than that quickie with Viceboy in the alley, better than the other half-hearted, all-dicked experiences I've had since then. This is just…better. I wrap my arms around him, tuck his head in my neck and hang onto him while he rides it out, hear him panting, feel his mouth move on me. When he comes, his whole body stiff as his dick, stiff and coming strong from his head to his feet, he doesn't say our name. He just says, "You…you…"

That works.

Then I get to lay there for awhile, covered in spit and ick and him, while his hands slide up and down my arms, and my chest, then he rolls me over and goes to work on my back, my neck, up in my hair. Feels like he's making up for something; like he's getting in touches he missed out on before.

That works, too.

Yeah, this might work out okay. I know it's like saying a scratch is better than a bite, but I think, when you get right down to it, I am better than Vecchio. At least when it comes to Fraser. At least when it comes to this with Fraser.

There's still a lot I don't know about him, and there's still a lot of shit about me he hasn't dug up yet. But I think we've done enough for one day, gone far enough.

I'm not going anywhere. He's not going anywhere.

Might as well leave something to talk about tomorrow, right?

Might as well save something for later.

For right now, I'm just gonna see if he can handle sleeping in a real bed. With a real live person sleeping beside him. See if he can handle waking up with one.

All the other shit can wait.

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