Fraser lay on his cot, unable to sleep. He was all out of ideas. The reasonable explanation would be to accept that he had finally succumbed to madness. His last psychological examination had been a little less than reassuring on the subject of his mental stability… and talking to his dead father really didn’t help his case… talking to his dead father, right…
Fraser sat up abruptly. Maybe he had had a hole in his bag of marbles for a much longer time—but if he could talk to his dad then why shouldn’t it be possible to speak to Ray? Decisively, Fraser strode over to his closet and flung the door wide.
A row of hangers and a shelf bearing blankets greeted him.
Fraser closed the door again, counted to ten, and pulled the door open again. Still nothing. There was just his closet. No cabin in the middle of the wilderness. As if his dad had simply decided he didn’t need an office after all.
Exhausted, Fraser fell into his office chair. Somehow, being able to visit his usual hallucination would have been reassuring. Now he felt as if he had really lost his mind – he couldn’t have imagined everything, could he?
Sleep was the farthest thing from Fraser’s mind. He needed something to calm his frayed nerves. So Fraser went into the kitchen to make tea. His grandmother had used tea as a cure for literally everything. Fraser had soon learned that tea didn’t really help when you hurt, but it did provide a soothing kind of comfort that made the hurt easier to swallow.
Fraser filled water in the kettle and opened a drawer to get the box of matches out. He struck a match and ignited the gas flame. He almost burned his fingers his eyes were so mesmerized by the blue flame.
‘Isn’t there something about the flames releasing the soul or something?’ Fraser heard Ray’s voice in his ear. Ray made him promise not to get him a water burial… Ray’s last words had implored him – multiple times in fact – to remember his promise. The blue flame kept dancing merrily on the stove.
Maybe Ray had known… he had seemed so calm… so damn calm… Fraser gripped the tabletop tightly.
After several deep breaths, Fraser managed to put the kettle on. He needed to think this through.
Back in his office with a steaming cup of tea at his elbow, Fraser contemplated what this would mean. There was no—no body to burn… which meant that if Fraser was supposed to burn Ray’s remains… he had to…
His eyes flicked to his notebook that was lying, as always, right in front of him on his desk. He had to burn the notebook.
Fraser swallowed hard. But the notebook was his only connection to Ray—the only proof of his existence. If he burned that then… he would have nothing but memories. And if it didn’t work then nothing could undo the damage. The notebook would be gone forever and with it all accounts of Ray.
It took Fraser a week to work up the necessary courage to follow through with his idea. And had it not been for Turnbull, Fraser might never have reached that point. But missing Ray was almost… tangible, a sentient being that controlled all of his thoughts. It was a longing so fierce he was left brittle and wide open.
His old colleagues at the 27th and the Vecchio family were very sympathetic… but that only made it worse. No one remembered Ray. No one understood how much Ray had meant to him. His sudden and astonishingly bright smiles. The way Ray’s fingers understood him so well; he had always known exactly how to touch him… Ray’s talking had been so animated… so alive… Fraser took a shuddering breath.
He had no one to talk to about his loss. What was even worse: people actually pitied him for feeling the loss at all. They didn’t understand that his grief was real… because they didn’t think Ray was.
When the weekend came around, though, Constable Turnbull asked him if Fraser might be able to provide him with a few items for a small camping trip. Despite the cold and the hint of snow in the air Turnbull assured him that it was the perfect condition to brush up on his astronomy knowledge. Fraser thought that Turnbull was probably just trying to help in his own way, keeping Fraser occupied, providing him with some little distraction.
He didn’t really believe that Turnbull’s flashlight had just now broken down or that he had really run out of waterproof matches; no self-respecting Mountie would leave the house without those. No, Fraser supposed that Turnbull did it solely for his benefit.
“Constable Fraser, would you care to accompany me?” Turnbull asked after a very improbable story about the first time he had spent the night underneath the stars.
Fraser shook his head. “No, thank you. I’m afraid I wouldn’t be such good company—excuse me, I’ll go fetch those matches. I’ll be back before you can say Jimmy Crack Corn.”
Before Turnbull could argue with him, Fraser escaped to the relative safety of his office. He leaned back against the door and sighed with relief.
He pulled a small box out from one of the shelves to get the matches. His heart stuttered in an erratic pattern as his hands grazed a small, smooth metal object. A benzene lighter…. Ray’s benzene lighter. Gently, Fraser’s fingertips glided over the cold surface. He had camped in the wilderness with Ray once… well, Ray had insisted that a park in Chicago was not an approximation of wilderness, but still… Fraser’s eyes crinkled with a soft smile.
They had cooked spaghetti over an open fire and traded ghost stories. Ray’s lighter must’ve ended up with the paraphernalia when they had collected their things in the almost darkness of the flickering camp-fire.
The lighter felt real and solid in Fraser’s hand. His eyes went back to the drawer that contained his notebook.
“Turnbull, here are the matches you wanted,” Fraser thrust them at Turnbull. He could barely contain his excitement.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to go on a short field trip? I can assure you the weather is supposed to be most remarkable and there is a rather rare constellation of stars to be seen tonight,” Turnbull explained enthusiastically.
“No, I—” Fraser pulled at his collar. “I have a prior… engagement that I want to honor.”
Turnbull thumbed his nose. “Say no more, sir. Some things shouldn’t have to wait.”
On sudden inspiration, Fraser added: “Might I advise you to ask Miss Vecchio if she would like to accompany you?” There was no need to let Renfield know that Francesca had offered to accompany Fraser to go star-gazing, but he thought she might enjoy herself if she gave Turnbull an honest chance.
The mention of Francesca had the desired effect.
“Oh, certainly—that is, if you think she would be interested in the fine art of reading our night sky,” Turnbull’s young face gleamed with earnestness.
“Yes, I’m quite sure. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” Fraser vanished into his office again. From his closet he fetched an old iron box which he used to make fires in areas where an open fire would be dangerous, and gathered the notebook and the lighter in his jacket pockets.
Dief sprang to his feet with his tongue lolling out.
The weather really was nice, but the wind was bitingly cold despite the sun. He had always found sunny winter days invigorating. The park was almost abandoned at this time of year. The sky looked endless and Fraser felt a savage satisfaction at the dead-looking trees around them.
He couldn’t have borne to bury Ray in the summer, when everything would look full to the brim with life. No, Fraser thought it was only fair that nature should be just as dead for the occasion.
Fraser found a quiet spot and deposited the box. With a heavy heart, Fraser pulled the notebook out. It felt heavier than he remembered. Reverently, Fraser’s fingers stroked over the leather one last time. His heart fluttered nervously as he ignited the lighter. The flame danced in the wind.
“…Ray,” Fraser cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Ray, you… were the best man I’ve known… I’m… I’m proud to have called you my friend and I…I…” Fraser’s voice wavered as he soldiered on. “I miss you, Ray… I miss you so much.”
Fraser couldn’t see the box or the notebook behind the veil of tears clouding his vision. He had felt empty for so long… he closed his eyes as the tears spilled over.
“…please come back…” Fraser whispered before he set the notebook aflame.
Dief’s howling was profound and beautiful. Fraser’s shoulders shook as he stood quietly weeping while the flames consumed everything that connected him to Ray. The black of the leather looked red, almost glowing, amidst the fire. The color of lifeblood, not blue at all. Although, in between, Fraser could make out glimpses of blue as the ink of his words was turned to ashes.
“I hope you were right about the story going on even as the book comes to an end, Ray,” Fraser said quietly over the crackling fire.
When the fire died, Fraser sprinkled the ashes around the old tree underneath which he had sat countless times in the past.
Fraser tried hard not to think about his expectations. Because if it came right down to it then what could he expect to happen? It had been the last attempt in a long line of failed undertakings. After he had exhausted all reason, Fraser had followed his feelings. Because he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t help the hope. He couldn’t help that his heart told him that Ray had not been a figment of his imagination.
He spent a rather sleepless night listening for—he had no idea what he was listening for. Something. Anything.
By morning, Fraser had an idea. It was the ultimate test. For better or worse it would show if burning the notebook had been the answer to the question that had driven him out of his mind with grief.
It was still early when Fraser entered the bullpen of the 27th police precinct. Francesca wasn’t even at work yet and the Duck Boys weren’t at their desks either. Fraser asked one of the civilian aids if he could use her computer.
She let him sit down at her station and ambled off in the direction of the break room. Fraser took a deep breath and typed in ‘Ray Kowalski’. The second it took for the computer to look through the database lasted a lifetime. If there wasn’t an entry now then—
1 Match found
Fraser’s heart constricted. He licked his lips and slowly moved the cursor over the entry. Briefly, he closed his eyes before he clicked once with his index finger.
A file opened. There was a file for Ray Kowalski… Fraser felt weirdly surreal. But…
“Oh, dear God, no,” Fraser intoned involuntarily. He read it again. ‘Stanley Raymond Kowalski, Detective First Grade <deceased>.’
Almost against his will, Fraser looked at the date. Ray Kowalski had died almost a year ago, in the spring of the same year. The time when Ray Vecchio had left to work undercover. The time when Ray Kowalski had appeared in Fraser’s life.
Fraser pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. So Ray was never supposed to exist… was he? Fraser remembered pulling his file after he had just met him. And now that same file said he had died at that time… Ray was dead.
He tried to find comfort in the fact that at least Ray was given a real life with this file. This entry showed that a man by that name had lived and died. Had loved and lost. God… after everything… this was almost as bad as losing him again.
Fraser had been an utter fool… he had hoped that Ray would come back if he burned the notebook. He knew that the mere idea was ridiculous and he hadn’t allowed himself to speak it out loud… but the thought had been there anyway.
No, Ray had died. More than 9 months ago…
Fraser pushed away from the computer. He needed time to think. He needed to get away from here. Helplessly, Fraser looked back towards Ray Vecchio’s old desk… but of course there was no old friend there to help him.
Fraser steeled himself and turned in the direction of the exit. Nothing, nothing was keeping him here.
“Ah, Constable. Just the man I’ve been meaning to talk to. A moment, please?” Lieutenant Welsh’s baritone rumbled through the room. Inside, Fraser felt like pretending he didn’t hear him. But his upbringing and the training at Depot wouldn’t let him.
“Of course, sir,” and Fraser couldn’t help it if he sounded as tired as he felt. Welsh leaned against the doorframe leading to his office. He waved him in.
“You know how it is nowadays with projects and fundings and all the political pressure from above, right?”
Fraser tried to come up with an appropriate answer, but inside of his mind everything was blank. There were no words left.
“Lately, international communication and information sharing are really big issues and people will spend loads of money to make security in this country look good. I’ve been thinking that Vecchio and you, you’ve been a real model of international partnership – not exactly a role model of police procedure, mind you, and certainly not a role model I want the rookies to follow, no offence—”
“None taken,” Fraser assured monotonously. Yes, he knew the exact number that went along with the property Ray and he had destroyed over the course of their partnership – not to mention the variety of lawsuits and other complaints that had to be pacified with hard currency. He just didn’t think he could feel any worse about this reminder than he already did.
“Long story short, I decided this station could do with a bit of good publicity so I presented our cross-border-liaison-program—and they went for it. The station actually gets funding to put up with the Canadians.” Welsh’s smile came as close to a grin as it ever would.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Fraser answered as sincerely as he could. He did support this idea of shared international policing, but happiness was as far removed from what he felt as a polar bear from Timbuktu.
Welsh deflated visibly at Fraser’s bland reaction. He looked vaguely uncomfortable. “You’re not going to make this easy, are you?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I’m not making what easy?”
“I’m offering you your old post as liaison officer– it worked for Vecchio and you and I’m willing to believe that it would work again.”
“Lieutenant, I understand that such a program would draw a lot of publicity and I think an open evaluation of the possible candidates would be a fairer solution. After all, the sponsors of this program will want the most efficient candidate for this,” Fraser explained stoically. He wasn’t even sure if he could partner with anyone else at the moment. He needed all of his resources just to get by.
Welsh looked pained. “Fraser, it has already been approved for you,” he admitted. “I’d like you to be our liaison—what do you say?”
Fraser rubbed a knuckle over his eyebrow. “This is… quite the honor,” Fraser said slowly. He didn’t have any good reason to say ‘no,’ did he? Didn’t he owe it the citizens to work where he could do the most good? Although the mere thought of everyday life, of life going on as before, filled Fraser with hopelessness.
“It’ll be a walk in the park,” Welsh elaborated. “The guy who filled in for Vecchio, guy over at the 19th? He decided he was up for this kind of thing and asked to be transferred. Of course, it’s not the same as with Vecchio, but he’s a good cop and I’d like you to give him a fair shot.”
Fraser found himself nodding. Not because he particularly wanted to, but because it might be easier to bear his current existence with just a hint of something to do.
“Yes, I think I might enjoy it,” Fraser said hesitantly. Enjoy it? Was he even listening to himself? …he didn’t think it was fair to the other party in this arrangement. He was hardly able to work with someone as partners at the moment. “Lieutenant, you should know that I might not be the best person for this job at the moment. I’m sure there’s someone—”
“You’re the best man for this job, Fraser. The new guy pops in on Thursday. What do you say, come over and meet him at least?”
“Of—of course,” Fraser answered without conscious thought. Sometimes he really wished he was better at saying ‘no’.
By the time Fraser was back at the Consulate, his brain had finally caught up with the events of the day. It was even welcome to think about Welsh and his proposal instead of obsessing over Ray’s file. So that was what he had burned the notebook for? To have Ray die twice? No, he couldn’t allow himself to think like that. The file proved that Ray was real.
Hollow, it was a hollow achievement.
And the proposal… Fraser wasn’t sure if he should feel better or worse that Lieutenant Welsh had gone out of his way to accommodate him. This could not be a coincidence— and Fraser hardly expected the Inspector to be surprised at the news. No, he should be grateful. They were all trying to help.
Going to the 27th precinct on Thursday still took a lot of conscious effort on Fraser’s part. It wasn’t that he had anything better to do; he just didn’t feel up to the task. Maybe he could explain his current mental state… well, maybe better his current inability to partner with someone, to Vecchio’s successor and Welsh could still find someone else without suffering any damage.
Welsh was still alone in his office when Fraser arrived and Fraser breathed a small sigh of relief. Before he could explain his situation again to the Lieutenant though, another officer knocked on the door.
“Lieutenant, we’ve got a dust-up in Interview 3, and there’s a guy from the IRS that says he has to talk with you.”
“The IRS? All right, listen, Fraser, the new guy should be here any minute. You just get to know each other and we can talk later.”
Fraser was left alone in Welsh’s office. Not for long though.
There was a knock on the door and a moment later it opened to admit the new Ray Vecchio.
“Listen, I know I’m late, but traffic was unbelievab—”
“Oh God,” Fraser’s legs wobbled underneath him as Ray closed the door behind him. With the same wild hair and apologetic smile he had always possessed.
“You’re dead,” Fraser said, shocked and confused, and this time his legs gave way as he tried to take a step in Ray’s direction.
“Whoa!” In a flash, Ray was next to him. His arms came up as he caught Fraser in a hug. “Easy there, buddy,” Ray soothed. “I told them the story about the car bomb was going too far. Jesus, you’d think I’m the most missed cop out there judging by the story they came up with as cover. Are you all right?”
Fraser took a few rushed breaths. “… you’re back,” and Fraser’s tight grip on Ray’s arm was proof that he was. “I missed you… you can’t imagine…”
Ray smiled, bewildered. “Yeah, well, it’s nice meeting you, too.”
Fraser stumbled over the statement. “What do you mean— you know who I am… right?” Fraser’s voice cracked in the middle of the sentence. Fear paralyzed him with inhuman strength.
“Sure,” Ray said easily. “Everyone knows about you; I heard a lot of stories about you. No one said anything about good-looking, though,” Ray winked.
Had Ray just said…? Fraser stared at the other man. The silence lasted and a blush rose slowly but surely over Ray’s face. “Uh… so, I’m Ray… Kowalski,” Ray smiled shyly.
Fraser’s knees collapsed the rest of the way underneath him. It was Ray. And Ray didn’t know him. Or this wasn’t Ray… even though he looked exactly as Fraser had last seen him. All the way from the ball-chain bracelet on his wrist to the experimental hair… And he talked like Ray and…
“Carerful!” Ray exclaimed as his arms tightened around Fraser. Ray hadn’t let go of him, not even for an instant, Fraser noticed in that detached way you sometimes saw yourself when something horrible was happening to you. Ray helped Fraser upright again and pushed him back a little, so that Fraser could rest his hip against the desk.
The look on his face was so Ray. Fraser even knew how that jumper felt underneath his hands. This had to be Ray…
“Gentlemen, sorry I’ve kept you waiting. Ah, Vecchio, good. I trust you’ve met Fraser?” The Lieutenant entered his office again.
Ray flicked another glance at Fraser – his gaze had hardly strayed from Fraser at all since he had come in. Ray looked thoughtful, but his reply came easily enough. “Yeah, we just introduced ourselves… in a manner of speaking.”
“Good, good. Let’s go over this…” Welsh sat down behind his desk and Fraser and Ray took the chairs opposite.
Fraser couldn’t recall what they had talked about. Fraser supposed that Welsh had explained what he expected from them and he knew that Ray had asked a lot of questions… but Fraser couldn’t recall a single one of them.
All he remembered was watching Ray— and he even moved like Ray! Fraser had thought when Ray had climbed gracefully, if a little unorthodoxly, into his chair. The way he gestured, the way he spoke… it was identical. And yet… yet…
“Fraser, you okay?” Ray asked, a hand on Fraser’s back. Fraser wanted so badly to lean back into this simple touch. Warm, Ray’s hand was warm. Alive. Real.
When had they left the office? Confused, Fraser looked around the bullpen.
“You seemed a little out of it for a moment— it’s a bit much to take in, right?”
“Ray, what is your professional opinion on protective helmets when it comes to boxing?” It was the first thing that came to Fraser’s mind. Ray must think he was unhinged… but he needed to know if this was his Ray… the Ray he had known and… loved.
Ray looked confused for a second before he laughed. “Protective helmets? Fraser, c’mon, you’re not serious?”
“It would be a logical precaution.”
“Boxing has nothing to do with logic. It is sport taken down to its purest nut. It is muscles, sweat, guts, torque, load—” Elation fought its way through Fraser’s jungle of emotions.
“Hey, what did you mean with ‘my professional opinion’?” Ray asked suddenly.
“It’s, ah,” Fraser rubbed his thumb over his eyebrow. Oh dear. “Your stance and the way you carry yourself made me assume you had a history of either boxing or dancing,” he hedged. It wasn’t a lie, not really.
Ray grinned. “Spot on. In both cases actually. You’re really good at this, aren’t you?”
“I think it’s limited to your person,” Fraser admitted.
“Wait, you’re saying I’m that easy to read?”
“Something like that, yes,” Fraser managed a smile.
Ray insisted that they grabbed something for lunch— falsely attributing Fraser’s appalling condition when they had met to the need for some sustenance.
In between bites Fraser noticed Ray’s gaze on him.
“Is something the matter?” he asked.
Ray shook his head, bemused. “Nah, it’s just— it’s odd. You seem so damn familiar even though I am pretty sure that we haven’t met before. Stupid, right? You probably just remind me of someone.”
Fraser had to take a hasty drink from his water to save himself an embarrassing remark. Yes, he thought. You are reminded of me… and hope flared bright and strong inside of Fraser like the Aurora Borealis over the northern sky.
That night, as Fraser lay on his cot, his longing for Ray was of a different kind. Sighing, he turned on his back and stared at the dark ceiling. There was no doubt that the man he had met today was the same Ray he had known for almost a year. The mannerisms, the body language, the smile, it was all Ray.
Throughout the evening, Fraser had to battle the urge to wrap Ray in a hug, to pull him close, and capture his lips. Of course he couldn’t… not when Ray thought this was the first time they had met. But… god… he wouldn’t go as far as saying that his longing was worse now, but… Ray was back… and in a way he was farther away than ever before. Just to hold him again…
Fraser turned onto his side. Ray was alive. The ensuing smile almost broke his face. Ray was back in his life. They would work along side each other just as they had before. Tomorrow, there was a tomorrow in which Ray existed.
And Fraser still didn’t understand. It was Ray— the Ray he knew – of that he was sure. He even remembered all of the things that had made up his life before he had died… or was it vanished? The boxing, the dancing, the career as a police officer…
Had Ray died? Without a body – and without anyone besides him believing in his existence – it was difficult to claim that Ray had lived and by extension died.
…but where had he come back from then? This time he definitely wasn’t just a part of Fraser’s imagination – people talked to him, greeted him in hallways, and asked Fraser about him. But he couldn’t have imagined Ray that first time… there was no way… so maybe it had all been the notebook. Maybe he would never find out. Fraser sighed. If a crazy man declared himself sane then what was that worth?
Over the course of the next few days Fraser noticed – because he noticed everything about Ray— that Ray always walked very close to him, surprisingly close even, and Ray didn’t seem to notice it himself. Just as he didn’t appear to notice that he touched Fraser quite frequently. Ray moved and touched… the way he had after they had become intimate.
As if… no, it was silly to assume that Ray remembered their relationship on some subconscious level, wasn’t it? Fraser just couldn’t seem to figure out whether this was the same Ray again or if this was actually their first meeting, and whatever Fraser remembered had been nothing but a very vivid fantasy.
But he was Ray and that somehow always confused Fraser’s thoughts because it made it harder to keep Ray apart from his memories. One night, without thinking, Fraser asked “What happened to Stella?” They had been on a stakeout for ages and the question had suddenly burned on Fraser’s lips.
Next to him, Ray gave a start.
“You pulled my file, right? Gee, you’re one nosy-parker, aren’t you?”
“I’m sorry,” Fraser backtracked immediately. Stupid! It was so hard not to think about all the things Ray didn’t know. “I didn’t mean to pry,” Fraser explained softly.
“No, don’t apologize. It’s okay.” Ray’s hand arranged his hair in even more disarray. “They needed someone from the law department for the Vecchio gig in Vegas. So now all the mob guys think she’s doing the dirty work for him.”
“And you are okay with that?”
“I went ballistic when she first told me,” Ray grinned. “But she’s a big girl and we kind of went our own ways a long time ago… besides, she just has to meet with Vecchio to exchange files. She doesn’t even have to make them believe that she’s bought— that’s his job and I trust Vecchio not to botch it. Since he’s still alive he can’t be that bad at the job,” Ray winked.
Something in Fraser eased; something that had felt tight and wired all this time. This wasn’t Ray as he had met him when he was investigating those fires. This was Ray much later… maybe even late enough to consider… him? Was it possible? Could Ray fall in love with him again? What if Ray couldn’t because he didn’t possess the same memories he had that first time? What if Ray couldn’t see in him what he had seen last time?
“Uhm… Fraser? Our shift’s almost over and, well, you look like you could use a coffee and a spot to put your feet up a little. What do you say: wanna come back to my place?”
Surprised, Fraser turned to look at Ray. Some of the things Ray said sounded like—like an offer of something else.
Ray cringed. “Not like—” He flushed. “That came out wrong,” Ray waved dismissively. “Anyway, you, uh, up for a coffee?”
“I would prefer tea, but I’d take a coffee as well,” Fraser smiled. Ray was… was Ray flirting? It seemed as if he was trying not to. Fraser knew Ray inside out, better than anyone else. He had never read Ray wrong, but… Ray seemed to do a lot of things quite unconsciously this time around.
“Greatness.” Fraser’s heart skipped a beat.
When Ray pulled up at the familiar apartment complex Fraser had to employ every ounce of self-control not to shout “oh, you have got to be kidding me.” Fraser followed Ray up the stairs as he had done countless times before. Ray opened the door to let them in and the well-known clutter of Ray’s apartment greeted him.
Nothing had changed. Fraser would even swear that the coffee stain on the classic car magazine was the same he had known. And now the landlady would probably tell him that Ray had moved in about a year ago – when he had supposedly taken over Vecchio’s job.
No, logic had nothing to do with Ray.
Ray bustled around the kitchen and half-vanished in one of his cupboards. “Hey, what do you know, I got tea… but it’s some weird bark stuff— I have no idea how that ended up in my kitchen.”
Fraser was on his feet and moving before he knew it. “Show me,” he demanded and Ray handed him the offending box of tea with a shrug. This was—this was the tea Fraser had stored at Ray’s apartment.
“I—” his mouth was suddenly dry. “I’d like the tea, please.”
“Freak,” Ray shook his head affectionately.
Fraser’s “understood” remained unheard, there was barely any voice behind it. Fraser had the disconcerting feeling of two realities overlapping. What else did Ray share with Fraser’s memories that Ray wasn’t even aware of?
While the water was boiling, Ray rubbed tiredly at his temples.
“Do you have a headache?” Fraser asked gently.
“It’s nothing. It’s been there for the last two hours and it’ll be fine when I can get some sleep,” Ray mumbled distractedly, looking inside of the water tank of the coffee machine to see if it was already brewing his coffee.
“You should really wear your glasses. It would save you a lot of pain,” Fraser said automatically. If he’d said it once he’d said it a thousand times.
Ray stared at him. “How do you know about my dorky glasses?”
Fraser swallowed a curse.
“I noticed that you squint a lot– even more so when it gets dark. And the headache would explain the reason for that, poor eyesight.” Again, it wasn’t a lie. Just that this time around he didn’t need to rely on deductions based on Ray’s behavior.
“Huh… I was sure you wouldn’t notice,” Ray admitted, a little embarrassed.
“I assure you there’s no reason to be embarrassed about wearing glasses.”
“You haven’t seen mine,” Ray smirked.
I have, Fraser thought with a smile. “I’m sure you look very fetching.”
Ray snorted derisively. “Yeah…” he muttered. “Scrawny guy like me with experimental hair and the geek glasses to top it off, terrific.”
Fraser took a deep breath. “I find you very attractive.” There, it was out.
Silence reigned and Fraser feared that he might have been too straightforward with his admission.
“Same here,” Ray added quickly before he began fiddling with mugs and spoons, busying himself with getting sugar and sniffing the milk. “You want milk with your tea?” Ray asked, a little too fast.
“I—” Fraser started to say, confused.
“You know, once, I forgot about the milk in the fridge for almost a month— boy, you could’ve thought I was trying to grow something in there,” Ray rambled, still pulling open cupboards and drawers. Ray couldn’t need that many attempts to find the necessary items to serve coffee and tea, could he?
“That’s—that’s disgusting,” Fraser said with a frown. Why was Ray trying to change the subject? Maybe Ray was uncomfortable with discussing this. Maybe it was too fast for him. Fraser tried to calm himself. But Ray had admitted that he found him attractive. And as Ray had told him once, mutual attraction was a good starting point. Fraser pulled himself together.
“Ray, sit down.” Fraser pulled out a kitchen chair and pushed Ray into it. “You’re still suffering from a headache and I know something that will help.” Without saying another word, Fraser moved behind Ray and pulled Ray’s head back so that it rested against Fraser’s stomach.
“What are you doing?” Ray asked, but he didn’t sound terribly concerned.
Instead of replying, Fraser’s fingers found their way to Ray’s nape. Slowly, Fraser’s fingers dug into the tense muscles.
Ray groaned. Fraser couldn’t help the following lip-lick. This wasn’t selfish, he was helping Ray… it wasn’t just selfish at least.
With a deft touch, Fraser’s fingers continued to knead Ray’s shoulders, his neck, his temples.
“God,” Ray moaned, “you’re really good at this.”
“I know you, Ray,” Fraser murmured.
Ray nodded along. “Yeah, that you do…”
Fraser lost all sense of time. He had done this for Ray a few times… but it was the first time since he had come back that Fraser could touch Ray in any meaningful way. Feeling Ray’s hair underneath his hands felt like that first time, when he had pulled Ray close for a kiss.
Suddenly, the coffee machine spit and hissed and ended with a satisfied gurgle and Ray’s eyes flew open. “Oh. My coffee,” Ray mumbled, a little dazed.
Sheepishly, Ray threw a glance at his water boiler. “I guess that’s not hot enough for tea anymore, sorry… I was kinda distracted.”
Fraser could still feel the bristle of Ray’s hair against the pads of his fingers. God, he missed Ray’s physicality.
Fraser stepped next to Ray to feel the temperature of the boiler. Ray didn’t move away and for a second Fraser revelled in the feeling of Ray’s body pressed next to his.
“It’s still hot. There are actually different theories on whether the water should boil for tea or not.” Fraser poured himself a cup.
He concentrated on the steeping tea. If he watched Ray any longer with his dishevelled appearance and the tired smile he might do something foolish.
Ray blew on his coffee, and then stopped to add a few M&Ms. From the corner of his eye, Fraser could see that Ray was frowning into his mug.
“Do you miss Vecchio?” Ray asked all of a sudden. The moment the words left his lips, Ray winced.
Surprised, Fraser forgot that he didn’t want to look at Ray. “Why do you ask?”
Ray shrugged uncomfortably. “Sometimes you look… I dunno… sad, I guess.”
Perceptive. Fraser had forgotten that about Ray.
“Sorry… it’s none of my business. I mean, you’ve known me for what? Three weeks? Sometimes my mouth just runs away with me,” Ray offered an apologetic grin.
Yes, usually when you’re nervous, Fraser thought. Why was Ray nervous? Fraser tried not to read too much into Ray’s actions.
“No, Ray. You are my friend. And my partner,” The last word left an odd taste in his mouth. The partnership he’d had with Ray had been of a different kind… and yet it was still the truth. For Fraser, nothing had changed.
Ray looked stunned. “Was that hard to say?”
Fraser smiled. “No, not at all.” Especially not compared to all the other things he wanted to tell Ray but couldn’t. “And as such you have every right to ask. Yes, I miss Ray Vecchio. He is my friend and I am concerned for his safety. But he is a very able police officer and as such he has a duty to the public to fulfill and our friendship is not compromised by the miles between us.” Fraser had long since understood that his friend had had no choice. He had long forgiven Ray Vecchio for leaving him. They would meet again at some point, Fraser was sure of it.
Ray didn’t look particularly happy about Fraser’s explanation. “I know you guys were tight –”
“…and maybe you wouldn’t have chosen me for a substitute partner,”
“…but here I am and—”
“People are not interchangeable, like snowmobile parts. I don’t want you to be Ray Vecchio.”
“Huh…no, obviously not. You’re right,” Ray answered instantaneously. But the relaxed smile showed that Ray was glad to hear it all the same. “Uh, you want another cup of that twig stuff?”
“No, thank you. I should head back to the Consulate.”
“You could stay—I mean, I got a couch you could crash on.”
Fraser looked at the couch and judged the distance from the couch to Ray’s bedroom (13 1/2 feet). Not far enough. As much as Fraser would’ve preferred to forego the walk back to the Consulate, trusting himself to sleep just a few feet away from Ray was not something he wanted to vouch for.
“Thank you kindly for the hospitality, but I think a walk will do me good.”
“Whatever floats your boat,” Ray shrugged easily.
Too bad Diefenbaker had preferred to sample Turnbull’s cooking instead of accompanying Ray and him on the stakeout. Because Fraser had the nagging feeling that Ray was, well, already interested would probably be the best expression. Or maybe he was just insecure. Fraser would have liked to hear Dief’s opinion on it.
God… Fraser tugged at his earlobe. He knew Ray better than anyone, and he thought he knew every facial expression on that handsome face. So why was it so hard to be sure of what he saw?
A few days later, they were sitting in Ray’s car, waiting for their suspect to show up. A well-known country singer had been getting death threats and while most of these kinds of letters turned out to be harmless it was their duty to keep an eye out and to take preventive measures if necessary.
Fraser had been trying to come up with a way to talk to Ray about being… well… open-minded, really. Because, thinking back, Fraser had come to the conlusion that it would have been much easier for him and Ray had they both known that the other was open in his choice of romantic partners.
He did try to broach the subject as smoothly as he could. He feared that Ray might not take kindly to it if Fraser asked him outright. So Fraser tried to find a way to do it diplomatically.
“Ray, what comes to your mind when I say ‘closet’?”
“What kinda question is that?” Ray spluttered.
Upon reflection, Fraser thought that he might have to practice his smooth-approach if Ray’s reaction was anything to go by.
“It’s nothing untoward. It’s just that if I say ‘closet’ one person might say brooms and another person might say carpentry. And some people might say—”
“Yeah, I know what some people would say, Frase. So why are you asking me this? Something you wanna tell me?” Ray challenged with an edge to his voice that, while not being unfriendly also wasn’t very encouraging, and fixed Fraser with an intense look.
Fraser tugged at his collar. He could still opt for the explanation that this had been a simple word-association-game. But what would be won with that? “I, ah, I have never assigned myself a label per se… I just think that it is the wrong approach to choose a gender instead of a person,” Fraser finished quietly.
Ray was silent for a moment, but his eyes never left Fraser’s. Finally, he answered. “Yeah, I’m kind of a wild card myself. I play by my own rules. And the people who don’t like it can bore someone else with their opinion.”
Fraser smiled shyly. “Would you—”
“Unit 1-1-7, are you there guys?” Huey’s deep baritone came over the radio.
Ray groaned quietly and somehow that made Fraser feel better.
“Yeah, where else would we be?”
Jack laughed dryly. “Carver Dunn is headed your way.”
Carver Dunn was also quite athletic for a man of his unassuming stature, Fraser thought as he followed the suspect up a fire escape. He could dimly hear Ray’s footsteps below, hitting the concrete in a rapid pattern as Ray ran along the length of the building.
With dismay, Fraser saw that the fire escape door at the end of the building stood ajar— a clear violation of fire regulations. Dunn threw him a sardonic smile as the door fell into the lock behind him.
Fraser surveyed the roof. He would need to find another way down. He looked down the side of the building into the alley below. There was a metal railing leading from one building to the one opposite. And a little further along and down was another one. His last experience with gymnastic exercise was a while back, but it should still be sufficient. This should prove a remarkably efficient way to get down.
He judged the angle and jumped down. With a sure grip his hands closed around the railing and his body swung once around the axis. He let go and reached effortlessly for the next bar. He was about to complete the jump down into the street when he heard the revving of an engine down below. And running footsteps. Oh dear.
Fraser looked down and not a second too late. Ray was just running in his direction – closely followed by an old Mustang. Fraser reached down and gripped Ray by his coat and then he pulled. With effort, he pulled Ray up, far enough that the car could pass underneath and leave him unharmed.
Almost as quickly as he had snatched Ray, his grip loosened again. “I’m sorry,” Fraser gasped. Ray dropped to the ground with a pained “oof” and Fraser followed him almost immediately. The pain pressed all of the air out of his lungs. “Ow.” The hurt was unexpectedly bright.
Next to him, Ray was wheezing. “Damnit, Fraser, if you were gonna drop a guy, you gotta say something first, like, ‘Ray, I’m gonna drop ya’.”
“Well, I’ll be sure to keep it in mind for next time,” Fraser answered a little breathlessly.
“You don’t sound so good,” Ray remarked with a frown and gingerly pushed himself into an upright position.
“Ah, I might have bruised a rib.”
Without waiting for an answer, Ray’s warm hands were working on the fastenings of Fraser’s serge. As if he knew exactly how to get Fraser out of it, Fraser realized with a start. No, Ray couldn’t have been a vivid hallucination that first time. Why should a hallucination possess flesh memory? Ray knew because he had made it his hobby to get Fraser out of the uniform.
Warm, strong fingers examined Fraser’r ribs. “I don’t think you broke any,” Ray said, relieved.
“I didn’t say I broke any,” Fraser reminded Ray, but his gaze was still fixed on Ray’s fingers splayed on his chest.
Ray grinned. “Fraser, you could have a knife through your leg and you would call it a scratch. C’mon,” Ray offered him a hand to help him up. They stood in the alley, hurting and dirty, and holding hands for much longer than was strictly necessary. But Ray made no move to let go.
The only relief was that Huey and Dewey managed to apprehend the car in which their fugitive had tried to flee. Still, it was awfully late when they were finished with the report. The station was almost deserted, save for an old man from the cleaning staff.
Ray leaned back in his chair with a satisfied groan. “All done.”
“Yes, it seems that way,” Fraser agreed with a smile. He leaned forward to push away from the table, wincing as his bruised rib was squeezed.
“That’s it, you made a face. You’re coming with me,” Ray declared decisively.
“Ray, I assure you that won’t be necessary,” Fraser tried to protest— but weakly. He wanted nothing more than to have Ray’s company for a little while longer, and maybe enjoy for another hour that Ray was taking care of him.
“Necessary or not, that’s where we’re going. And since you are in no condition to walk all the way you will have to stick with the direction my car is going— home.”
“If you insist,” Fraser answered agreeably.
Back at Ray’s place, Fraser gratefully took a seat on the couch. Ray had been looking at him almost constantly, flicking glances at him throughout the drive. Fraser wondered if it meant anything more than simple concern.
“I’m still a bit wired, what about you? You tired?”
Fraser shook his head; he didn’t want to miss out on spending more time with Ray. Especially alone with Ray at home, away from work and polite company. Ray always seemed a lot more relaxed in the safety of his own four walls.
“Are you up for a game of cards? I could teach you poker,” Ray offered.
“I don’t gamble,” Fraser explained.
“Yeah, but poker is kinda pointless without a wager.”
“So what’s the ante?”
Ray rubbed a hand over his neck. “I don’t know, we’ll uh…play for air,” Ray offered, eyes carefully fixed on the cards he was shuffling in his agile hands.
Fraser grabbed for air and made a gesture of throwing it on the table. “All right, ante is in.”
Ray grinned at him.
Fraser was rather enjoying himself. “I’ll see your fifty and I call,” he announced.
Ray’s eyes narrowed. “What do you have?” Ray leaned forward to have a look at Fraser’s cards.
“House,” Ray replied weakly.
“Crowded house,” Fraser repeated dutifully, trying to be a model student. He wondered if he should’ve told Ray that he had played once or twice. But Ray had been so eager to teach him… and win, Fraser smiled to himself. Maybe he should’ve let Ray win. He was a good teacher after all.
“Full house,” Ray croaked, defeated. “I’m all out of air,” Ray sighed. He appeared terribly disappointed and Fraser wondered what Ray would’ve wanted with the air he would’ve won.
“I accept an I.O.U.,” Fraser said, in an effort to cheer him up.
“An I.O.U. on air?” Ray seemed to consider that.
“I want you to honor your wager.”
Ray thought for a moment and then he nodded. A smile, with a touch of mischief, bloomed on Ray’s lips.
“Hey, don’t you wanna get a little more comfortable? All those buckles and snaps can’t be good for your rib.”
“Ah, yes, it might be a good idea to take the serge off,” Fraser agreed. But even as he answered Fraser couldn’t help getting suspicious. It had always been Ray’s favorite argument… and usually Fraser ended with a lot less clothes than just his serge. But he was willing to play along. More than willing if he was honest.
Fraser tried not to flinch as Ray helped him to get his uniform off. But Ray saw it nonetheless – Ray seemed to be paying him a lot of attention today. Ray had been watching him a lot lately, come to think of it. Probably since he had told Ray that he found him attractive. Things started to fall into place faster than Fraser could keep track of them.
“You look like you could use that air,” Ray murmured, no more than a couple of inches away from him. Fraser did a double-take. He stared at Ray, who was still busy opening the Velcro snaps.
“Yes…” Fraser said quietly.
Ray looked at him then and Fraser could see the beginning of a blush covering his cheeks.
“Well, how do you propose I give you the air back that I owe you?”
And it wasn’t just Fraser’s imagination that Ray had been looking at his lips when he said it, was it? Oh please, don’t let me have read this the wrong way, Fraser prayed.
Fraser’s lip came out to flick over his suddenly dry lips. “There’s a—a standard procedure… buddy-breathing…” Fraser murmured, heart hammering in his chest.
“Good idea…” Ray nodded with a smile. “I think I know how that works,” Ray breathed before he kissed Fraser.
Fraser held Ray tightly, almost crushing Ray to him, and trying to get as much contact as possible. Ray felt real and alive – and just like he always had. Fraser refused to believe that he had that good an imagination. But Ray’s tongue and the little, quiet, needy noises that escaped his throat rapidly drove any philosophical thought out of Fraser’s mind.
The déjà vu was so strong, waking up in Ray’s bed the next morning, that Fraser was afraid for a moment that he was still sleeping. He reached out and found Ray’s hand warm and pliant under his own. When Ray opened his eyes and smiled softly when he caught sight of him, Fraser decided to trust reality. No dream could’ve conjured such a stream of emotions – happiness, disbelief, hesitation, fear, and most of all, love.
They went to work and Ray could barely contain his grin at Fraser’s dazed expression. Fraser just wanted to make sure that he wasn’t the only one aware of Ray. And he couldn’t very well just reach out to touch Ray’s hand every five minutes. Although, Fraser had to admit, he was thinking rather obsessively about kissing Ray all day – now that he could kiss him again there seemed no reason why he shouldn’t think about it.
Ray just smiled knowingly every time it happened – a fact that gave Detective Dewey quite a fright. He apparently hadn’t met Ray in a lot of cheerful moods so far.
The time until they could go for lunch passed in a mere parody of any form of progress. Finally, they could take a break a little while after 2 PM.
“Oh, wait, I forgot my wallet in my desk,” Ray went back and pulled his drawer open. He started when he looked inside. When Ray came back he was carrying a small parcel wrapped in brown paper.
“Here, someone left this for you – ages ago actually. I always kept forgetting about it.”
Fraser took the proferred package with a curious look. It wasn’t too heavy and about mid-sized. The brown wrapping was unadorned and there was no sender discernible save for one little stamp with the initials ‘T.W.’
Fraser’s heart jumped into his throat when he noticed it. He tore the paper away with a little less care than was his wont.
He almost dropped it when he saw what it was.
It was his notebook. The notebook he had burned. Only, this one was red… the way it had looked in the flames. Fraser stared at it, too afraid to open it.
Ray looked at him with a thoughtful expression.
“Ray, who gave this to you?” Fraser had trouble keeping his voice even.
Ray opened his mouth to reply, but closed it halfway again with a puzzled frown. “No idea… weird. I can’t remember getting it. But I know it was with my stuff when I took over my old desk,” Ray gestured to Vecchio’s work station. “Someone must’ve given it to me. I mean, I remembered that it was meant for you, you think I would remember how I ended up with it…” Ray frowned again.
So, according to Ray, it existed since Fraser had burned it, from the moment Ray had appeared for real.
Fraser took a calming breath and opened the notebook. It was all there. Every word he had written. Fascinated, he turned to the last page. It was the same as he remembered it… save for two little words. There, at the bottom of the page, were two words in Ray’s unmistakable scrawl: The End.
“Everything alright?” Ray asked with a concerned look.
“Yes, Ray. Everything is alright…”
They were almost out of the station when Fraser thought of something. It wasn’t an explanation, but it was the best he could do.
“Ray, do you believe that a story can come true?”
Ray shrugged and then he smiled. “Sure, why not. Isn’t that what people always say ‘the story of my life’ and all that? Besides, the way I see it some of the books are more believable than being your partner. Really, the stuff one has to put up with just to be with you…”
Ray laughed and slung his arm over Fraser’s shoulder.
Yes, Fraser thought. Maybe life was just another story. And maybe his life had lacked Ray so Fraser had simply written him into it.
Stories, he mused, were never about actually being true. The only question was, whether or not you believed them. Fraser looked to his side at Ray’s smile and knew that he would believe in Ray – no matter what.
“This is all you’ve got?” Ray frowned at the knapsack at his feet and the box of camping utensils next to it.
“Well, I didn’t have that much space to store personal belongings,” Fraser explained with an eyebrow-rub.
Ray looked around Fraser’s office at the Consulate. “Not much space,” Ray echoed. “You’re the master of the understatement, Frase. Okay, let’s go then.”
Dief yipped and carried his bowl outside to Ray’s car. Fraser hoisted the knapsack and Ray bent and picked up the cardboard box. Ray frowned again at the ample space still left in the trunk of his car. Fraser suppressed a smile. He was pretty sure that Ray considered it an affront against the American way of life to live as lightly as he had.
“What do you want for your celebration-dinner?”
“Celebration? I’m sorry, I don’t—”
“C’mon, buddy. Get in the spirit… you’re insulting my skills as a roommate here. When was the last time you moved in with someone?”
“Ah, well… other than my office?”
“Oh. Probably when I went to Depot,” Fraser answered after a little consideration.
“See? So we gotta celebrate this. There was only one other person I ever lived together with so this is kind of a big deal, okay?”
Fraser smiled. “It is for me, too.”
“So, what’s it gonna be for dinner?”
Fraser looked at Ray and tried to keep his smile in check. “Is pizza a suitable food for celebrations?”
“Great choice. Couldn’t have picked better myself.”
Fraser turned to look out of the window. Otherwise he would’ve given himself away.
A couple of minutes later, Ray parked the car in front of Tony’s pizza parlor.
“I’ll be back in two seconds,” Ray promised before he got out of the car.
“He’s a good man, the Yank.”
“Dear Lord,” Fraser exclaimed in surprise.
“I should’ve known it would end this way when it was all but impossible to talk with you about grandchildren.”
“Dad! What are you doing here?” Months. His dad hadn’t appeared for months and he picked now to lecture Fraser?
“Giving you advice for the most crucial state in your relationship, of course,” Bob elaborated as if it had been obvious. “Don’t underestimate living together, son. Your mother was not an easy woman to live with—”
“How would you know? You spent most of the nights outside with the dogs,” Fraser said, exasperated.
“Exactly what I’m talking about.”
“Where have you been all this time? I haven’t seen you for ages—you didn’t even tell me that you moved your office.” And if there was a touch of hurt in Fraser’s voice then it didn’t mean anything.
“Now don’t be selfish, son. I can’t spend all of my time being dead informing you of my activities. After all, a cabin isn’t built in a day, and I could hardly invite your mother to live with me in an office, now could I?”
“My mother?” Fraser asked hesitantly.
“Of course your mother. Ever since I heard the rumors about Muldoon up North I knew that retribution was only a short step away.”
“You could have told me about Muldoon—you could have told me what you knew.”
“It wasn’t my place to tell you. Besides, you were so busy with the Yank that it was all but impossible to get through to you at all.”
Fraser was surprised. He hadn’t thought that his own preoccupation might have prevented his father from showing up.
“And what happened to your office?”
“Your mother—you know how women are… oh. Well, I guess you don’t. My fault. Your mother didn’t want me to spend all of my time working. So I moved all of my paperwork to our new cabin.”
“So you—are you happy?” Fraser asked.
“Well, you know how it is with men and women— oh, I suppose you don’t. Let me just say that—”
“Who are you talking to?” Ray asked as he climbed into the driver’s seat. Bob’s eyes widened as Ray almost sat down on him. Ray made a face as if he had just touched something wet, but the next moment Bob was gone.
“Ah, nothing. I was just talking with Dief.”
Ray nodded amicably.
“So, Dief, are you one happy wolf?”
Dief yipped again in the backseat.
Ray leaned over to press his lips to Fraser’s. “Me, too,” he murmured before he claimed Fraser’s lips.
Happiness. Fraser tested the word on his tongue. He found that he liked it.
A magician never reveals his trick and an author rarely reveals his source, but if you were to find this story on a bookshelf you’d find it right next to Salvador Plascencia’s “People of Paper”, Paul Auster’s “New York Trilogy”, and a heap of books about the double in literature ♥