Ray test should have known something was up when he rounded the corner to the bullpen and almost walked into Big Bird. For some obscure reason, he found himself apologizing to the eight-foot heap of yellow feathers for almost knocking it over, but in his single-minded desperation to reach the coffee machine, he barely registered the fact that the bird answered in Huey's voice.
Frannie, wearing a bright pink floral-print gag, got a double-take, but he really needed to get at least one, if not two cups of coffee down his neck before he tried to figure that one out.
The break room was deserted, so he succeeded in meeting his two-cup challenge before having to actually address another human being. In fact, he was damned glad that the coffee was even stronger than normal, because the next human being he encountered was Harding Welsh. At least he thought it was Welsh.
The loud bellowing voice telling him to haul his ass into the office was familiar enough, but the high heel shoes and mini skirt the man was wearing were a bit of a shocker! In a daze, Ray followed his boss into the inner sanctum, totally unable to drag his eyes away from the fishnet stockings. He closed the door carefully behind him.
"'bout time you showed your face Vecchio," Welsh muttered irritably, as he lowered himself into his chair. Ray finally managed to get his eyeballs to cooperate and register the fact that his own partner and detective Dewey were also in the room. Unusually, Fraser wasn't in full Mountie rig. He was just in jeans and a t-shirt, but typically, the Stetson was still clutched in his fingers. Fraser never looked completely dressed without that hat.
Ray cleared his throat, hoping Fraser would jump in and fill him in on the memo that he'd clearly missed reading; the one that stated how on Friday 13th May, the whole department was expected to go insane.
"Dewey, pass him the hat," Welsh continued, before anyone could set Ray straight. Dewey, who Ray now realized was wearing some kind of bright blue furry costume - the head piece of which dangled down his back - grabbed Fraser's Stetson and shoved it towards Ray. Ray could see that there was one single piece of folded paper inside.
Before he could really think about what it meant, he reached for the paper, opened it out and began to read. "You will be handcuffed to you partner for a period of 72 hours...? What the fuck?"
"Starting right now, buddy," Dewey grinned, grabbing Ray's wrist and expertly snapping on a set of nice shiny handcuffs. Smiling broadly, Fraser stepped forward and offered his own wrist, to which Dewey accommodatingly attached the other bracelet.
"Wait, wait!" Ray bellowed in confusion, "What the hell is going on here?"
"I'm afraid there was only one challenge left in the hat by the time you got here, Ray," said Fraser.
"What challenge? What hat? What the fuck...?"
Welsh leaned back in his chair and grinned, twirling one pearl earring. "Surely you remember promising Sister Mary Catherine, over at the woman's shelter, that this department would take part in the charity fund raiser? If we manage to carry out all the challenges set, the mayor personally donates enough money to the shelter to get the roof fixed."
"You agreed to take part, Ray," Fraser said somewhat reproachfully.
Ray blinked. He had a vague memory of agreeing to help get the money to fix the roof, but at the time he'd thought that'd mean sponsoring some kids at a spelling bee or maybe buying a ton of baked goods. It would seem that a few things had spiraled out of control in his absence. That would teach him not to take a day off work, no matter what the circumstances.
"I, er...yeah sure...course I remember..."
Welsh waved his hand at Dewey, "Better give Fraser the key, in case there's a problem."
"Oh, we get the key?" Ray beamed, feeling a little bit easier with the situation now, "That's cool."
Welsh ignored him and turned to Fraser instead, "You, I trust not to use them for anything less than an emergency. Him," Welsh tipped his head towards Ray. "I trust about as far as I can throw." Fraser smiled and slipped the key into back pocket.
"Look, the thing is..." Ray whined, knowing full well that there was no way Fraser would let him out of this until the 72 hours were up, "... this isn't a good weekend for me to be cuffed to my partner. See, I got a heavy date tonight... old girlfriend from outta town... she's only here 'til Sunday... c'mon, Lieu', gimme a break here!"
Dewey snorted and pulled the headpiece of his costume into place. "Vecchio, if I gotta spend the weekend dressed up as Cookie Monster... least you can do is miss out on some action!"
Ray stared in consternation at the wide, grinning mouth and insane-looking googly eyes.
"Oh, you think you have trouble?" Welsh bellowed. "I gotta spend my weekend dressed like Mrs. Doubtfire, and I got a family barbeque to go to on Sunday. Get over it, Vecchio!"
No sympathy there then. Ray looked down at his wrist, cuffed to Fraser's. 72 hours like this? There was no way. No fucking way! And what was he supposed to tell Gretchen? She was NOT gonna believe this.
Ray had spent weeks working on Gretchen, finally persuading her that he was worth a second glance. Her regular flight had been cancelled, so she had a few days, and nights, free. Ray had big plans...'specially for the nights...and last night he'd wined and dined the pretty cabin attendant at the best eatery he could afford...which turned out to be very, very worth it.
In fact, so worth it, he'd been too exhausted to go home and change before coming into the station. Now he could seriously use a shower, but fuck! How could even get in the shower now? How the hell was he supposed to get his clothes off, when he was cuffed to a Mountie? Maybe Fraser would break the rules and let him bathe after he had spent a little time in close proximity to Ray's armpits.
"I'm afraid it has to be this weekend, Ray. Everyone is doing his or her challenge at the same time. And as you have to appear in court on Monday, the timing is just about perfect."
Ray automatically checked his watch. Exactly 11AM. He'd forgotten about the Tempest trial, but the chances were good that he wouldn't be called until well after lunch on Monday. That would give him a couple of hours get scrubbed up and across town to the courthouse.
Ray's cell phone rang. He automatically reached for it with his left hand, coming up a little short of his back pocket when the chain linking the cuffs tightened. God, this was impossible! He finally managed to get the phone out and flipped it open. "Gretch! Hi! Yeah, listen, not a good time here. Can I call you back? Yeah, yeah, sure! Yeah, later, bye!" Ray's face was a little red when he closed the phone and dragged Fraser out of Welsh's office.
"Okay Frase, what's the plan?" Because as sure as God made little green apples, Fraser would have one.
And he did. "Well I thought we could finish up the report on the Tempest case and print off a copy. You should really take some time over the weekend to re-familiarize yourself with the details."
"Yeah, okay. How the hell am I gonna type?" Ray raised both their hands and rattled the chain.
"Ah, well, Francesca has agreed to type for us. As she's spending the weekend unable to converse, it may take a lot less time that one would normally expect." At Ray's dubious shrug, Fraser continued, "Then I thought we could get something to eat, maybe try out that new place down the street from the Consulate?"
"The health food place? No way, Fraser. If I gotta do this thing, I wanna eat totally UNhealthy food, like burgers and fries, or something dripping in grease."
"Well, in any case, we need to go collect Dief from the Consulate. I'll need to pick up a few things, too, if I'm going to be spending the weekend with you."
Ray stopped walking and tugged Fraser to a halt. It was just beginning to sink in now; he and Fraser were like Siamese twins for the duration. Where Ray went, Fraser would go, and vice versa. Gretchen was jetting out on Sunday. He felt like screaming with the injustice of it all. But there was worse to come.
"I have two tickets for a Mozart concert tomorrow evening. I was going to take Mort, but that's out of the question. I doubt they'd let you in for free, even if I did explain this was for charity."
"Aww come on, Frase! I don't do classical music. You gotta know that!"
Fraser gave his wrist a little tug, and they continued through the doors, over to Ray's desk where Frannie was already waiting. She nodded and rolled her eyes, which could have meant just about anything at any given time.
Fraser looked crestfallen. "But I've been looking forward to it since I heard the Toronto Philharmonic was going to be playing in Chicago. The tickets were extremely expensive."
An upset Fraser was not something Ray felt he could cope with at that moment. "Yeah, yeah, right. Whatever. You're gonna owe me big time, Benton buddy."
Ray used his free hand to retrieve the case notes while Fraser snagged a nearby chair, and they all got comfortable. Frannie poised her hands over the keys, looking at Ray expectantly.
With a resigned sigh, he flipped open the file and began dictating, Fraser adding the occasional helpful addendum as they went.
It was well past lunchtime when Frannie hit print and handed him several sheets of paper. To say it had been surreal spending that long with Francesca without having to listen to her talk was an understatement. Ray had been so tempted to provoke her into ripping off the gag and screaming at him, but this was for charity, it was for a good cause, and that would have been just wrong. Tempting, but wrong.
They had several of what Ray came to think of as 'cuff related problems' during the time they spent at the station. Fraser wanted a glass of water, so they both had to go to the break room. Ray wanted a Snickers bar, so Fraser had to go fishing in his pocket for change. The fact that Ray had been bursting for a pee for the last half hour was something he really didn't want to think about.
"Ray, you look uncomfortable."
"Are you in pain?"
"No, Frase, I'm fine I told ya." Ray simply could not imagine using the men's room here at the station while still handcuffed to his partner. All sorts of mortifying scenarios flitted across his mind, making him flush red with embarrassment. He decided he could hold on a little longer.
Fraser got stiffly to his feet. "Very well. In which case, I think we should call it a day. Will you be all right to drive like this?" He held up their joined hands.
Okay, another obstacle. The car was an automatic, and there were no sharp corners to negotiate, so it should be okay, and Fraser did have the handcuff key, in case anything dangerous happened. Ray stood up, too, feeling his bladder protest once again. There was nothing for it, he was going to have to visit the men's room, or he'd never make it home without having an embarrassing accident.
"Gotta make a quick pit stop, Frase," he murmured, but Fraser seemed to catch on.
"Understood," he replied, scooping up his Stetson from Ray's desk.
Ray was very glad that Dewey had attached the cuffs to his left hand; making it a lot easier to undo his fly, although it still took a lot of wriggling to free himself from his jeans and point 'Mr Happy' in the right direction. Finally, he breathed a sigh of relief. Right then, the sound of pee hitting porcelain was the sweetest sound in the world.
At his side, Fraser stood stiffly, counting the bathroom tiles above the urinals.
He got to 30 before Ray was finished.
Ray fished the keys to his car out of his pocket, but hesitated on the curb. Beside him, Fraser raised an eyebrow. It had just occurred to him that because his left hand was cuffed to Fraser's right, Fraser would have to be the one doing the driving. Ray took a deep breath and opened the driver's side door. Clambering across the divide, Ray slipped into the passenger side, watching Fraser climb into the driver's seat.
"Hmmm, I must confess Ray, I didn't think about this." Fraser took the proffered keys and fired up the engine.
Ray had a feeling there were going to be a lot of things they didn't think of 'til they bit them in the ass. "Just... just try and drive a little faster than I could walk, okay? My stomach thinks my throat's been slit."
At the Consulate, Ray had no option but to go with Fraser into his tiny office, which seemed even more cramped than normal as they bumped into each other in the tight confines. Ray swore that if Fraser said, "I do beg your pardon", or "excuse me" one more time, he really would have to kill him, and they'd never find the body.
Okay, they would find the body still handcuffed to Ray, but that wasn't the point.
Finally they were back in the car, with Dief giving them strange looks from the back seat. Ray was getting used to being chained to Fraser now, and it barely bothered him that his left hand was all but useless to him. He let it dangle between the seats, feeling the back of Fraser's hand occasionally brush his just to remind him that it was still there.
After stopping off at a deli to pick up sandwiches for lunch, they arrived back at the apartment. Fraser dropped his overnight bag just inside the door and waited for Ray to decide where they were going. He followed suit when Ray kicked off his boots and made straight for the fridge, pulling out a bottle of beer for himself and a bottle of spring water for Fraser. In unison, they flopped down onto the couch to eat.
"Ray, before we get too comfortable, there are a couple of things we have to think about," Fraser said, delicately dabbing the corner of his mouth with a napkin.
"Yeah, I know," Ray muttered darkly. "I guess you're wishing I'd go take a bath?"
Fraser smiled a small smile. "Well, yes, you do seem to be a little more pungent than normal, Ray, but I would never have mentioned it. No, actually I was wondering more about sleeping arrangements."
Ray sat up a little straighter. Okay, this was one of those 'bite you in the ass' moments right here. Last night with Gretchen had been wild and wicked...he was lucky to have gotten maybe two hours sleep. Another seventy odd hours without rest was downright impossible, so at some point, they were going to have lie down together. But there was no way he was going to climb into a double bed with the guy... that just wasn't buddies.
"I thought we could sack out here on the couch."
"Sitting up?" Fraser sounded a little dubious.
"Sure, why not?"
Fraser rubbed absently at his eyebrow, almost slapping himself in the face with Ray's hand in the process. "It's not very good for the posture, Ray."
Ray took a slug of beer and smacked his lips. "The things we do for charity, huh? So what else?"
Fraser sighed. "Well, seeing as you brought the subject up, there's the matter of personal hygiene. I believe it would be possible to remove most of our clothing save for our t-shirts, and even those could be cut off in a pinch..."
"Whoa, hold it right there! This is a classic Jam concert t-shirt. No one is cutting this fucker off me!"
"Suit yourself, Ray, but either way, I insist you get into the shower, dressed or otherwise."
Ray narrowed his eyes. "Okay, Einstein, we get naked, then what? Not so easy to put the shirts back on again, is it?"
Ray's smug smile was wiped clean off his face when Fraser reached over and pulled a small field sewing kit from his knapsack. "I took the liberty of packing some athletic undershirts that were given to me as a present. I could easily add a Velcro fastener to..."
"Fraser, no!" Okay, sure, it was ingenious. Fraser was one hell of a boy scout. Give the guy a badge or something! But hell, there were limits to what Ray could put up with.
There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as Ray tried to look scary, and Fraser just looked hurt, and then Ray sighed. "Okay, okay. You get to cut one shirt. Fuck, I don't believe I'm gonna let you do this. Scissors are in the kitchen drawer."
Fraser was very careful, cutting along the shoulder seam of Ray's favorite t-shirt so that later it might be possible to salvage the garment. Ray made more of a mess of Fraser's, but Fraser assured him he had many more RCMP t-shirts back at the Consulate.
Finally they were both standing in the living room, bare-chested, and in Ray's case, red-faced with embarrassment. He hadn't bothered putting on any underwear that morning after his date with Gretchen, and there was no way to keep Fraser from seeing that now.
"All right, Ray, how do you want to do this?"
Ray rolled his head, cracking the vertebrae at the base of his skull. "Huh?"
Fraser tugged him towards the bathroom. "Well, do you want to take the first shower, or should we get in at the same time and conserve water?"
Ray felt like his eyes pop out on stalks, and he spluttered indignantly. Sometimes Fraser just came out with stuff that could be interpreted in so many ways!! And what made it worse, the guy looked totally clueless!! For all Ray knew, two guys sharing a shower was as normal in the Yukon as two guys sharing a pizza in Chicago.
"I think I've got enough hot water so we don't have to do that, Fraser." He switched on the shower faucets and reached for the button of his fly, flinching when he dragged Fraser's hand across his thigh. "Shit, sorry, Frase!"
"No need to apologize, Ray," Fraser said tightly, twisting his hand out of the way of any further trouble. Ray wriggled out of his jeans, trying not to notice how Fraser was staring directly ahead as he sat down on the toilet seat and picked up a sports magazine from the pile on the floor.
Finally naked, Ray hopped into the bath and with his free hand, tugged the shower curtain closed. Ray felt the hot water wash over his abused muscles. Letting out a sigh of relief, he leant back against the tiles and just allowed the water to wash away his troubles. . Ray finished showering and stuck his head around the curtain, rather surprised to find that Fraser was no longer engrossed in his reading. In fact, Fraser seemed to have dropped the magazine on the floor and was frantically rubbing at his eyebrow.
"Towel, Frase?" Ray waggled the fingers of his cuffed hand expectantly, and Fraser obligingly handed him one, looking decidedly uncomfortable about something. He'd managed to divest himself of his own clothing and wrap a towel around his waist, which was no small miracle one handed.
Ray rubbed his towel through his hair, then pulled the damp cloth round his waist, making sure to keep a death grip on it as he stepped out of the shower. No point in showing the Mountie 'the full Monty' now, was there?
"Okay, buddy. You're up!"
Fraser flushed crimson and looked down at his towel-clad crotch. Ray couldn't help following his gaze and was more than a little surprised to find that Fraser was indeed, 'up.'
"Um, Frase?" he asked, voice cracking a little with stress. "You, er, you have something you want to tell me?" Not that he could imagine any answer to that question that wouldn't make him very uncomfortable indeed.
"While you were in the shower..."
"This is very embarrassing..."
"I assume the water deafened you to any sounds..."
"God, what sounds? Fraser, spit it out!"
"Well, you see, your phone rang. Someone called Gretchen?"
And all at once, Ray knew what had happened. He closed his eyes and fought down the rising full body blush. "Did she...?"
"Leave a message? Yes, a rather explicit one."
"Crap!" Having been on the receiving end of Gretchen's suggestive phone calls several times already, Ray sympathized with Fraser's current predicament. He still vividly remembered when she had called him last week. He'd been working at his desk on some report or other, and he hadn't been able to stand up for ten full minutes after she'd hung up.
"She seems like a... nice girl, Ray," Fraser said somewhat unconvincingly, "with a highly developed imagination."
Ray scrubbed his free hand over his eyes, curiosity warring with deep mortification. He wanted to get up and make a bolt for it, or pace the tiny bathroom at the very least, but of course, that wasn't possible. "Yeah, yeah, you know, she's got certain qualities that, y'know, um...?"
He stole a sideways glance at Fraser under the cover of his hand. Fraser was looking way more relaxed than a guy with a hard-on had any business looking.
"Indeed, I do," Fraser nodded gravely, his face giving very little away. "And an accomplished horsewoman to boot! She has a lot to recommend her."
"Horsewoman? How do you figure that?" Ray was beginning to detect an underlying hint of humour in Fraser's tone.
"Well she mentioned being able to ride all night," Fraser deadpanned. "Quite an impressive accomplishment, wouldn't you agree?" Tugging his towel loose, Fraser let it drop to the floor with a soft thwump and got into the shower.
Ray felt a slow grin spread across his face, as Fraser tugged the shower curtain closed. Trust the Mountie to turn a ludicrously embarrassing situation into a comedy act.
He had just gotten himself comfortable on the toilet, even though he had to straddle the seat and face the wall because of the handcuffs, when Fraser began to sing.
Ray sighed. Sure, he could complain if he really wanted to, but Fraser had just been forced to listen to Ray's girlfriend talk dirty over the phone, so the least Ray could do was sit quietly and listen to Fraser do his Pavarotti impression.
Actually, now that he was forced to listen, Fraser had a really good voice. Ray tried to imagine what he would sound like singing a nice country ballad or something bluesy. Briefly, he considered making a request but dismissed that idea hastily. No way was he going to ask Fraser to sing to him. That would be just weird.
They spent the rest of the afternoon playing poker. Ray lost a lot, to the point where he admitted there was probably not enough air in the entire apartment to pay off his debts. Fraser was very understanding, saying that if ever he found himself in need of extra air, he was sure Ray would give it to him with interest. It was an odd statement, but Ray let it pass. He was more than a little distracted by the way Diefenbaker was staring at Curtis. It made him a little edgy, no matter how many times Fraser assured him that Dief had no culinary ambitions where the turtle was concerned.
Later, they chilled out and sat next to each other on the couch, Fraser happily making alterations to his undershirts and Ray staring at the blinking red light on his answering machine. He knew at some point he was going to have to give Gretch a call and try to explain all this. He had no clear idea how he was going to explain it though. Even to his own ears, it sounded strange. 'It's for charity' seemed lame somehow, even if it were the truth.
They had both managed to get clean underwear and jeans on, as Fraser wanted to take Dief for a brief walk in the local park before bedtime. As he explained, Dief's love of all things salty meant the animal's need to urinate last thing at night was a problem that could not be ignored, especially in light of Ray's hardwood floors.
"There!" Fraser bent double and bit the end of the thread, then straightened up. "Fortunately, it's an extremely warm evening, so we won't need coats. I doubt my skills with a needle and cotton would stretch that far at any rate." He held the scrap of material up for Ray's inspection. "I think I managed to conceal the Velcro rather well, don't you?"
Glancing away from the blinking red light, Ray nodded distractedly before his brain registered something that he really should be paying attention to. The thing Fraser was now slipping Ray's feet into was lime green! By the time that fact had finally registered in Ray's brain, Fraser had tugged the garment up to his knees and was urging him to stand. Ray slipped his free hand through the armhole, going cockeyed trying the read what was emblazoned across the front.
Then his attention was drawn to Fraser's own shirt, and he momentarily forgot his curiosity. "Mounties Do It on Horseback?" Ray gawped at the bright blue text on a canary yellow background. "Jeez, Fraser, where the hell d'ya get these?"
Fraser fastened the Velcro at his shoulder and grinned back at Ray widely.
"Constable Turnbull brought them back from a vacation he had in Florida. He found them rather humorous. I must admit, I hadn't envisioned a situation where I would actually wear them."
"Turnbull, huh? Figures." Ray squinted down at his own lurid shirt, which proclaimed 'I Always Get My Man' in bright orange. "You have got to be kidding me, Fraser!"
Just as Ray reached for the hem of the offending garment, preparing to rip it the fuck off, Dief began whining and running in tight little circles at the front door.
Fraser frowned. "Oh, dear!"
"What? He's gotta go right now?" Ray said, already knowing the answer. Unless he wanted to be mopping up wolf pee all night, he was gonna have to live with the shirt, no matter how fucking gay it made him look!
It was a balmy night, with a full moon and a bucket load of stars peppering the night sky. Ray led Fraser over to the local park, hoping that Dief might take pity on them and run ahead, do his business and save them having to be seen in public. It wasn't like they were inconspicuous. In those shirts, they practically glowed in the dark!
As they approached the gates, Ray tried to walk at an angle that would hide the handcuffs, but there were far too many people milling around. Fraser seemed to understand. He threaded his fingers through Ray's and squeezed reassuringly, but for some reason, didn't let go. Ray had to admit that the gesture effectively hid the cuffs from sight but still...
They walked into the park hand in hand, and Ray cleared his throat. "Frase? My hand?" He wiggled his fingers.
Fraser squeezed tighter. "I think it's best not to draw any attention to ourselves, Ray. The hand cuffs are a little suspicious, don't you think?"
"And you don't think the fluorescent t-shirts and holding hands in public might draw attention?"
Fraser smiled and kept on walking. "Not really, Ray. When in Rome..."
Ray stopped avoiding eye contact with the world and looked around properly for the first time. Fuck! They didn't stick out at all there.
Ray didn't spend an awful lot of time in the park. How was he supposed to know it was a gay meeting place after dark? All around them, guys were strolling around hand in hand, just like them. Some were getting a bit more intimate in the shadow of the trees.
There was a small knot of leather-clad bikers congregating at a picnic bench. Looked like they were doing a dope deal to Ray, and he could only hope his partner hadn't noticed, 'cause they could not get involved in a bust right now. Not handcuffed together and decked out like rejects from a gay pride float.
Dief ran off into the deep undergrowth, and Ray pulled Fraser off the path, behind a tree. "How long do we gotta keep doing this?" he asked quietly, trying to look in several directions at once. No telling what could leap out at you in a gay park after dark.
Fraser tugged Ray's hand up and looked at his watch. "Approximately 60 hours, Ray," he answered promptly.
Ray groaned, and they hadn't even got the worst part over yet. They still had to sleep together. Ray was almost dead on his feet, but he hadn't shared his sleeping space since he and Stella split. Oh sure, he'd shared his bed, but not for sleeping purposes. There had been very little sleeping going on.
"Did you hear that?" Fraser poked his head around the tree and did his spaniel impression. Head cocked, eyes tracking the faint sounds. If he'd been in possession of a tail, it would have been wagging by now. Dief chose that moment to lope up to them. Fraser listened to his complicated series of barks, whines, and woofs, then raised both eyebrows heavenward. "Oh dear! We have to get out of here, Ray, right now!"
Without waiting for a reply, Fraser hauled Ray quickly towards the denser trees, and just as the darkness engulfed them, Ray finally heard what both Fraser and Dief already had; the sound of a police siren and a loud speaker instructing no one to move.
"A fucking raid?" Ray gasped, staggering blindly after his partner, as roots and branches caught at his legs and scraped the bare skin on his arms. Fraser's eyes seemed to have adjusted just fine to the total lack of light, deep in the trees. He strode ahead for a while, deftly avoiding being maimed or mutilated by Mother Nature. Suddenly he whirled around and flung himself at Ray. "DOWN!" he hissed, his weight bearing them both to the ground just as a searchlight illuminated the trees behind them. Ray lay still, half crushed under Fraser's weight, watching the light do a sweep before flickering out, plunging them into darkness again. All he could think of was that Fraser smelled really good, which was odd, 'cause they had both used the exact same shampoo and soap, but it had never smelled that good on Ray. Then there was the fact that Fraser was really heavy. That was pretty odd, too. Ray had had guys land on him before, but this was different. Neither of them were moving. They were just sort of lying there in the darkness, sniffing each other's hair. How weird was that? Then Fraser was helping him to his feet. "That was too close, Ray. I hate to think how embarrassing that could have been for both of us, had we been apprehended."
Ray's eyes were beginning to grow accustomed enough to the dark to see the sparkle in Fraser's eyes. "You're fucking enjoying this, aren't you?" he growled, not in the slightest bit surprised to learn that Fraser was smiling.
"Well, you have to admit this beats standing guard outside the Consulate, Ray."
Once safely back at the apartment, Ray phoned for a pizza delivery, and dragged Fraser into the bathroom. He stared at their twin reflections in the mirror and sighed. They both looked like they'd been dragged through a hedge backwards, which wasn't that far from the truth.
All the while, Ray kept up a snarky commentary about the unfairness of the situation. So, Huey and Dewey had to dress like Big Bird and Cookie Monster and spend their weekend visiting sick kids. Welsh had to dress up like a woman for a couple of days and Frannie had to go 72 hours without speaking. Woopty-doo! None of that could hold a torch to being chained to your best friend and partner for the duration.
If they were still best friends by the end of this, Ray would be very surprised. He knew he wasn't the easiest of people to get along with. He woke up grumpy everyday, liked spicy foods and paid the gastrointestinal price for so doing, snored like a buzz saw when he'd been drinking, and saw nothing wrong with solving disputes by kicking his opponents in the head.
Fraser, on the other hand, woke with a smile at the crack of dawn, ate healthy foods, slept in the same position all night like he'd been laid out in his coffin, and always tried to solve things by talking first. Two more dramatically opposed personalities would be harder to find; yet their weird partnership worked.
Maybe it was because they complimented each other so perfectly. He had no idea. He just knew that it worked.
Most of the time.
Anyway, when the 72 hours were finally up, it was doubtful Fraser would even want to continue as his partner, let alone his friend.
"Ray, your optimism knows no bounds." Fraser had been replying to Ray's assertion that there was no way they would make it to the end of the challenge in once piece, when he suddenly leaned forward and used the corner of his washcloth the wipe away a smudge of dirt from Ray's cheek. "You missed a spot."
Normally, Ray would jerk away and give Fraser one of his long suffering looks, but standing this close and chained together as they were, Ray was forced to endure Fraser's ministrations. It reminded him a little of the time he had run to Fraser for help after the Volpe shooting. Then it had been some stinky ointment, this time is was just a wet cloth, but it was so typical of their relationship. Fraser was always there to mop up Ray's mess. Set 'em up... knock 'em down. But these days, Ray wasn't so sure who had which role.
He was still wondering about that when the doorbell rang, heralding the arrival of their pizza. They hadn't been able to agree on a topping, so they settled for a half and half. Fraser was the only person Ray knew who actually liked anchovies.
Once the pizza was devoured, Dief helping out with the final slice that no one could manage, they both filed into the bathroom again to wash up and clean their teeth. Fraser carefully set his hairbrush, toothbrush, shaving mug and razor strop on a shelf that Ray cleared for him. They both used the toilet in turn while the other one whistled loudly and looked away, then finally there was no more putting it off....
Ray led the way into his messy bedroom and stood in the doorway, looking around at the chaos in dismay. Had he known he'd be sharing his living space, he might have made a bit of an effort to tidy up. Fraser peered over his shoulder and made a tiny noise of distress.
Ray was immediately assaulted by horrific visions of Fraser color-coding his socks and jocks. The truly terrifying thing was that Fraser would do exactly that, given half a chance. Ray hauled the top sheet off the bed and tossed a pillow to Fraser, scooping the other one up for himself. "Okay, let's... go do some damage to our posture," he grinned with false bravado.
Fraser looked longingly at the big double bed and sighed. Ray felt a little guilty about depriving his friend of the luxury. That tiny, narrow cot Fraser slept on at the Consulate must have looked like an instrument of torture to him compared to Ray's bed, but there was no way he was sharing it with Fraser, no matter how good friends they'd become.
But to his credit, Fraser didn't say a word. He merely held the pillow to his chest and followed Ray back into the living room. They got themselves arranged in as comfortable a position as they could, given the circumstances. Ray sat at one end of the sofa, Fraser at the other, their shackled wrists resting in the vast space between them. Ray flicked off the lamp and tugged the thin sheet up to his chin.
"Sorry about earlier, Frase," he said quietly.
"Which particular incident are you apologizing for,?" the Mountie asked, matching Ray's movement with his own.
"What? You think I have more than one thing to apologize for? On second thought, don't even answer that!" Ray sighed deeply, cutting Fraser off before he could start on what would probably be a very long list. "I was talking about the message on the phone from Gretch. She's... she's a bit of a live wire, y'know?"
There was a moment of silence before Fraser answered. "She certainly has an amazing grasp of the vernacular."
"If by that you mean she knows how to talk dirty, then hell yeah! First time she did that to me, I damned near came in my...."
"Too much information, Ray!"
Ray awoke at dawn with a king-sized crick in his neck. Watery sunlight filtered into the room, casting a golden glow across the ceiling, which was the only thing Ray could see at the moment. He was lying face up on the sofa, his head wedged between two cushions.
Raising himself up on his elbows, he blinked frantically while he tried to make sense of the situation. Sleeping on couch... fully clothed... lost all feeling in left hand... felt like the morning after a fight with Stella. No, wait, no more Stella. So why the fuck was he...oh, yeah, the challenge thing!
Ray peered over the edge of the couch and winced. Fraser was lying flat out on the floor on his back, with his handcuffed arm sticking straight up in the air in a position that looked far from comfortable. He was also wide awake. Looked like he hadn't gotten a wink of sleep all night in fact.
"Mornin'," Ray croaked, using his free hand to rub the sleep from his eyes. "Whatcha doin' on the floor?"
Fraser sat up, flexing his fingers to get the circulation going again. "Well, Ray, you kept trying to use me like a mattress, just as Diefenbaker often does," he explained, helping Ray into a sitting position, "but you weigh a little more than Dief."
"Yeah, I'm a bit of a sprawler. Stella was always moaning about that. Sorry, Frase."
Ray shot Fraser a surreptitious look. How come the guy could spend a night lying on the floor with his arm at an unnatural angle and still look so damned good? Ray was well aware that even after a decent night's sleep in a nice comfortable bed, he still looked like a wino 'til he'd shaved and downed several cups of coffee...and had a pee. Oh yeah, the pee thing was sounding good.
Fraser seemed to read his mind. "Ray, would you accompany me to the bathroom?"
"Would you accompany..! Jeez, Frase, can't you just say 'Ray, I gotta pee?' What's with the 'Miss Manners' shit first thing in the morning?"
"Well it's hardly a phrase I would use. Perhaps you would prefer the more direct, 'Ray I feel the need to urinate...?"
Ray knew Fraser was yanking his chain, but he was too stiff and sore to care. It was barely past dawn. He felt like he hadn't slept in days. His arm ached. His bladder was full, and he needed a cup of coffee injected straight into his bloodstream. He got to his feet and stumbled along in the Mounties' wake.
"...or how about 'Ray, I need to empty my bladder?'"
"You're taking the piss, aren't you?"
"Far from it, Ray. I'm attempting to rid myself of 'the piss'." The corner of Fraser's mouth twitched, and Ray had to blink. Had the Mountie just made a joke?
"Hardee-har!" Ray shot back, deciding not to encourage his partner's odd sense of humor by actually laughing at the play on words.
They reached the bathroom, and Ray busied himself with trying to squeeze out some toothpaste one-handed, while Fraser took the longest pee in history.
"The wolf isn't the only one who should cut back on salty foods, Fraser!"
"Sorry! I can only assume it was the anchovies."
By the time Fraser was tucking himself back in, the sound of running water had triggered Ray's own Pavlovian response, so they swapped places, or at least they tried to.
The sink was situated on the right hand side of the toilet, and Ray's left hand was cuffed to Fraser's right, so in the end, Ray had to sit down on the toilet to allow Fraser the chance to wash, and even then, Fraser's right arm was twisted uncomfortably behind his back. It wasn't the easiest position in which to pee, and not for the first time did Ray envy the fact that women did this all the time. Many a drunken night he'd found himself leaning over the can, peeing the never-ending pee, and wishing like hell he could just sit down and fall asleep there like Stella had done sometimes.
So he sat, and he peed, but sitting down on the toilet meant only one thing to Ray, thoughts of which triggered another Pavlovian response, expedited by the chilli beef topping he'd insisted on for his half of last night's pizza. "Crap!"
Fraser rinsed and spat then looked over at Ray enquiringly. "Problem?"
"More of a description, actually. I, er, I need to, uh... I need to... how would you put this - evacuate my bowels, Frase. You might want to use the key Dewey gave you, 'cause this definitely constitutes an emergency."
"Ah!" Fraser calmly put down his toothbrush and began to strip off his clothes. "I don't think that'll be necessary."
Ray watched in confusion before realizing that Fraser intended to get into the shower. Good thinking! That would definitely drown out some of the more humiliating sounds, though he doubted it would help much with the smell. He swiveled round, straddling the can again to allow Fraser access to the bath.
Reading his mind again, Fraser smiled as he clambered into the bath. "Once you've spent time living in close proximity to musk ox, Ray, you have to redefine your understanding of the word 'stinky'."
Ray waited patiently for the singing to begin, thinking that maybe Fraser would soon be forced to redefine his understanding of the word 'stinky' even farther.
Dief's early morning constitutional was less fraught than last night's escapade. The park was deserted this early in the morning. Ray walked in silence, shivering a little in the mist. It was going to be another warm day, but this early, it was still chilly enough to warrant wearing some sort of over-garment. Thank God for the stupid poncho he'd bought down in Mexico, which not only kept him warm, but also hid the handcuffs nicely.
Fraser had done one of his quick alteration jobs on a white RCMP t-shirt, but Ray could see from the peaked nipples and tight line of his mouth, that even mister 'sub-zero temperatures are good for the soul' was feeling the chill.
"Wanna share my poncho?" Ray offered gallantly, fully expecting Fraser to decline. After all... Fraser liked being cold didn't he? The words 'repent at leisure' sprang to mind when Fraser gave him a blinding smile and ducked his head under the poncho, popping up a moment later through the v-shaped neckline.
"Thank you kindly, Ray." He grinned.
Ray blinked. They were standing in the middle of a public park, pressed together almost chest to kneecap under a single poncho, and Fraser didn't think this was at all weird? Ray certainly felt weird. It was one thing being at Fraser's side for days on end, but quite another standing here facing him. That made it feel different. More intimate. Yeah, weird was as good a word as any to describe how Ray felt.
He shifted from one foot to the other, looking everywhere but at Fraser's face, only inches away from his own. He spotted Deif rooting around under a tree and willed the wolf to get a move on so they could go home, back to the apartment where he wouldn't feel quite so... exposed.
"Uh-huh?" He glanced briefly at Fraser, but it was very hard to focus this close up, so he settled for staring at a point somewhere over Fraser's shoulder.
"I just want to tell you how impressed I am."
"Uh-huh," Ray repeated tightly, desperately wondering what Fraser was impressed with.
"Oh, yes! A lesser man would've demanded we cheat long before now, considering the problems we've faced. But apart from the incident in the bathroom this morning, you've never seriously suggested it... and I believe even then, it was more for my comfort than your own."
Yeah, that'd surprised the fuck out of Ray, too. Not even 24 hours into their enforced togetherness, yet already Ray had grown accustomed to it. He could barely imagine what it would feel like not being handcuffed to the Mountie.
"Jeez! Get a frickin' room!" someone shouted from the path ahead.
Ray scowled at the youth as he whizzed past them on roller blades, ignoring the impulse to stick his foot out and trip the little shit when he jeered, "Stupid homo's."
Maybe it was being this close to Fraser that allowed some of the guy's even-temper to rub off on him? This time yesterday, the kid might well have ended up sprawling in the dirt with the business end of Ray's gun shoved in his face. He glanced up and noticed that Fraser was looking a little flushed. "That bother you?" he asked.
Fraser ducked out from under the poncho and shrugged. "Not especially. People have been trying to find a label that fits me for years. I like to think there isn't one."
"Sure there is," Ray grinned. "You're a freak. How often do I gotta tell ya?"
Fraser turned away, frowning.
What the hell did that mean? Fraser had never seemed upset before when Ray had called him a freak. Was there something else going on here? And if being called names didn't bother Fraser, why had he felt the need to abandon the warmth of the poncho Ray offered?
Unless he thought Ray might be embarrassed by the kid's comments? Well this time yesterday, Ray would have been. Today? Today, it didn't feel quite so weird.
But there was no time to think about it. Dief bounded back towards them, yipping like a poodle, which Fraser translated as, "His Majesty would like his breakfast now." They hurried back to the apartment, barely meeting another soul en route, thank God. Ray was beginning to think that maybe, just maybe, they could pull this off after all.
They set about making breakfast, but unlike yesterday, they managed to work gracefully together, never once jarring or tugging each other in the process. It was almost like they shared a psychic bond as well as their physical one.
They even managed to wash up the dishes without getting in each other's way. Ray was beginning to enjoy himself. Once you got past the embarrassment of being so close to another human being, it was actually quite fun.
Oh sure, you got to see them at their very worst, too. Ray never really noticed before how much Fraser 'talked' with his hands, or how often he rubbed his eyebrow, until he'd been chained to him for a few hours. And in fairness, Fraser probably hadn't realized how hyperactive Ray could be after a few cups of coffee with added M&M's.
They'd both been forced to make some serious changes to the way they acted, in order to make the other more comfortable. But once you did that, once you really got inside another person's head and lived in their personal space, you took your relationship with that person to a whole new level.
Ray could only compare it to the way it'd felt being married. Even then, it hadn't been this intense. He thought he'd known Stella better than any living being on the planet... until they'd actually gotten married and spent every minute of every hour of every day together.
That up close and personal, you got to see it all, warts, blemishes, everything...and even then, he and Stella had never spent this much time in such prolonged contact.
Ray couldn't think of one single occasion where she'd remained in the bathroom while he used the can, or vice versa. He'd never watched her wax; she'd never seen him shave. How bizarre was that?
They'd always managed to keep some 'alone' time every day. Eventually, the 'alone' time had become greater and the 'together' time had dwindled, until they could barely stand to be in the same room for more than a few minutes.
"...don't know about you, but I could seriously use one."
"Huh?" Ray was still lost in Stella-world. "Sorry, Frase, d'you say something?"
"I was merely wondering if we could manage a shave this morning. And then there's the issue of grocery shopping. You have no food, Ray."
It was true. Ray wasn't the best housekeeper in the world, and his culinary skills reached only as far as canned or frozen food. When he ran out of something, he tended to jump in the car and go pick it up at the 7 Eleven. He hadn't exactly been planning on doing a great deal of eating this weekend. His fridge was stocked with beer, and a lonely can of whipped cream, for which he'd harbored great plans....
"Well, if you don't mind getting stared at, there's a grocery store quite near. We could drive over and get some fresh food for lunch. I figure we'll be eating out after your Mozart thing this evening, though, right?"
Fraser looked a little shocked, which pleased Ray immensely. It was nice to know he could still metaphorically 'sneak up' on Fraser like that.
"You're saying you'll accompany me to the concert?"
Ray raised their joined wrists, "Do I gotta choice? No, I don't! Just promise me you won't try to discuss the relative merits of, uh, neoclassical doohickeys in relation to, uh, socio-evolutionary whatchamacallits. Fair enough?"
"If I had a clue what you meant Ray, I would most assuredly agree."
Grocery shopping turned out to be a lot of fun. Ray, still sporting his stylish poncho, pushed the cart, and Fraser had no option but to hold onto the handle and pretend he had some say in where Ray was going. They tugged and pulled at each other, trying to avoid certain aisles or actively traveling others. It'd begun as gentle prodding but developed into a full-scale war before long.
"Ray, if you eat like this on a regular basis, you'll be dead before you reach fifty."
Ray grinned and shoved the cart down the cereal aisle, throwing a box of Lucky Charms in beside the package of All-Bran Fraser had already chosen. "Live fast, die young, huh? Well, like Marilyn Monroe, I want people to remember me as I am right now, young and beautiful."
"Not so young, I'm afraid," Fraser muttered under his breath as he reached for the box of Lucky Charms and began reading out loud the list of additives and preservatives. Ray just sang 'lalala' and continued shoving the cart towards the dairy section.
"You think Dief will like this?" Ray asked, selecting a huge chunk of cheddar from the refrigerated cabinet. Fraser carefully took the cheese from his hand and replaced it with its equally fattening friends.
"Deifenbaker eats dog food, Ray, not human food."
"No kiddin'? How about some anchovies then? They ain't fit for human consumption."
Fraser ignored the jibe and managed to steer them to the dog food aisle. He also ignored Ray's attempts to fill the cart with exotic, calorie-ridden pet foods. Deifenbaker would eat his normal dried food and like it!
"Will you at least let me cook something healthy for lunch? Ray? Ray. Ray. Ray!!!"
Ray dragged his eyes away from the twenty-something blonde in the miniskirt and crop top, who was coming in the other direction. "Huh?" he replied dumbly. He knew he should be ashamed of himself for ogling the girl. He was far too old for her, and besides, he was seeing someone already, wasn't he? Even if she was jetting out tomorrow, never to return, due to the serious lack of hot monkey sex Ray had been promising.
Still, it was like the floodgates had been opened. Since he and Stella had broken up, Ray's love life had been a little sparse, to say the least. Okay, non-existent, if the truth be known. First woman he'd been even remotely interested in was Frannie, and she was out of bounds, being as how she was supposed to be his sister and all.
There'd been a couple of half-hearted dates, including the ill-fated trip down to Mexico, where all he'd gotten was this scratchy fucking poncho. Then there had been Luanne Russell. Damn, but he'd screwed that one up, big time! She was everything he wanted in a woman, and she was so far beyond pissed at him that even Fraser hadn't been able to mend the rift. And, God bless him, he'd tried.
Gretchen wasn't anywhere near what Ray wanted in a woman, but she was ready, willing and way more than able to give him what he needed right now. Which was sex...and lots of it. She'd ripped the lid of that particular Pandora's box within ten minutes of meeting him, and now he couldn't put it back on.
If anything was going to make him beg Fraser to throw in the challenge, it was this. God, he was horny! All he had to do was look at a shapely pair of legs, and he was walking funny for the next five minutes. But how the hell could he explain all that to Fraser?
The Mountie had to be the least sexual person Ray had ever met. The guy had women, and to be absolutely fair here, a few men, throwing themselves at him constantly, but he either didn't notice, or he was just plain not interested. Ray wished for even half his appeal. Not that he didn't have charms of his own, but still....
Maybe it was just the sexy uniform? Ray had 'borrowed' Turnbull's red serge tunic and funny shaped pants once, but hadn't found hoards of beautiful women throwing themselves at his feet. It had felt nice, though... tight, and a little scratchy around the collar, but nice. Serge was a lot softer to the touch that it looked.
Then again, it couldn't be just the uniform, because even dressed in civvies, Fraser still attracted every single woman for miles around. Ah, hell, it didn't even matter if they were single, they all gravitated to the Mountie like comets to a black hole, even the happily married ones.
"Ray, could you please try to focus on the task in hand?"
"Yeah, yeah. In hand. Sure, Frase." Ray was almost breaking his neck trying to get a look at her ass. Fraser made a sound something like an indignant 'hmmph' and tugged them both around into the next aisle.
"Honestly, you're like a dog in heat. I should throw a bucket of ice water over you, like I did with Dief the time he took a shine to Emily Buckhaven's lead sled dog, Bruin."
"Hey, don't compare me to your crazy wolf, okay? And... isn't Bruin a guy's name?"
"Oh, yes, as was its owner. Hence the need for the ice water." Fraser selected a package of filter coffee and tossed it into the cart. "Dief is remarkably open-minded when it comes to sex. My father once said that he would 'hump a rutting moose, given a running start and a high wall to jump from'."
Ray blinked and shook his head. Fraser talked some awful shit sometimes, but it was difficult for Ray to wrap his head around the fact that the wolf was bisexual. He didn't look particularly queer, but then what did a queer wolf look like? He tried to remember if Dief walked like an alpha male or if he minced at all. And hell, if this was meant to distract him from noticing all the healthy shit Fraser was loading up the cart with, then... well... it was damned well working.
They joined the checkout line and unloaded the cart without drawing attention to their joined wrists. It was getting easier and easier by the minute. They no longer felt awkward, so they no longer acted as such. Ray handed over his credit card, moaning all the time about the amount of green stuff and rabbit food he was paying for, and they picked up a bag each.
"How long've we got left?" Ray asked as they walked to the car.
Fraser didn't even have to glance at his watch anymore. "A little under 48 hours. We've survived the first third of our ordeal intact. Congratulations."
"Back at ya, buddy." Ray opened the back door and laid his bag of groceries on the seat, then reached round for Fraser's. "So what time do we gotta be at this Mozart thing?"
They clambered into the car in their usual fashion, ignoring the strange looks from other shoppers.
"It begins at six. But Ray, there may be a slight problem." Fraser turned the key in the ignition and the engine purred to life. "You see, it's quite a formal event. I don't think our shirts, lovely though they are, will quite cut it."
"So whatcha thinking? Spend the afternoon sewing Velcro down the arm of Huey's tux? I don't thing he's gonna be wildly pleased with that idea, Frase."
"No, of course not. It's not quite that formal. Still, I think we'd be expected to wear a suit and tie at the very least."
Ray checked the mirror as Fraser slowly pulled the GTO out into the afternoon traffic. "Hey, I only got one good suit, and I need that intact for court on Monday. You are not getting near it with a pair of scissors."
There was a long pause, where Ray wondered if Fraser was trying to think up some sort of argument, but when he glanced sideways, he saw that Fraser was looking a little torn.
"Actually, Ray, I was considering undoing the cuffs just long enough to allow us to put on suitable attire."
Ray's indignant bellow almost made Fraser crash the car.
Ray was still in full rant mode as they entered the apartment. "You won't uncuff us to let me take a goddamn shit in private, or spend some quality time with my girlfriend, but you'll bend the rules to suit your own purposes? Oh that's just great, Fraser. That is greatness!"
"I said we should forget it, Ray. Please, it was a terribly ill-advised idea, and I apologize for being so selfish. Can we drop it now?"
Ray dragged Fraser over to the kitchen counter and dumped his armful of grocery sack onto it.
"No, we cannot drop it! I still don't believe you'd even consider it, Mr. Laced-Up-Tighter-Than-a-Virgin's-Underwear!"
Fraser began unpacking the groceries, looking for all the world like a little boy who'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He looked so pathetic, Ray took pity on him and decided not to milk this any further. "Look, I'm willing to go with you, Frase. I'm willing to sit through the most boring evening of my life with you. I'm even willing to break the fucking rules for you, but..." Ray snatched the box of teeth-rotting cereal out of Fraser's hand and looked him right in the eye, "...what I'm not willing to do is let you break the rules."
Fraser's jaw dropped in amazement. "Ray, that's... that's exceptionally sweet of you..."
"The hell with sweet, Fraser! I know you, and you'd never be able to keep your mouth shut about it, and all this..." he raised their joined hands and shook the cuff, "...all this would be for nothing."
They exchanged a long look, and Fraser was the first to break eye contact. He looked down at their joined wrists and sighed. "You're right, of course. I'll call Mort and find out if he could use the tickets. I'm sorry, Ray."
"What? For showing me you're at least a little bit human after all? Forget about it." Ray reached forward and tipped up Fraser's chin so that he had no option but to look at Ray. "To make up for it, you're taking me out to dinner tonight, and you're paying. You do have some green American money in that hat of yours?"
"Of course, Ray. It would be an honor."
Ray was dropping off to sleep, having eaten a lion's share of the delicious lunch Fraser had prepared, when the sound of someone knocking on his door filtered through his fuzzy brain. He lumbered to his feet, dragging an equally sleepy Fraser with him.
Normally he'd have peered through the peephole, but the rapping was rather insistent, and he was tugging open the door before he really got much of a chance to think. His eyes widened when he saw Gretchen standing outside.
"Hello, Sugar," she drawled, in the Texan accent Ray found so appealing, "You ain't been returnin' my calls. A girl could get a little suspicious under those circumstances."
Behind the cover of the door, Ray pushed Fraser against the wall and kept him pinned there with the flat of his hand.
"Gretchen! Hi, uh, listen...."
Gretchen pressed herself close, provocatively rocking her leather-clad hips against him. "That sounds like the makin's of a brush-off, darlin'. Y'all wouldn't by any chance have another woman in there, wouldya?"
Fraser was scrabbling around in his pocket, and Ray knew he was looking for the keys to the cuffs. God it was tempting to let Fraser release him. Lord knew he needed what Gretchen was offering really badly right now, but he couldn't do it. He couldn't throw in the towel on this. Not after all they'd already suffered.
"No, no, no other woman. It's just that I'm kinda tied up at the moment, Gretch. I'm sorry..."
Gretchen must have realized something was happening behind the door. In one swift maneuver, she shoved Ray out of the way, stepped forward into the apartment, and slammed the door closed.
Fraser and Ray stood side by side, looking like a pair of deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck. Fraser licked his lips and scratched at the back of his neck, but Ray just stared back at the surprised woman. "Okay, maybe tied up is the wrong word to use. More like chained up, if you see what I mean?"
Taking her time, Gretchen stared at their joined wrists, then at Ray, then at Fraser and finally back at Ray.
"Okay, boys, that's kinda kinky, but it wouldn't be the first time I ever had me a threesome." She stepped right into Ray's arms and proceeded to kiss him within an inch of his life. He heard Fraser clearing his throat, but try as he might, Ray couldn't dislodge Gretchen from her lip lock using only one hand. Okay, maybe, to be honest, he wasn't trying all that hard, and maybe the thrill of being 'watched' by Fraser wasn't helping either.
When she finally let him up for air, Ray was gasping. He glanced at Fraser to see how the guy was coping. To his surprise, Fraser looked a lot calmer than he would have expected. He was the picture of control, staring straight ahead, just like he did when he was on guard duty outside the Consulate. Obviously he hadn't been able to locate the keys to the cuffs, or he would've already been long gone.
"How about it, honey-buns? Y'all up for a little three-way fun?" Gretchen purred, turning her attention to Fraser.
"Pardon me, ma'am, but are you suggesting a ménage a trois?" Fraser asked, in his best 'fine-upstanding-citizen-of-Canada' voice.
"Fraser, I don't know shit about French, but she's suggesting that you, me and her dive into bed together. The three of us. At. The. Same. Time."
Beside him, Fraser had gone back to searching his pockets. "Yes, Ray, I'm aware of that, but if I don't find the keys to these handcuffs soon, it may become a moot point. After all...hmmmmph!"
Ray almost felt sorry for Fraser when he saw his arms full of a squirming Gretchen. He already knew Fraser wasn't exactly immune to her verbal charms. His reaction in the bathroom the day before, after hearing her talk dirty on the phone, was proof of that. Gretchen was even more talented when it came to a practical application of her oral suggestions. He had to reach out a hand to steady Fraser as he staggered backwards a little under the onslaught.
However, as much as he found the idea of seeing the tight-laced Mountie loosen up a little, these were hardly the ideal circumstances. And there was that lily-white reputation of Fraser's, which Ray suddenly felt compelled to protect.
When Gretchen released Fraser, Ray grabbed her by the arm, opened the door and propelled her backwards through it. "Sorry, baby, this was a private party. Next time you're in town, call me, y'hear?"
She shot him a venomous look from narrowed eyes. "Why, not if you were the last man left alive on Earth, Raymond Vecchio!" With that she turned on her heels and flounced off down the corridor.
He let the door close and leaned his forehead on the wood. "Crap! Crap, crap, crap, CRAP!"
"Ray, I would've made myself scarce. There was no need to..."
"Forget it! Nothing's gonna get these cuffs off my wrist before Monday morning. I'm not so fucking desperate to get laid I'd blow it all now."
"Oh, God, no pun intended, Frase."
"As you wish, Ray." Fraser's voice contained the faintest hint of sarcasm. Not everyone would have picked up on it, but of course, Ray noticed.
Bastard! Did Fraser have any idea how hard it was for Ray to watch all his wet dreams incarnate walk away like that? Course not! What was he thinking? This was Benton Fraser... poster boy for celibacy. Jeez, he should've become a fucking priest, not a Mountie....
Oh, greatness! Now Ray's head was full of visions of Fraser wearing a long black robe and dog collar, which was... disturbing to say the least.
Ray sighed and straightened up, looking at the couch with distaste. He didn't feel like sleeping so early, and there was nothing worth watching on TV, not to mention the fact that a certain member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police owed him dinner.
"How do you feel about Italian?" he asked.
Fraser hesitated for a moment. "I'm very partial to Italian, Detective Vecchio."
There seemed to be a little too much emphasis on the word 'Vecchio', but Ray was too tired and way too frustrated to analyze the crap outta the cryptic statement, so he headed for the bathroom, dragging Fraser along behind him.
"Okay, we get clean, then you get busy with the needle and thread again. I'm not going out to dinner in a gay t-shirt."
Of course, even choosing a restaurant became a major undertaking. Ray turned down the first three places Fraser suggested out of hand, until Fraser got a little short-tempered and demanded to know what was wrong with his choices; after all, Ray had eaten at all of those places before without complaining.
"That's just it, Fraser! I like those places. When this is over, I wanna be able to show my face in them again."
"Why on earth would you feel....?"
"Shit, Fraser, do I really gotta spell it out? Imagine you and I, sitting at a table for two, candle in a bottle, little vase with a pink carnation between us, and our fingers entwined on the red and white checked table cloth due to the fact that we're handcuffed together!"
"It sounds delightful, Ray."
Ray closed his eyes, shaking his head. "It sounds GAY, Fraser. That's what it sounds like!! We go anyplace joined at the fucking wrist like this, and they're all gonna think we're doin' the wild thing."
To his amazement, Fraser just stared back at him. Didn't the guy get it? Didn't he understand that Ray had a reputation to uphold around there? He was a tough guy; he was a hard man. Everyone knew he solved his problems by kicking the other guy in the head. If the scumbags suspected that Ray might be batting for the other team, then ... then.... well, it wouldn't be good...
"So what you're essentially saying here, Ray, is that you're ashamed to be seen out on a date with me? And that even if I were the last human being left alive on Earth, you would not be doing the wild thing with me?"
Ray frowned. Fraser actually looked a little hurt. Damned Mountie was such a freak! Of course, that was exactly what Ray meant, but now he couldn't say that 'cause he might hurt Fraser's goddamned feelings.
"Fraser, come on buddy, don't..."
Fraser sat up a little straighter and drew in a deep breath. "I know I'm not much to look at, Ray, but I must admit, I hadn't thought I was quite that repugnant."
Ray watched in absolute amazement as his friend and partner slumped down on the sofa and pouted at him. Fucking pouted! No other way to describe the look on Fraser's face. He'd never pegged Fraser as one for indulging in self-pity, but that statement about being 'not much to look at' had to be designed to get Ray's sympathy, right? Ray may not want to date him, but he could see why others did. Benton Fraser was seriously good-looking. A person would have to be blind not to see that.
"Get up." Ray stood, hauling Fraser up with him. "Pick a place... Any place you want... We'll go." There was no way in hell he'd be responsible for putting that look back on Fraser's face again. If some future perp called him queer during an interrogation 'cause of this, then fine! Ray would have a valid reason for kicking him in the head. No problem!
Fraser was staring at him, mouth hanging open, clearly taken aback by the offer. Still, Ray stood by his decision. Who cared what other people thought. He was straight; Fraser was straight. He had nothing to be ashamed about, right? And fuck it; even if he were secretly gay - which he wasn't - it was still nothing to be ashamed of, right? Right?
"Luigi's? Aww shit, Fraser, Luigi's is right across from the Two-Seven!" Ray stared out of the taxi window in horror as the driver dropped them in front of one of the most popular Italian joints that side of the city. They'd decided to take a cab so Ray could drink, which was the only way he could imagine making it through the evening with his sanity intact.
"You did say I could choose any restaurant I wanted, Ray." This had, in fact, been Fraser's first choice.
Yeah, yeah, sure. He'd said that. He'd been making a, what do you call it, a gesture... a point. Hadn't really expected Fraser to call his bluff, though, had he? And honestly, he should've known better by now. Fraser played a mean game of poker.
"It's damned near full, Frase. We won't even be able to get a table."
Fraser paid the taxi driver, tipped him generously, and reached for the door handle. "Actually, Ray, I already have a table booked."
Ray was so shocked by that statement, he forgot to protest as Fraser opened the door and stepped out onto the busy sidewalk. It was a mild night, so there'd been no need for the poncho. They both wore jeans and t-shirts, skillfully altered to fasten under the arm.
They were through the door and approaching the fat, smiling patron before Ray had time to wonder how Fraser had managed to book a table when they'd spent every second of the last 30 odd hours together.
"Ah, Benito! Buona sera. Come siete??" The round guy slapped Fraser soundly on the back.
"Molto bene, grazie. E come siete?
"Bene, bene. How was the concherto? Tell me all about it?" As he spoke, Luigi ushered Fraser into the throng, and Ray had no option but to tag along. At least he now had his answer. Fraser must have booked the table earlier that week for himself and Mort, and had never gotten around to canceling it.
Fraser was explaining that certain circumstances had prevented him from attending, and their ample host was commiserating loudly when they finally made it to a small table right at the very back of the busy restaurant. Ray gratefully slid into the seat facing the door. And yeah, the tablecloth was red and white check. And yeah, there was the pink carnation.
"You no introduce me to your friend, Benito?" Damn, the guy was lighting the candle. Ray decided that the moment Luigi left, he blowing it out. Two guys did not need candlelight to eat by.
"I'm terribly sorry, Luigi. This is Ray Vecchio, my partner."
Ray extended his right hand and found it enveloped in a huge meaty fist, which pumped it furiously. "Ahhhh, so this is the infamous Vecchio? I think I know your father, yes? He still working for Toni the Tank Morelli?"
"Um..." Ray looked helplessly at Fraser. The original Ray Vecchio's father was dead, as far as Ray knew.
Fortunately, one of the young waiters chose that moment to drop a tray of dishes, so Ray didn't have to answer. Luigi dragged the unfortunate kid into the kitchen, where their raised voices were only slightly muffled by the double doors.
"Nice guy." Ray commented, leaning in to blow out the candle, "You come here often?" It was out of his mouth before he realized how that could sound like a cheesy pick-up line. He felt the color rise in his cheeks... which was ridiculous, as this was not a date.... it was just Fraser making a point
Fortunately, Fraser didn't seem to pick up on his slip of the tongue. "Quite often, yes. I come in here while waiting for you to finish up at the station. It's very conveniently placed."
"Hey Fraser, who's your friend?"
Ray twisted round in his chair to check out the pretty, dark-haired waitress, grinning back at her in open appreciation. Fraser reached for the menu with the hand that was cuffed to Ray, and apologized for jarring his arm, but somehow, it didn't sound all that sincere to Ray.
"Ray, Magdalena is Luigi's daughter. Maggie, this is my partner, Ray."
"Nice to meet ya, Maggie," Ray beamed. He accepted the menu she handed to him without even looking at it. "You must get your looks from your mother's side of the family."
Maggie pulled a pencil out from behind her ear and licked the end. "Nice one, Ray. So you guys want the special? Uncle Berto made cannelloni again. It's not too shabby. Or if you're really hungry, how about the house pizza?"
Fraser smiled and closed the menu. "I think I'll just have spaghetti carbonara tonight Maggie. I had rather a big lunch."
"Yes, thank you kindly."
"No problem. Ray?"
"Same here, if your phone number comes with it?" Ray waggled his eyebrows outrageously.
Maggie tucked her pencil back behind her ear and gave him a long assessing look. "Yeah, right!" She winked at him and sashayed off toward the serving hatch. Ray couldn't have dragged his eyes away from her ass if the tablecloth had gone up in flames.
He realized he was grinning like an idiot when he looked up and saw Fraser scowling back at him. "What?" he asked in confusion. "I can't ask a pretty girl for her number? Fraser, what the fuck is up with you? It's not like we're really on a date, y'know."
Fraser took a deep breath and opened his mouth, but before he could speak, the wine steward showed up. Apparently, Luigi was insisting they accept a bottle of his best Tuscan Chianti as a consolation for missing the concert. Fraser nodded his approval and watched the waiter uncork the wine, pour two glasses and leave the bottle.
"Ray, I'm sorry. I didn't know that being tied to me for 72 hours would be such a hardship for you. I suppose I thought it would be fun, but I didn't take into account the strength of your... your... baser instincts."
Ray's wine glass stopped halfway to his lips. "Baser... what the fuck does that mean?"
"Ray, it means I think I'm cramping your style. Am I cramping your style?"
He'd said it with such sincerity, Ray almost burst out laughing. What, did Fraser think Ray spent all his spare time trawling for women? That Ray thought about sex 24/7? That he was so desperate to get laid, he...?
Okay, so Fraser had him fairly much pegged.
"It's just you're making me feel like a damned pervert or something. It's perfectly natural for a guy to check out a nice-looking woman. You do it."
"I do not!" Fraser raised his glass and drained it in one long gulp.
Ray raised his eyebrows in surprise. In all the time he'd known Fraser, he couldn't remember a single time when he'd seen the guy drink alcohol. On the one hand, he felt Fraser could certainly use some loosening up, but on the other, if he continued drinking like that, Fraser would be unconscious before the main course was served.
Deciding to keep a close eye on his friend's wine intake, Ray sighed and leaned as far back in his chair as the cuffs would allow. So, Fraser didn't really check out the chicks. There was something very wrong about that. The guy was a freak...well-established fact...but he was also a ... a monk or something. Totally asexual. Ray glugged down his own glass of wine. "C'mon, Fraser. You mean Maggie doesn't turn your crank, even a little?"
Before Fraser could answer, the lady in question returned with a basket of rolls and two bowls of house salad. "So, you guys been partners long?" she asked, making herself useful by topping up their glasses. Ray almost made the mistake of answering that question truthfully. Sometimes he forgot he was only a stand-in for the real Ray Vecchio. Fortunately, Fraser caught the ball.
"Three and a half years."
Maggie looked surprised. "Wow. You guys don't look like you've been together that long. I was going to ask if you wanted me to send Carlo over."
At Ray's blank look, Fraser leaned forward and whispered, "Carlo is the violinist. He plays an assortment of romantic pieces for young couples on first dates."
Ray bolted upright and blinked at Maggie. 'Whoa! Maggie! Hey...c'mon...it's not what it looks like here, okay? Me and Frase...we're just friends...we work together, okay? We're just regular guys...two regular guys out for a quiet dinner...."
Then he got a look at Fraser's face, and suddenly, he didn't know what the hell to say. Fraser hadn't said a single word. He hadn't needed to. It was all there in the long look, the hurt expression, and the slight pout. Ray felt like a complete bastard. "Never mind. We'll skip the serenade, thanks," he said quietly.
"Gotcha." Maggie reached into her apron, pulled out a lighter and re-lit their candle.
By the time they were tucking into the tiramisu, Ray was cheerfully drunk. Between the two of them, they'd polished off the best part of three bottles of the Chianti, although Ray had managed to consume much more than Fraser.
Ray grinned indulgently at his partner, who was joyfully singing along with a chorus of waiters who were themselves accompanying the violinist to a rousing version of 'Bella Notte'. "You know what, Fraser?" Ray confided once the waiters had gone back to serving tables. "I've had a great time tonight." He really had. The alcohol had helped relax him, and watching his partner loosen up had been an education. Fraser was really a very funny guy, once you pulled the poker outta his ass.
Fraser leaned back in his chair and grinned widely. "As have I, Ray. We should come here more often. Perhaps for your birthday? Your birthday, not Ray's. That is, to say, not the other Ray... the real Ray... the original Ray... the...."
"Fraser! I get it. You want coffee?"
"Yes. Ah, no. I don't know."
"I think you need some coffee. Black coffee. Buddy, you are snozzled."
To his absolute horror, Fraser giggled.
Oh, yeah, it was time to get the Mountie moving. Ray wasn't used to drinking with someone who couldn't handle his booze. Getting them both home was going to be a real challenge, like everything else lately, so Ray decided the coffee could wait until they were safely inside the apartment. He waved Maggie over and asked for the bill, accepting her offer to call a cab for them. He was reaching for his wallet when Fraser leaned forward and snatched the bill from his hand. "I believe I told you this was my treat, Stanley."
"Stanley? Jeez! Only my mum calls me that. What d'ya say we split it?"
Fraser shook his head slowly and deliberately. "My treat. I promised to take you to dinner, but if you want, you can pay me back in kind." Knowing Fraser, 'payment in kind' would probably mean polishing his boots or something. Ray drifted off for a moment, seeing himself doing just that, feeling the soft leather, smelling the boot polish, seeing the approval on Fraser's smiling face....
And there was the giggling again. Fraser was flirting. First pouting, now flirting. What the fuck next? Letting Fraser pay the tab felt a lot like admitting this had been a real date, but for some reason, he let it pass.
Ray watched Fraser painstakingly count out the correct number of bills from his ever-present Stetson before getting unsteadily to his feet. They made it to the door without knocking anyone over. Luigi drew them both into a suffocating bear hug then expelled them both out into the chilly night air. Thankfully, their taxi was already waiting.
It took Ray three attempts to get the key into the lock. He made a mental note never to drink the wine at Luigi's again. Damned stuff was more potent than whiskey. Of course, having an inebriated Mountie slumped against him while he battled with the lock wasn't exactly helping.
"Frase, can you stand up a little?" Fraser slumped lower, hooking his chin over Ray's shoulder and nearly decapitating him with the brim of his Stetson. "Shit! Fraser. Frase... Ben!"
That got his attention. Fraser almost snapped to attention, giving Ray enough time to get the door open before he had to concentrate on holding them both up. For some reason, it took an inordinately long period of time to get from the doorway to the couch, and by the time they did, Ray was so worn out, the thought of getting from there to the kitchen to make coffee seemed more like an unobtainable dream.
Fraser tumbled backwards onto the sofa, taking Ray with him, and they landed in a confused tangle of arms and legs. Ray wriggled himself loose and slid onto the floor at Fraser's feet. Okay, so he was a little more snozzled than he'd thought. Maybe they both were, but seeing as how he was down here anyway...
"Fraser, gonna take your boots off, 'kay?"
"Very good place to start, Ray. Carry on," Fraser slurred, leaning back on the sofa so his Stetson slid over his eyes. Ray grinned. Marinated Mountie. Who knew?
Ray fumbled with the laces of Fraser's hiking boots, with one hand. The other was very carefully placed on the sofa next to Fraser's. Eventually, he got one boot untied and tried to tug it off, but it seemed to be welded to Fraser's foot.
"Little help here, buddy?" he grunted, giving the boot another sharp tug. Somehow, Fraser slid a little further down the couch. The rim of his Stetson caught on the back cushion tipping the hat right off his head. It slid down his chest and hit Ray's bent head. "Ouch!"
Another tug, and Fraser's ass slipped right off the sofa landing him squarely between Ray's knees. There was the sound of Velcro giving way, and suddenly, the perfectly presented Constable was looking more than a little... mussed.
"Why, Ray, if you wanted to roll around on the floor with me, all you had to do was ask." Fraser hiccupped, tugging the hem of his white t-shirt out of his waistband. Ray ignored that and concentrated on getting the other boot off. He was absolutely drenched in sweat by now and breathing fairly hard.
The boot finally flew off, hitting a side table and sending an ashtray full of marbles skittering all over the floor. Ray dropped down beside Fraser, leaning back against the sofa in a mirror image of Fraser's position. They both looked like they'd gone three rounds with Mike Tyson.
Ray turned his head and tried to focus on Fraser's face. Oh, no. Not good. The guy looked a little green around the gills. Ray really did not want to spend the night in the bathroom, listening to Fraser throw up. "Come on, Fraser, up and at 'em"
They staggered to their feet, and Ray guided Fraser towards the bathroom. Settling him on the closed toilet seat, Ray poured a glass of water and made Fraser drink it while he brushed his teeth, Fraser was looking a little glazed, so Ray decided he could skip brushing his teeth this one time.
Ray eased Fraser to a standing position and let go, watching him sway precariously back and forth. Fraser was not going to be conscious much longer. Making a decision based partly on the bravado of being drunk and partly on his high state of exhaustion, Ray led Fraser into his bedroom stopping just inside the door to strip off his jeans and t-shirt.
"This is not your sofa." Fraser stated waving his free hand in the direction of Ray's bed. "I demand to know your intentions towards me, Ray."
Ray sighed and taking a very deep breath, he reached for Fraser's belt. "Don't give me any shit about this, Frase. You and me are gonna have a decent night's sleep if it kills us." With a flick of his wrist, Ray had the belt undone and the top button of Fraser's fly open. "Now you gonna help me here?"
Fraser blinked, looked down, seemed to understand Ray's dilemma and finally, mercifully, got with the program. He wriggled out of his jeans, stumbled towards the bed, and collapsed face down, dragging Ray with him.
A moment later, they were busy trying to out-snore each other.
Ray nuzzled sleepily against the warm skin beneath his lips. It'd been a long time since he'd awakened next to a woman. Not since Stella left. That night he'd spent with Gretchen, neither of them had really fallen asleep long enough to make that count. She'd left very early in the morning, and Ray had gone back to sleep, waking a couple of hours later, all alone and glued to the sheets.
This time, he was going to make the most of it. His mind helpfully supplied memories of their last night together, and Ray found himself stirring, in more ways that one. She smelled incredible! Still more than half asleep, Ray couldn't put his finger on the brand of perfume she wore. Mostly he could smell sweat and wine and his own brand of shampoo. So that was probably himself he was smelling. He smiled, feeling the smooth skin slide under his lips.
Again he stirred, well twitched really, hardening even more against her thigh. He slid his hand slowly upwards, feeling the flesh beneath his fingers quiver. God, he was so horny!
It felt so good to be lying like this, half awake, half asleep. Gretchen moaned, a deep throaty sound that made Ray twitch again. His hand moved up further to cup her flat breast and his thumb brushed across her tiny little pebble of a nipple.
Ray's eyes flew open to find a very startled Benton Fraser staring right back at him.
"Oh dear!" said Fraser.
Ray's mouth fell open in shock as he snatched his hand away from Fraser's body. It was like someone had just emptied a huge bucket of ice-cold water right over his head. He'd touched Fraser's nipple! You didn't touch your partner's nipples... that wasn't... that wasn't buddies! Oh, God!
"Shit! Shit, shit, shit, SHIT!"
"Oh dear!" Fraser repeated, pressing his lips together and closing his eyes. His cheeks puffed out, and Ray heard him try to stifle the retching sound. Couldn't really blame him; Ray felt a lot like throwing up himself, but not here. Not in the bedroom.
"Fraser, don't you dare..."
But it was too late. Fraser twisted to the side and proceeded to throw up in the wastepaper basket next to the bed. Ray was forcefully dragged sideways by their joined wrists, which he had actually forgotten all about in the confusion. The sound of Fraser heaving was almost enough to start him off on a similar course, but seeing that he couldn't get anywhere near his side of the bed, he just had to fight down the waves of nausea.
Ray took a deep breath and placed a comforting hand on the back of Fraser's head. "S'okay, buddy. Better out than in, as my mum used to say."
"How long now?" Ray swallowed the two Advil and threw back another glass of water.
Beside him on the bathroom floor, Fraser raised his watch to his face and squinted at the dial. "We have exactly 24 hours of our ordeal left to endure."
Fraser sounded so wretched, Ray couldn't hide the hint of superiority tingeing his words. "What, you're not having fun?" he croaked, not feeling the least little bit guilty at the jibe.
Fraser shifted uncomfortably. "In actual fact, Ray, I want to die. I want to die of embarrassment, of shame, of dehydration, of armpit odor, of..."
"Shut the fuck up." His head wasn't in any condition to put up with Fraser in full rant mode, and in any case, there was no telling what direction Fraser's rant would take them in. He certainly wasn't ready to talk about what'd happened last night, or for that matter, this morning.
At some point, he supposed they'd have to talk about the touching thing, but that would have to wait for a time when they were free to throw a fit and walk away from each other. Not now, when they had no privacy in which to freak out. Ray couldn't handle thinking about any of it now.
Fraser, for once, did not answer with his customary 'as you wish', or 'understood.'
"Oh, good God, Ray, don't tell me you're enjoying all this?"
Ray turned his head and peered into the bath, checking to see how deep the running water had gotten. Still a few minutes more before he could sink into its sweet-smelling depths.
"Oh, sure," he grinned, "I'm having a blast, Frase. Best way to get rid of a pesky hangover is to chain yourself to a guy who's throwing up. And please, do me a favor, will ya? Don't breathe on me."
Fraser obligingly turned away, and Ray used the small moment of privacy to strip off his jockey shorts and t-shirt. The water was at just the right temperature, and he slid slowly down until the strain on his arm where he was cuffed to Fraser, began to twinge.
"Aaaaah. Bliss!" he sighed. The shower was fine for most things, but there were times when a long, hot bath was the only way to go, and this was definitely one of those times.
"Ray, may I ask you something?"
Ray opened his eyes and peered through the steam at the blurry face gazing back at him over the bath's rim. "Shoot."
"It's rather a personal question, I fear."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Frase, we just spent 48 hours in each other's intimate company. I don't think there's much mystery left, do you?"
"Very well." Fraser adjusted his position on the floor. "How do you justify having sex with someone you don't love?"
Ray stared up at the ceiling for a moment, wondering how the hell to answer that question, because the truth was, he couldn't justify it. Even when he was a teenager, desperately trying to get into Stella's pants, he'd known that it'd be for keeps with her. There were other girls along the way, sure, but always his sights had been set on that one woman, that one goal; to find that one person he could be with for the rest of his life.
Since Stella, he'd become jaded and probably more than a little scared. He hooked up with women that were no good for him, or not interested in anything more than a quickie. Casual sex was fun, but unfulfilling, and he missed all the little things like hell; the little things that meant you were serious about a person. He missed being in love. Yet he was too afraid of rejection to let himself commit to anyone.
"Sometimes you just need to feel wanted, Fraser. You need to pretend the person you're with means something to you. For a little while, you need to forget that you're alone."
"That sounds terribly bleak, Ray."
It was bleak. It was bleak and lonely, and he really didn't want to get into all that now. Ray reached for the soap with his free hand. "No, Fraser, what you've got is bleak. You're alone, too, but you don't even have the illusion of love."
It was a low blow, but it worked. Fraser fell silent, and Ray set to work trying to scrub away some of the grime, feeling like the biggest bastard this side of the Pecos.
"Ray, we really need to take Dief out. The poor creature is almost cross-legged."
Ray lifted the cushion from over his face and squinted at the wolf, who had been sitting at the apartment door and whining for the past half hour. "You're a smart animal, why can't you figure out how to use the can?"
Dief barked sharply, causing Ray to wince. His headache was a little duller than it'd been when they first woke up, but wasn't quite gone yet. "Okay, okay, we'll go to the park, just quit howling!" He was surprised to see that it was early afternoon already. They'd spent all morning lounging around watching TV.
Ray and Fraser got up and looked each other over critically. Yep, they looked like two guys with hangovers. Ray's hair was flat against his skull, the day's stubble shadowing his chin. Fraser's hair was all over the place, and he had huge shadows under his eyes.
"We look like shit," Ray commented conversationally.
Fraser shrugged. "For God's sake, Ray, we're only gonna take Dief out for a walk. It's not like we're gonna meet the Queen or anything."
Ray let his eyebrows climb into his hairline. No wonder Fraser didn't normally drink, if this was how pissy he got the next day. "Oooo, little cranky there, buddy?" Ray grinned, watching a tiny smile form on his friend's face.
"Perhaps a little. Some fresh air will no doubt work wonders."
"And a comb," Ray teased, handing him one from the basket by the door, "and maybe a little hair gel?"
"Over my dead body..."
"Could be arranged..." Ray busied himself with getting them out of the door, to dispel the sudden image he had of trying out an his experimental hair dressing techniques on Fraser's hair, and wondering how it would feel between his fingers. Was it as soft and shiny as it looked, or was it thick and wiry? And why the fuck did he even care?
The half-hearted bickering continued as they made their way down the stairs and out into the bright afternoon sunlight. Dief took off at a dead run the minute his paws hit the sidewalk, heading in the direction of the park.
Instead of following the wolf, Ray walked towards the GTO, fishing around in his jeans for the key. "Hang on a minute there, Fraser. Need to grab my shades from the glove compartment." The bright light was playing havoc with his hangover.
Dief knew the way back and forth from the park by himself, so there was no great hurry to rush after him. Ray led the way around to the passenger side of the car, opening the door and ducking inside to retrieve his sunglasses just as a black van pulled up at the curb.
"Freeze, Vecchio!" a gravely voice said from somewhere behind him. Ray always took orders like that very seriously, especially in light of the fact that for obvious reasons, he wasn't even carrying his firearm.
"Good boy. Now you and your boyfriend here need to step very slowly away from da motor."
Ray bristled at that, but managed to control his desire to turn round and smack the guy in the face. He backed out from the interior and glanced over his shoulder, to where a huge ape of a man in a gray sweatshirt was standing with a gun pressed to Fraser's head. Okay, not good. The guy had a tight hold of Fraser's collar too. So, they wouldn't be escaping anytime soon.
"Hands on da roof," ape-boy ordered, never once moving the muzzle of the gun from Fraser's temple.
"Yeah, yeah," Ray assured him, eyeing the weapon critically, "Don't get your panties in a bunch, okay. But listen, me and the Mountie here, we're kinda handcuffed together."
Slowly, very slowly, Ray raised their joined wrists so the big guy could see. He was worried that any movement from Fraser might have resulted in his friend getting his brains blown out, so it was better to come clean about this right away. And anyway, he needed a little more time to figure out what the hell was going on here. This fella knew his name, which was more that could be said for the reverse. Ray was sure he'd never seen their assailant before in his life.
"What da fuck?" growled the big guy when he saw their joined hands, "One of you better have da key, or tings is gonna get ugly."
"Fraser?" Ray turned his head, raising his eyebrows enquiringly. The key had never been out of Fraser's pocket all weekend. It was a damned shame that the challenge was about to get blown 'cause of this creep, but it couldn't be helped. Fraser stared back at him, looking a little blank.
"Key, Fraser. Hip pocket?" Ray urged.
"Ah! As you wish." Fraser reached into his pocket but for some unfathomable reason, he was being uncharacteristically clumsy. He fumbled the key, dropped it, and with a tinkle, it disappeared.
"Oh, dear!" Fraser looked stricken. "It's gone down the storm drain, I'm afraid."
The big guy rolled his eyes and sighed. "Well, ain't dat nice. Two for da price a'one. Get in." He pressed the gun against Fraser's head.
Ray knew that under normal circumstances he could take this guy, but handicapped by the cuffs like this, he wasn't willing to risk trying it; not in the street, where a stray bullet could get a civilian killed.
Ray let out a breath and clambered into the van, keeping a wary eye on their captor as he slipped into the bench seat in the back. To Fraser, he said quietly, "Where the hell is the wolf when you really need him, huh?"
Fraser slid in beside him as their captor closed the door. "Urinating up against a tree, no doubt."
"Shaddap!" the big guy hissed. "No talkin', or I'll gag ya."
Ray couldn't see out of the van's windows, which had been painted black. That was a clear violation of the Highway Code, but he figured the van's owner wasn't too worried about what was legal. There was a sliding window that separated the back from the driver's compartment in the front, but it, too, was blackened out. As the van peeled away from the curb, he braced himself as best he could.
"So, where we headed, Einstien? You got a destination in mind, or are we just driving?"
"Shut da fuck up!" yelled the man sitting opposite them. He pulled out his cell phone and stabbed at the keys with meaty fingers. Obviously this guy wasn't the brains of the operation, just the hired muscle.
"Yeah, boss, it's me, Freddie. I got him. But boss, I hadta bring da udder one, too..."
Ray smirked as the big guy was forced to hold the phone away from his ear. Even way over there on the other side of the wide van, Ray could hear someone shouting with a strong Italian accent.
"Oooo, you're in trouble now, Freddie, my man," Ray goaded.
"Shut UP!" Freddie screamed, returning his concentration to the mobile phone in his hand. "No, boss, not you. I was talkin' to Vecchio. He was handcuffed to da Mountie... Hang on, I'll ask him..."
Freddie leaned forward and addressed his next question directly to Fraser. "Why was you handcuffed to Vecchio? Did he arrest ya for some'tin'?"
"Well, actually..." Fraser began, but Ray jumped in quickly.
"Tell your boss, if he wants to know the details, why don't he come ask me himself, huh?"
Freddie relayed that message, winced, held the phone away from his abused ear again, and then tentatively held it closer. Finally he flipped it shut and opened the privacy screen a fraction, talking to the driver. "Take da next turn off and head out onto da interstate," he instructed tiredly.
Ray and Fraser exchanged knowing looks. Didn't take a genius to work out that this had something to do with the court case on Monday. If Ray were 'out of the way', then the case would be closed. This had Tempest's name all over it.
They drove for nearly three hours before their captors rolled down a window, letting in some fresh air. The scenery changed as they ate up the miles; open roads gave way to forestland, and before long, they were driving along a shoreline. Ray had only a vague idea where the hell they were. "So, you gonna tell me who you work for big guy?" he asked.
Freddie grunted and belched loudly, an unpleasant side effect of the three Big Macs he'd wolfed down at their rest break. "What, you ain't worked it out yet, Vecchio? I figgered ya for a smarter man dan dis."
Ray decided to keep his conclusions to himself. Hopefully, Tempest didn't want to add murder to his rap, especially not a cop killing. With any luck, they were being taken out of the way for a while, only to be released unharmed when it was too late for him to testify. At least that's what he hoped.
Could be that Freddie was just taking them out of the state to kill them. Ray wasn't sure, but he had a feeling they were heading towards Indiana. He'd driven that route a couple of times before, and was sure he'd caught glimpses of some of the distinctive landmarks they'd passed. A quick look at his watch confirmed that it was getting close to 6PM. They'd start losing daylight soon.
Freddie leaned forward and slid open the window that separated them from the driver. "Next left," he instructed. They pulled off the interstate onto a bumpy, rutted country road, and drove on in silence for about 12 miles.
Ray caught a glimpse of an impressive white-slatted two-story building, surrounded by neatly trimmed lawn and flowerbeds. To the right, a massive stable and corral dominated the skyline, to the left a small lake and woods. They pulled up outside the ranch just as three denim-clad tough guys in Stetsons came out of the house.
Freddie pressed his gun to the back of Ray's head. "Out, and don't try nothin' funny." Ray clambered stiffly out of the van, Fraser following close behind.
The air was heavy with dust and the smell of horses. They were at a ranch. A real working ranch. Ray tried to take in as much about their surroundings as he could before one of the cowboys grabbed him by the arm and hauled him towards the stables.
"Hey, Freddie, how come you cuffed 'em together?" the biggest of the thugs asked, shoving Fraser so hard he almost smacked right into Ray.
"Wasn't me," Freddie replied glumly, "Dey was already like dat."
"You into bondage, huh?" another goon asked, pushing them through the open stable door into the dim interior. "Well, you're gonna love this, then."
Ray found himself backed against one of the wooden support posts. A moment later, Fraser was being tied to the other side of the post, leaving them back to back.
"You boys have fun now, y'hear?" Then they were plunged into semi-darkness, as the huge door was slammed shut. Until his eyes had become accustomed to the gloom, Ray concentrated on the sounds and the smells surrounding him; sweaty horses, mice scampering, birds roosting in the rafters.
They'd managed to slide down the post so they were sitting on the hay-strewn floor. Fraser had spent the last half hour apologizing for being out of uniform, because he wasn't in the habit of carrying his Bowie knife in his jeans pocket. In the past, he'd carried one in his boot while out of uniform, but since Ray had told him how many laws that violated, he'd stopped doing it.
"Wanna tell me why you did it?"
At Ray's quiet question, he sighed, for once not even trying to act dumb. "I hoped that when faced with having to take both of us, our captor might back off. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case."
"So you did drop the key on purpose?"
Fraser stretched his legs out, trying to make himself a little more comfortable. "As a matter of fact, I didn't intend to drop it, but when it bounced on the sidewalk..."
Before Fraser could finish his sentence, the huge stable door creaked open. A small figure was silhouetted against the darkening skyline. "Well, well, well," the lilting feminine voice drawled, "we meet again, boys."
"Oh, dear!" whispered Fraser under his breath.
Ray tried to twist around so he could get a view of their visitor, though he didn't need to see her face to recognize her. The Texan twang was really very distinctive. Shock was quickly drowned out by anger, and then embarrassment.
Gretchen was carrying a tray of food, which she placed on the floor beside them, as the hired help she had brought along for backup lit a kerosene lamp. Hanging it on a hook, he retreated back into the shadows.
"I'm gonna free y'all now, but Hank over there's got a gun pointed right at your heads, so don't go thinkin' this'd be a good time to make a break for it."
She moved between them, slicing through the ropes with a very sharp knife. Ray shimmied around so that he sat next to Fraser and watched her make short work of the bonds while he regained some of his composure. It was all becoming painfully clear to him now. Gretch had been a plant. She'd probably been told to get close, get him off balance, get him thinking of anything but the trial... then take him out of the running. When she failed, Tempest had resorted to kidnapping.
"What was the plan, Gretch? Were ya gonna tie me to the bed? Drug my coffee? What?"
Gretchen leaned back, smiling coldly. "Anything that worked, sugar. Imagine my surprise when I showed up on Saturday only to find you playing cops 'n' robbers with this guy. Not that I don't see the appeal there," she reached out and ran one polished fingernail down Fraser's chest. "But still, I'm not used to being dumped like that. Kinda smarted, ya know?"
Ray slapped himself loudly on the forehead. Should have known. Should have fucking well known that a knockout like her couldn't be interested in him. Boy, did he feel like an ass. "Hey, that's a shame,' cause you know, I had a ring all picked out and everything."
Gretchen cupped his cheek and pouted coyly. "Aww, Ray, honey, I'm afraid I'm already spoken for." She got slowly to her feet, making sure both men got a good flash of bare midriff over the top of her tight leather pants. "Now you boys eat up. Behave yourselves, and Hank here will give you a nice warm blanket to sleep under, then take you into the woods tomorrow and let you go."
Fraser cleared his throat, "And if we don't? Behave ourselves, I mean?"
From the shadows of the barn, Hank replied, "Then I still take you into the woods and leave you there. But After I shoot ya."
Gretchen sashayed to the door. "Hank, honey, you keep a good eye on these boys, ya hear?"
When the doors closed, Ray reached for the tray of cold cuts and potato chips. It'd been a long time since they'd last eaten, but chances were the food was drugged. It'd certainly make it easier to guard them; it's what he'd do in their place. Shoving the tray away, Ray flopped down onto a hay bale and closed his eyes. No way was he falling for that.
"Please thank your boss kindly for his hospitality, Hank, but I'm afraid we're not feeling very hungry," Fraser said, sounding like he was complimenting the headwaiter at Luigi's, rather that parlaying with a hired gun. "Ray and I would appreciate that blanket now."
Ray realized he was shivering then. The t-shirts were great during the day, but once the sun had set, the temperature had dropped considerably. Hank threw a striped horse-blanket to them, and Fraser immediately draped it around them both.
It was kinda nice to be huddling under the blanket with Fraser. Since the incident in bed that morning, they'd kept as much distance between them as two guys handcuffed together could. In reality, it was nothing more than a few inches, but in Ray's head, it was turning into a huge chasm.
"Are you warm enough?" Fraser said quietly.
Ray nodded, unconsciously moving a little closer to the heat of Fraser's body. On the one hand, he wanted to get back that easy-going-touchy-feely-buddy relationship they'd once shared, but on the other, he couldn't help remembering how Fraser had been flirting with him the night before. That hadn't been Fraser just getting drunk and acting silly. There'd been more to it than that, he was sure of it. Then of course, there was the way they'd woken up that morning. In the split second right after he'd awakened, he'd been looking right into Fraser's eyes, and Fraser had been smiling. Awake and smiling. Then he'd thrown up, of course, so Ray was really no further forward here.
"Ray, I'm sorry," Fraser said softly, and Ray sneaked a quick look at Fraser from beneath the cover of his lashes, "About Gretchen. You must be feeling betrayed."
Embarrassed, angry, disappointed, sure, but not betrayed. He would have had to care for her to feel that. "I feel like an idiot, is what I feel," Ray mumbled. "It's not like we were pickin' out curtains y'know."
He felt Fraser's hand cover his own. It felt big and warm and comforting. "You'd chosen a ring, however?"
"What? Oh... no, Frase. That was just me being sarcastic." Ray turned his hand palm up and threaded his fingers through Fraser's. "Me and Gretch, we were all about the sex. There wasn't nothing else there. Jeez, I care more about you than I care about Gretch."
Fraser gasped and his fingers tightened their grip. Ray mentally reviewed what he'd just said, and the fact that he was to all intents and purposes, sitting hand in hand with his partner. "I... um ... I even care more about the crazy wolf than Gretch." No point in being ambiguous here. That only led to... to weirdness and confusion.
"Ah. Understood." And the fingers threaded through his were gone.
Ray clenched his fists, chewing on his bottom lip to stop from blurting out the question that had been buzzing around inside his head since that morning. Because it didn't matter, did it? If Fraser were... were gay or something... It shouldn't make a difference. It couldn't make a difference. They were buddies... always would be... no matter what... wouldn't change a thing.
But if that were really the case, why was he having to think about every word that came out of his mouth?
They sat in silence beneath the blanket, staring at the closed barn door, until Gretchen came back for the tray. She passed no comment on the fact that the food hadn't been touched. Hank took them over to a bucket and allowed them to pee before making them stand back to back and tying them together at the ankles and waist, so that they could lie down. He threw the blanket over them and left.
Finally they were alone in the darkness, only a small crack of moonlight painting a stripe of light on the floor. Ray wriggled uncomfortably under the blanket. "You got any idea where we are, Frase?"
"Actually, yes. I believe we're being held at the Kankakee Dude Ranch, situated on the north shore of the Kankakee River, a protected habitat for the very rare and endangered Mitchell's Satyr butterfly."
Ray tried to twist around, to see if Fraser was being a smart-ass, but of course that was silly. If Fraser said he knew where they were, then he did. But how did he know, and so accurately too? Dead reckoning, navigating by the stars, internal sextant...?
"Did you get a glimpse of a road sign or something?"
"No, I merely read the delivery address on that crate of equipment over there."
Ray craned his neck, and sure enough, on the side of a large wooden packing case full of machine parts, was an address label.
"I spy with my little eye something beginning with 'H'."
Ray sighed deeply and rolled his eyes. "Give it a break, Fraser, will ya? I'm trying to think up a way of getting the hell outta here."
"As am I, Ray. 'I Spy' is an observational game, which will help us to focus our..."
Ray jerked his head in the direction of a tangle of hoists and chains. "Hook. Over there, hanging from the roof. Hook."
"Ah. I see. Well, no, I wasn't looking at the hook; and I can see no practical use for one in our situation, either."
Ray grunted and continued to scan their makeshift prison. "Hay?"
"I'm not wearing my Henley, Ray, and even if I were, you couldn't possibly see it from where you are."
"...is no longer here, and therefore you..."
"Jeez, Fraser, its only a fucking game. Loosen up!"
Fraser seemed to take that seriously, and began wriggling furiously. Ray felt the ropes at their waist tighten, and he pulled in his stomach muscles. "Whatcha doin'?"
"I'm attempting to loosen up. I think I might be able to... ah! There."
The rope went slack, and Ray managed to tug his arms apart, feeling the prickly rush of blood returning to his fingers. A few moments later, Fraser had the ropes removed completely, though they were still joined at the wrist by the now familiar handcuffs.
"What's the plan, Constable?" Ray grinned, rubbing his wrist the get the circulation flowing again.
"Fraser, give it a rest with the 'I Spy' already! We need to get outta here before someone comes to check on us."
"Exactly. And to do that, we'll need a horse."
Ray's mouth dropped open. "Oh!"
Okay, now that he thought about it, perhaps the whole 'escape on horseback' option was embarrassingly obvious, considering they were being held in a stable. There were several horses in there with them. Horses could move quite fast, if you knew how to handle them, and Fraser was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which kinda suggested he probably knew a thing or two about horses.
"I can't ride," Ray blurted out, before checking in with his head.
Ray was getting a little sick of having to admit his shortcomings to Fraser. Can't shoot straight without my glasses... can't swim... can't ride a horse. Even more humiliating when you considered there seemed to be nothing Fraser couldn't do. Nothing that he'd ever admitted to, anyway.
"Well, Ray, we'll have to share a horse," Fraser pointed out, lifting their joined wrists to illustrate the point.
Ray tried to imagine what it would be like clinging to Fraser as they galloped thought the darkness at breakneck speed, and then decided it was probably better not to imagine that at all.
"Of course we'll have to be very careful," Fraser continued. "This area is surrounded by marshes and wetlands. Conditions are likely to be quite treacherous underfoot."
"I thought we'd stopped playing..."
"Under hoof not underfoot," Ray sighed, "It was a joke."
"Ah, if you say so, Ray." Fraser got to his feet, pulling Ray up with him, and walked quietly over to the first stall. A sleepy looking chestnut Quarter Horse gazed back at him with soft brown eyes.
"This one will do nicely," Fraser said, running his hand gently down the animal's muzzle.
Ray cast a dubious eye over the horse. It looked enormous.
Fraser moved quietly towards the stable door, drawing Ray along behind. "We should take a look outside," he said quietly, reaching for the handle of the smaller entrance set to the side of the bigger barn doors.
At least this was something Ray was familiar with. He could do recon. He was good at doing recon. Tugging Fraser back, he poked his own head through the door.
Moonlight illuminated the corral and exercise yard with eerie silver light. The ranch house was in darkness, but Ray could make out the figure of one guard sitting on the porch steps, Stetson pulled down over his eyes, shotgun resting over his thighs. Another few moments quiet observation showed no one else patrolling. Obviously, these guys must've figured that even if their captives did escape, there was nowhere for them to go.
And maybe they had a point.
Behind him, Fraser pressed close, staring up into the sky; probably doing that 'navigating by starlight' thing. Ray glanced over his shoulder, and Fraser's gaze moved to meet his. "Are you ready?" he asked softly.
Ray gulped. What was that supposed to mean?
"To escape?" Fraser added, apparently seeing his confusion, and Ray nodded tersely. Making their way back to the equipment rack, Fraser located a bridle, and efficiently slipped it over the horse's head.
Once the bridle was in place, Fraser opened the stall and led the horse out. He was examining the saddle Ray handed him critically, looking from Ray, to the horse to the saddle with deep concentration.
Ray frowned. "Problem?"
Fraser looked up from his examination of the stiff leather. "Um, well, yes. It's not going to be very comfortable trying to squeeze us both into one saddle. The alternative, of course, would only be feasible if you already had experience of riding bareback which you clearly have not."
Ray blinked. Experience... bareback... riding...
It'd be so easy to read more into that than Fraser had intended, but damn it, he still couldn't tell if it *had* been intentional. Maybe he should just come right out and ask Fraser if he were gay? But what if he were reading this all wrong? That'd be really embarrassing.
Shaking his head quickly, Ray grabbed the saddle, throwing it over the horse's back. "Saddle up, cowboy," he said in what he felt was a reasonable approximation of John Wayne's Texan drawl.
Fraser rolled his eyes and went around to the other side of their mount, passing their joined hands carefully over its head. "Perhaps it would be lessen the discomfort if we place the saddle the right way around?"
That wiped the smile off Ray's face.
Fraser had found a knife in the box of machine parts and had meticulously cut though the cinches on all the saddles hanging on the barn wall. And then, just to be extra sure, he sabotaged all the bridles, too. Between them, they managed to get one half of the barn doors open enough to allow the horse to pass, without making enough noise to wake the sleeping guard.
On the surface, the plan looked nice and simple. Saddle up, sneak out as quietly as possible while on horseback, and head north, away from the river and therefore the marshes. But of course, nothing is ever that simple. The first hurdle presented itself the moment they tried to get on the horse.
Fraser mounted easily enough, and then looked down at their joined wrists. Immediately both men could see the problem. For Ray to climb up behind Fraser, they'd both have to bend their arms at an unnatural angle. It was impossible.
"I must confess, I didn't think about this." Fraser said in a harsh whisper. Ray examined the options, even trying to get around to the other side of the horse, which only resulted in Fraser having to cross his arm over his chest.
"What if I got up in front of you?" Ray hissed, trying to figure out the complex riddle of their conjoined wrists.
"You'd have to sit facing me," Fraser murmured, pushing himself as far back in the saddle as he could and offering Ray his free hand. "But I think it's the only viable option."
Ray eyed the horse, the man in the saddle and the open barn door. Alexander Tempest would go on trial in less than 18 hours, and Ray was the only person who could put him down for good. Nothing was gonna stop him putting that bastard behind bars, not even having to rub crotches with a possibly gay Mountie for an hour or so.
Ray snagged an empty crate with one foot, got it positioned next to their mount, then clambered onto it. Fraser hooked his free hand under Ray's armpit and awkwardly hauled him up into the saddle while the patient horse stood perfectly still.
"Ah, ouch, ouch!" Ray gasped.
"Ray, are you...?"
"The thing... the pummel thing..." he whispered urgently.
"Yeah, that! It's digging right in my ass, and it's..."
Before Ray could finish the sentence, Fraser took a firm hold of Ray's thighs, lifting his legs over his own until Ray was literally straddling his lap. Fraser's fingers slid around, cupping Ray's ass, and gave a shimmy that pulled him even closer.
"Whoa, buddy!" Ray whispered in Fraser's ear. There was close, then there was this. This was a whole new level of close.
"Ray, we may have to make a break for it. You should hang on tight."
Ray's face was right next to Fraser's. He stared at the back wall of the barn and took a deep breath. Okay, he could do this. No problem. Slipping his free hand around Fraser's waist, he hooked his fingers into a back belt loop and let out the breath he wasn't even aware he'd been holding in.
"Ray, you led me to believe you were out of air," Fraser murmured, reminding him of the poker game. He lifted the reins from the pommel and moved them towards the door.
"Ever hear of a 'second wind', buddy?" Ray grinned, trying to peer over his shoulder.
Then they were through the doors and moving across the dusty expanse of the exercise yard. Which was when the second problem arose. Fraser had to pick the one horse in the whole stable that was allergic to dust. The animal sneezed loudly, the guard on the porch jerked awake, and suddenly Ray's world became a confusing maelstrom of noise and movement, all going in reverse.
He tightened his grip on Fraser's belt loop, hooked his legs around behind Fraser's calves and hung on for dear life as their horse took off at a gallop along a dirt path bordering the woods. God, he hoped the animal could see where it was going,' cause he sure couldn't, not even if he were facing the right way. Behind them he could hear men yelling.
The saddle kept slapping Ray in the ass with every pounding impact of the horse's hooves; overhanging branches and twigs scraped and stung him, but still he hung on, eyes squeezed tightly shut now, his face buried in Fraser's shoulder, and all he could hear was Fraser's breath, loud in his ears. "You okay?"
"Oh yeah, peachy!" Ray gasped, wrapping his fingers tightly around the metal chain linking the cuffs together.
"Are they following?" Fraser asked, raising their joined arms to protect his face from low hanging tree limbs.
Ray lifted his head and opened his eyes, just as a set of halogen headlights flared into life behind them. "Yep, they got some kind of an off-road vehicle."
Fraser tugged on the reins, and the horse veered sharply to the left. Ray clung on even tighter, feeling the muscles in Fraser's thighs flex and his free arm tighten around Ray's back, holding him in place.
The horse slowed to a walk, and it got suddenly dark. Ray realized that they had come off the road and entered the cover of the trees, but only a few minutes later, they were out in the open again. The horse's hooves made an ominous squelching noise now.
"Um, Frase. Didn't you say that marshland was bad?"
Then the air was rent with the sound of a rifle being fired, and not three feet to the left of them, there was a splat where the shell hit the marshy ground.
"Indeed it is, Ray. I'm betting they won't be able to follow us by vehicle."
Ray peered over Fraser's shoulder and sure enough, the vehicle had stopped just beyond the trees. "Is that why you went to all the trouble of cutting the... the um... track? So they couldn't chase us on horseback?"
"It's called 'Tack', and yes.... this buys us a little time."
Another rifle blast was followed by several more, but they all fell short of their targets. A few more minutes, and they were out of earshot as well as visual range.
"You have any idea where the fuck we are?" Ray asked, trying to twist around.
"We are in a great deal of trouble Ray," Fraser replied at last, reining the horse to a halt and slipping backwards out of the saddle. He helped Ray make an undignified but injury-free dismount, and they took a long look around.
Silence descended around them like a cloak. They were standing in the middle of a large expanse of marsh, surrounded on four sides by thick trees and mud. The condition of the ground seemed to get worse as they walked on, but there was no way they could go back. Behind them, the vehicle's lights still blazed, casting a sickly yellow glow on the horizon. Obviously their pursuers knew the area well and expected them to have to turn back.
"Maybe we should let the pony go, Frase?" Ray had watched 'Never Ending Story' as a teenager and still had the occasional nightmare about the pony disappearing into the quicksand.
Fraser shook his head. "Or perhaps we should let her guide us out of here. Animals have excellent instincts." He patted the horse lightly on the rump and set off after her, keeping one hand on her withers and one hand wrapped around Ray's wrist.
Ray shivered with cold. There was a low level mist clinging to the ground. The moonlight reflected from it, casting an eerie glow over everything. It deadened sound, muffling even their footfalls as they trudged behind the horse. Ray imagined that any minute now, Freddie Kruger was going to leap out at them. God, he wished he had his gun.
They walked for nearly two hours, mostly without any conversation between them, always heading in roughly the same direction, but often with slight detours, when their guide didn't like the look of the way ahead. Finally, the mist began to lift, and the going underfoot got firmer. The sky had darkened considerably as they trudged though deeper undergrowth and bushes, past the occasional twisted and gnarled tree, until they were in the cover of the forest once again.
"Frase, Buddy, I gotta sit down for a minute."
It was close to midnight, and Ray hadn't gotten much sleep in the last three days. The walk and the cold were really getting to him. Fraser looked like he could keep walking all night, which pissed Ray off big style, but there was no getting away from the fact that if he didn't sleep soon, he was going to collapse anyway, which would be way more embarrassing than admitting he was fallible.
"Right you are, Ray. We can bivouac here for the rest of the night," Fraser said cheerfully, selecting a spot under a large leafy tree. He tied their horse to a stump and set about removing the saddle. Trust the Mountie to see that their horse was comfortable before seeing to their own needs; but then Ray saw the benefit of Fraser's course of action. Underneath the saddle was the nice, thick horse blanket they had used earlier and it had been very kindly pre-warmed for them by the horse.
"We gotta give this bag of bones a name," Ray muttered as he made himself comfortable on the mossy ground beside Fraser.
Fraser looked the horse over. "She's a very pretty piece of horseflesh. A little head-strong and flirtatious, but dependable enough."
Ray looked from the horse to Fraser's sparkling eyes and they both said at the same time. "Frannie?"
The horse whinnied indignantly.
"Frannie it is, then," Ray lay on his back on the soft mossy forest floor, and pulled the blanket up to his chin. Beside him, the warmth of Fraser's body pressed tightly against him. He didn't even flinch when Fraser's arm draped over his waist and slid up his chest, holding him firmly in place.
"You look like shit," Ray announced on waking to find Fraser looming over him, his usually immaculate hair bristling with grass and twigs, his face streaked with dirt and shadowed with stubble.
"As do you," Fraser replied, reaching up to brush a leaf out of Ray's hair. It was such a gentle gesture, for a moment Ray forgot the danger, his aching back, his hunger and raging thirst, and smiled. Fraser smiled back.
Ray felt the breath catch in the back of his throat. Seeing Fraser smile like that was like watching the sun come up over the lake. He'd always known that his partner was good-looking. Broad shoulders, long legs, perfect skin and thick dark hair... and a tight ass, don't forget the tight ass. But all that had been simply known and accepted before. Now, it was known and felt.
He could feel how attractive Fraser was, because it was all aimed right at him. Fraser was aimed right at him... like some kind of lethal weapon.
"I believe I can hear running water," Fraser said, breaking the spell, "a small stream perhaps, or a waterfall. It's hard to say."
"Lead me to it," Ray croaked. Even if it were a mile away, he was prepared to hike there,' cause it'd been way too long since either of them had had anything to drink. Dehydration was all they needed. Fraser went ahead, carrying the saddle, and Ray followed, leading Frannie. As they got closer, the sound of the stream became more prominent, and Ray's mouth started to water.
"We need to look for signs of civilization, Ray. Perhaps we might find someone with a telephone or CB radio if we're lucky."
Ray nodded, concentrating on navigating the uneven ground. If he could just call Welsh, let him know what had happened, everything would be fine. There was still time to make it to court. Officially he should be there at nine, but Welsh could get the Prosecution to stall. He probably had until lunch was over.
The DA would normally petition for a continuance if a key witness didn't show, but they'd already been granted that twice. No way would the judge allow it a third time. Ray might well have to fall through the court room doors looking like a vagrant, smelling like a sewer, and handcuffed to a Mountie, but he was determined to get there one way or another.
The stream was freezing cold, but every bit as refreshing as Ray had hoped it would be. He stuck his face right under the water and came up gasping. He didn't even complain when Fraser pulled a clean handkerchief out of his pocket and dried Ray's face with it, gently stroking away the droplets with the soft cotton. It felt good. It felt nice. He may even have sighed.
"We should get moving." Fraser said softly, letting the blanket drop. Ray couldn't seem to drag his eyes away from Fraser's. After all they'd just been through, why did Fraser choose now to look scared? Surely he wasn't afraid of being caught again? And Mr. 'Outdoor Living' couldn't be afraid of bears or mountain lions, could he?
"Ray. Ray. Ray!"
"Wha?" Okay, maybe he'd been staring at Fraser for a little longer than propriety allowed. But Fraser'd been staring right back. So what? They were allowed a little weirdness, after all the shit they had just gone though.
"We need to go," Fraser reiterated. His mouth was still wet from drinking the stream water, and there was a little droplet clinging to his lips, glistening in the bright, morning sun.
Ray reached out and used the pad of his thumb to wipe it away. Fraser's teeth were really white, and his breath smelled really sweet, even without brushing and flossing and all that crap.
"Oh, God," Fraser breathed, eyes drifting shut on a sigh.
Ray blinked slowly. He wanted to bend his head forward and... and kiss Fraser!
What the hell was wrong with him? This wasn't what Ray was all about! He liked women... not men. Never had, never would!
Could it all be just a result of being forced to spend so much time in Fraser's company over the last three days? Once the cuffs were off, would they go right back to normal again, back to being buddies? Could they put all this behind them?
Fraser seemed to mentally shake himself. Clearing his throat, he finally opened his eyes. "Ray...?"
"We should go." Ray got abruptly to his feet, unable to meet Fraser's eyes.
They made their way back to the tree where Frannie was tethered, saddled her up and took her to the stream to drink. Fraser suggested they should walk until the trees cleared a little, since being on horseback in dense vegetation offered no real speed advantage. Ray heaved a silent sigh of relief. He didn't feel comfortable with the idea of getting back on the horse again, after the incident by the stream.
By 7 AM they began to hear the sound of distant traffic, and before long, they stumbled onto a highway. They stuck their thumbs out, hoping someone would take pity on them and give them a ride. Unsurprisingly, no one seemed inclined to stop for a couple of raggedy deadbeats, cuffed together and leading a horse behind them.
"Okay, Fraser. The next car that comes along, we jump out in front of it."
"That would seem unwise, Ray." It was the first words that had passed between them since the stream, and Ray was more than a little relieved that Fraser had even responded to him.
"You got a better idea?" he grinned, shooting Fraser a sidelong glance. Fraser, for his part, seemed happy to put the earlier uncomfortable incident behind them, too.
"Yes, I think we should flag down this local sheriff and ask for assistance."
Ray followed Fraser's gaze and sure enough, a police car was coming right towards them. As the vehicle drew level with them, the officer rolled down his window and stuck his head out.
"Howdy, boys. Mind if I ask you where you're headed this fine morning?"
Ray sighed in relief. "Sure thing, Sheriff...yeah. Ray Vecchio, detective, Chicago PD, and this is Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
The Sheriff put his patrol car into park, giving them his full attention along with a big smile. "A Mountie, huh? And that would be his horse with ya there, right? Called Trigger, I s'pose."
Ray glowered at the sheriff. "Listen, buddy, this ain't funny. I need you to get on your radio and get a message to Lieutenant Welsh at the Chicago PD... District Two-Seven... you got that?"
As he spoke, Ray advanced on the car threateningly, dragging Fraser with him and giving the sheriff a good view of the as yet unnoticed handcuffs. Immediately the cop's demeanor changed, and Ray found the barrel of a gun pointing right at his head.
"Freeze right there, detective!" the officer said. He slid out of his patrol car, the gun never wavering. "Now, you gonna tell me where you escaped from, or do I gotta check with dispatch?"
"Oh, for God's sake, Sheriff, do we look like escaped malfeasants?" Fraser snapped, clearly getting close to the end of his tether.
There was a moment's silence when the sheriff gave them a long, hard stare.
Ray sighed again. "Yeah, okay. Point taken. Look, we got off to a bad start, okay? We really are police officers, and we really do need your help."
"Uh-huh," the Sheriff grunted. "Put your hands on the roof of my car, and spread 'em. You know the drill."
"Aww, come on!" Ray beseeched, taking a step towards the sheriff.
"Hold it right there, buddy!" The sheriff warned, and Ray blinked at the gun waving before his eyes.
"Holding," he said, slowly raising his free hand into the air. "Ain't movin' a muscle."
"There's no point getting angry, Ray. He's only doing his job," Fraser admonished, guiding him towards the patrol car. "And you have to admit, we do look a little... odd."
Ray placed the palms of his hands on the roof of the patrol car and widened his stance, wincing a little at the roughness of the sheriff's pat down, especially in the area of his still-tender rump.
Fraser was subjected to a similar search, revealing the lock knife he had pocketed earlier in the barn, which was of course, confiscated. "Okay, I'm gonna take you boys in." He opened the back door of the car for them. "Get in, and mind your heads."
Fraser and Ray climbed into the back seat. After he'd slammed the door shut behind them, the officer tethered Frannie to a tree at the side of the road.
He got back in the car and picked up his radio. "Dispatch? Mullholland here. Honey, get Bob to bring his horsebox out to Lakeland Drive. Yeah, 'bout two miles east of Exit 12. Tell him to look out for a chestnut quarter horse tied to a tree 'bout twenty feet off the road. Also, could you find out if there's an APB out for two guys on the run in the area? 'Cause if there is, I got 'em right here in back."
"Ten-four, Jack," the crackly, female voice of the dispatch handler, replied. "I'll have Leon air the holding cell. It's still a bit stinky after having all those baby saddleback's in there for a week."
"Thank you, honey. Mullholland out."
Ray turned confused eyes on Fraser and mouthed 'saddlebacks'?
The Sheriff started the engine and glanced in his rear-view mirror. "Don't ask," he instructed. "It's a long story involving an escaped pregnant pedigree pig, two idiot deputies and a flat tire."
Fraser looked like he would very much like to hear the tale, perhaps add it to his 'list of amusing stories to tell around a campfire', so Ray kicked him hard on the shin.
The Kankakee Sheriff's Department turned out to be a bit of a family concern. The dispatcher, Mary-Lou, was Mullholland's daughter-in-law; the deputy Leon, his son; and his wife, Barbara, cooked the meals. Fraser thanked her kindly as he accepted a second helping of bacon and eggs.
"You boys have a hankerin' for anything in particular for lunch?" she asked, flicking a duster round the sheriff's desk, much to his annoyance.
"Barb, honey, these men are my prisoners, not weekend guests. They can eat whatever we got in the ice box."
She smiled indulgently and fished her car keys from her purse. "Jack, there's nothin' in your ice box but stale cheese and a jar of your home-made pickles. Now I ain't no expert, but it seems to me the Eighth Amendment protects folks from cruel and unusual punishment like your dill pickles. I'll pop into town and pick up a few things."
Once she'd gone, Mullholland planted his feet on his desk and leaned back in his chair. "Won't see her back here for at least two hours. How come it takes women so damned long to shop?"
Ray shrugged. "Something about their genes. Look, Jack, in Chicago, we give prisoners one phone call. You do things different out here in the sticks?"
The Sheriff ignored that, much as he'd ignored all of Ray's other demands to use the phone. "So, you gonna tell me the truth now?" he asked, watching his two prisoners through narrowed eyes.
Ray shoved another forkful of scrambled eggs into his mouth (the food really was delicious, and he hadn't eaten anything at all since Luigi's on Saturday night) and tried speaking through a spray of crumbs, but Fraser cut him off with a raised hand. "Sheriff, we are exactly who we say we are. One phone call would confirm our identity. Please, my partner here is due to appear in court in a little under two hours."
Mullholland snorted and shook his head. "You must think we're all a bunch of country yokels out here, huh? Why on earth would I embarrass myself by calling the Chicago PD with a cock-eyed story like that? Anyway, all I gotta do is wait for AFIS to identify your prints."
One of the first things the Sheriff had done was take their fingerprints, so he could feed the information into the Automatic Fingerprint Identification System. Ray was still trying to wipe off the blue ink on the seat of his pants.
The side door opened, and Mary-Lou Mullholland waddled through. The sheriff's daughter-in-law looked at least 10 months pregnant. She leaned heavily on the doorframe, her other hand pressed into her back, and handed Mullholland a piece of paper.
Slipping his glasses onto his nose, Jack Mullholland scanned the bulletin, glancing up occasionally to look at his prisoners. Ray wanted to get up and pace the tiny cell, but of course that wasn't possible, seeing as he was still cuffed to his partner.
Mullholland got slowly to his feet and came to stand outside the cell. "Gig's up, fellas. I may be just a backwater Sheriff, in a Hicksville town, but I got eyes in my head, and sure looks like you two fit this here description."
Ray pressed his face through the bars, trying to see what was on the bulletin. Mullholland helpfully turned the page around.
Mug shots always lost a lot of detail in the faxing process, and these didn't look the best of quality, but even Ray had to admit that the guys shown on the APB sheet did bear a striking resemblance to him and Fraser. He read the blurb, muttering under his breath. Seemed these two had turned over a bank in Bakersville, and were being transferred from the local sheriff's office to appear in court, when their van had been involved in an accident, and they'd escaped.
"Coincidence," he said, shoving the bulletin back to Mullholland, "We ain't these guys."
"Yeah, tell it to the judge." Mullholland turned his back on them, talking to his daughter-in-law. "Mary-Lou, give the boys in Bakersville a call, and tell 'em we got their bank robbers here."
Mary-Lou waddled off, and Ray yelled for a while longer about his statutory rights to a phone call. His pleading fell on deaf ears. Mullholland just switched on his TV and turned the volume up.
"How long?" Ray snapped, slumping back down on the bench beside Fraser.
"It's already gone nine." Fraser replied, giving Ray a sorrowful look. "By car, it'd take just over two hours to get back to Chicago. Then we'd have to compete with the afternoon traffic. Say three hours to be on the safe side. We need to get out of here right now, or else Tempest walks free."
"How long you figure it'll take before he gets the print ID from AFIS?"
"Depends on the efficiency of the Forensic Identification Services officer on duty, and their existing backlog of cases. It may take longer than we have, Ray."
"Fuck!" Ray slammed his free hand down hard on the bench. The pain helped dispel his frustration a little, but not nearly enough.
Mary-Lou appeared at the door, looking a little gray around the gills. "They're sending a couple of guys up from Bakersville to collect them," she reported, tipping her head in the direction of the cell. "Should be here by 4 o'clock."
Not good enough! Damn it! They had to back in Chicago long before that. Ray slammed his hand down again, and Mullholland shot him a dirty look.
Ray turned to look at Fraser, intending to bitch about it all over again, but Fraser was looking at Mary-Lou with an odd expression. Ray followed his gaze. The woman was rubbing her extended belly, a faint sheen of sweat glistening on her brow, her breaths coming in short, sharp pants.
"Mrs. Mullholland, are you experiencing contractions?"
The sheriff looked blankly at Fraser, then at his daughter-in-law. His feet hit the floor with a thump. "God, Lu, why didn't you say somethin'? We gotta get you to the doc!"
Mary-Lou doubled over, moaning in pain. "No! Get Leon!" she wailed in terror.
"Is this her first pregnancy?" Fraser asked calmly.
Mullholland was frantically rubbing the back of his neck, obviously unsure of what to do. "Yeah, and she ain't due for another three weeks."
Fraser moved closer to the bars. "Sheriff, I'm afraid things are moving very quickly. You should call 911, although they may not get here in time."
Mullholland looked frantically between his prisoners and his daughter-in-law. "She can't do it here!" he hollered, "My God, she.. she can't! Lu, honey, you gotta hold it in."
For a small woman, she sure could shout loudly. "FUCK... OFF... YOU... BASTARD!"
Mary-Lou lay back on the small cot in the holding cell, breathing deeply just like Fraser, who was kneeling beside the cot, instructing her on what to do. At his side, Ray hovered, trying to make himself as inconspicuous as possible.
This was not how he'd imagined his weekend going. Sure, his version had included having a woman panting and moaning in his ear, but not because she was about to give birth. Mullholland lurked by the cell door, trying to keep one eye on his prisoners, and one on the door for the arrival of the ambulance.
Mary-Lou's cries were growing more and more frantic, when finally the door to the sheriff's office flew open and the EMT's burst in. Mullholland let them into the cell and hovered nervously, totally at a loss.
"How far apart are the contractions?" the short, dark-haired man asked.
Fraser, who'd been applying a cold washcloth to Mary-Lou's forehead, answered, "More or less constant now, and she's been showing a distinct desire to bear down these last few minutes."
Ray flinched at the woman's agonized cry, but stayed where he was, staring resolutely out of the cell. This was seriously freaking him out in the same way visits to the morgue did, only the corpses didn't make this much freakin' noise!
The EMT tutted and shook his head. "All right, everyone out of here. Give me some room to work. I'm not going to try to move her."
Mullholland took a firm hold of Ray's arm, and led the two men out of the cell. He looked around in confusion for somewhere to put them, finally settling on shoving them both into the back room where Mary-Lou worked. It wasn't all that secure, and the door didn't lock, but it was the best he could come up with.
Ray immediately noticed the open window. It wouldn't be easy, but he figured he and Fraser could get out while the sheriff was otherwise engaged. Judging from the noises coming from the other room, they didn't have much time. Ray tugged Fraser over to the window. Between them, they got it open far enough for Ray to slip out. There was a brief tussle when Ray got himself wedged, his legs flailing madly around in the air, but with a little creative wriggling and a lot of Mountie elbow grease, Ray finally hit the ground with both feet.
A moment later, Fraser was beside him, looking like a kid who'd ust escaped from his room after his parents had grounded him. Ray grinned at that image.
They were at the back of the sheriff's office. The parking lot, where the ambulance waited, was around front. Keeping close to the wall, they made their way carefully towards the trees beside the building, staying low in case someone were to look out of a window and spot them.
They broke into a run when the coast seemed clear. "What's your plan, Ray?" Fraser asked.
Ray was unwilling to admit he didn't actually have a plan. He'd had some half-baked idea they'd be able to commandeer a car and drive like demons all the way back to Chicago, but here in the woods, there was a distinct lack of vehicles. They reached a small clearing, and Ray leaned back against a tree, breathing hard.
"Well, now, let's see," he said, cracking his neck by way of punctuation, "I figure, we head north, keep under cover of the trees, and see if we can't rustle up a ride..."
Ray sighed and raised an eyebrow. He hated when Fraser did that. What did that mean, anyway? Ah? Such a small word, and yet it conveyed so much negativity. "What?" he snapped, already feeling like an idiot.
"Oh, nothing," Fraser shook his head, a picture of innocence, "I was merely thinking of the time constraints we're under. I believe the most sensible course of action here would be for us to head south, towards the road, where there's a very good chance we can hitch a ride to the interstate from where..."
"Where there's a very good chance we'll get picked up by Deputy Dawg again." But even so, Ray knew it was their best bet. "Yeah, all right. We go with plan B, then. Just as soon as I get my breath back."
Fraser cast him a sidelong glance, and Ray could clearly see the merriment sparkling within them. "Of course, Ray. I sometimes forget that my lung capacity and therefore my stamina are superior to yours."
Was that a challenge? That had to be a fuckin' challenge, right? Ray pushed away from the tree, bumping chests with Fraser. "Superior, my ass!" he growled, his own eyes sparkling right back.
Fraser shoved him back, and Ray found himself with his back pressed up against the tree and his front pressed up against Fraser. His smile faltered.
Immediately, Fraser gulped, pulling back, his eyes dropping to stare fixedly at his boots. "We should..."
"Go. Yeah," Ray finished for him, standing up straight and tugging down the hem of his t-shirt, which had somehow managed to ride up during their brief struggle. "We should go."
Ray began to walk deeper into the trees, but as Fraser didn't move to follow him, he was brought to a rather forcible halt by the handcuffs joining them. At the sound of Fraser clearing his throat, he turned to see the Mountie tip his head in the other direction. "South is that way, Ray."
"I knew that!" Ray muttered, following in Fraser's wake.
"How long we got?" Ray asked, for what seemed like the twentieth time in as many minutes.
Fraser sighed, casting Ray a long-suffering look. "A watched pot never boils, Ray," he replied cryptically, shoving a large green and brown striped melon out of his way. The truck lurched a little, and the giant melon rolled back, pinning Fraser to the tailgate.
They were 'hitching' a ride on a delivery truck that seemed to be taking a consignment of oversized fruit to market. Although what they were doing couldn't technically be called hitching, since the driver of the truck wasn't even aware of their presence. More like stowing away, really.
The bed of the truck was liberally lined with hay, but the melons still had quite a bit of room to roll around, and roll they did, with every pothole, every bump, and every curve in the road.
"Don't talk to me about pots boiling, all right? It's been days since I've had a cup of coffee. Fucking DAYS!" Ray vindictively kicked out at one of the melons as it trundled towards him, but only succeeded in putting the heel of his boot through the fruit's skin.
Melon juice squirted out, hitting them both square in the face. Fraser sighed and leaned his head back against the tail flap, the tip of his tongue poking out to lick at the juice on his chin. "It's been 24 hours, Ray. Don't exaggerate."
As Ray watched Fraser lick the juice up, he felt his mouth water. Looked really nice. All that sticky, wet melon juice. Really nice. Ray shook his head. Must be the dehydration making him crazy.
Reaching for the punctured melon, Ray struggled with it for a while until he got it cracked open and handed half to Fraser. "Well it feels like its been hours. I'd kill for a cup right about now. Hot and steamy and full of M&M goodness.... Oh, yeah!"
Fraser looked at the proffered melon slice without taking it from Ray's hand. He rubbed absently at his eyebrow.
"What? You don't like melon?"
"Ray, it's stealing."
Ray sighed and dropped the melon into Fraser's lap. "So we leave a couple of bucks in the truck... c'mon Frase, gimme a break. We both need the liquid."
They chomped melon in companionable silence for a while, using the hems of their ruined t-shirts to mop up most of the spillage. The sun was high in the sky now, and Ray was painfully aware that time was against them. There was still a chance, a very faint chance, that they'd make it back to Chicago in time, but the margin of error grew more slight with every passing minute.
Ray's head snapped round at Fraser's tone, his eyes automatically following his partner's gaze. Behind them, still quite far behind, the distinctive flashing lights of a police car lit up the trees.
"Crap!" Ray said softly, fingers clutching tightly at the tail gait. So near... and yet so very fucking far!
"Ray, if we're apprehended again, there's no way we can make it back in time." Fraser looked stricken. It amazed Ray how invested Fraser had become in this fiasco. It wasn't even his bust... he'd had nothing to do with the Tempest case, and yet he was at least as upset as Ray right now.
"I know, buddy, I know. But what..."
Fraser reached for Ray, cupping the back of his head with his one free hand, and pulling him down so Ray found himself sprawling on the flat bed of the truck. Fraser was gathering up handfuls of hay and scattering it all over them both.
Ray almost laughed out loud. "Frase, I love you!" he said, rolling a couple of medium sized melons on top of them too.
Fraser's reply was muffled by a mouthful of hay, but it sounded suspiciously like, "And I, you, Ray."
As they lay in the lurching truck listening to the siren wail draw nearer, Ray couldn't help but think about Fraser's response. Not just to his off-hand comment, but to the whole escaping scenario. Technically, what they were doing was a crime. They were now fugitives, on the run from the law.
As weekends spent in his partner's company went, this one had probably been the weirdest ever. They'd been handcuffed together, almost involved in a kinky three-in-a-bed sex romp, kidnapped by gangland hoods, arrested for horse stealing, and now they were on the run and hiding in the back of a melon truck. Yep, that was weird, even by Ray's standards.
But the weirdest thing was that Fraser should not be going along with this. In fact, Fraser should never have even considered escaping from the sheriff's office in the first place. Normally, he just didn't do things like that.
Ray turned his head and sought Fraser's eyes amidst the layers of hay. "Thanks, Frase," he whispered, just as the police car pulled them over. If they were about to get arrested for the second time that day, he wanted Fraser to know how much he appreciated all his partner's help and support.
Fraser smiled back at him.
As the truck slowed and pulled over to the side of the road, Ray could feel the warmth of a hand stir beneath his, and he slowly curled his fingers through Fraser's and held his breath.
Ray could hear the driver's window being wound down. "What can I do fer ya, Sheriff?"
Mullholland got out of his vehicle and leaned bent to speak to the driver. "Hey, Hank. You seen any suspicious characters, maybe trying to hitch a ride?"
"Ain't seen a soul all day, Jack, 'cept fer Bob Ferris out on Lakeland this mornin', tryin' to load a horse into his box. Nice lookin' quarter horse, but she was diggin' in her heels. I stopped to help, but he said he had it under control, so I left him to it..."
"Yep, I know all about that, Hank. So you haven't seen anyone?"
"Passed an ambulance a while back. Goin' like a bat out of hell t'wards the hospital it was, with the siren a-screamin' and a-wailin'."
"Yep, know about that, too. Mary-Lou went into labor..."
Ray closed his eyes and slowly let out the breath he'd been holding. Might as well just stick up his hands and surrender to the sheriff, 'cause at this rate there was no way they'd make it back in time. He felt Fraser squeezing his fingers, trying to reassure him that it'd be okay, but it wasn't going to be okay. Tempest would walk free, and there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.
Catching small-time criminals, putting them away in prison; that was his job, he enjoyed it, he was good at it, but sending down a mob boss like Tempest; that was like... his Holy Grail or something. Putting that guy behind bars would have made him feel like he was actually achieving something... like he was making a difference.
"So these fellas are criminals, are they, Jack?" the truck driver was asking.
Mullholland opened his car door and clambered back in. "Nope... turns out they're cops. Now all I gotta do is find 'em and get 'em over to the airstrip... someone wants 'em back in Chicago so bad, they sent a helicopter to come get 'em."
Ray gasped, eyes flying wide open in a mirror image of Fraser's startled expression.
"Shit! Sheriff! Wait!" They both popped up from the back of the truck like corks from a bottle, literally spilling over the side in a flurry of straw and ruined melons, landing in a heap on the road.
Mullholland rolled down his window, and peered out at them with a small smirk. "You boys shoulda stayed where I left ya. The AFIS results came in just as they were loading Mary-Lou and little Jack into the ambulance."
Ray helped Fraser to his feet and tugged open the back door of the car. "Congratulations, that's greatness. Now for fuck's sake...DRIVE!"
Ray hated flying. Or to be more accurate, he hated flying in an aircraft that was smaller than his bathroom. By the time the landing pad atop the court house hove into view, his fingers were clenched tightly around the pilot's headrest, his knuckles as white as his face.
Fraser, of course, was having a whale of a time. He was almost hanging out of the open door of the helicopter, a huge, shit-eating grin spread across his face. The down draft from the rotors whipped his hair around his head, making him look like a force of nature. At this point Ray squeezed his eyes shut. Even if Fraser had been naked and covered in chocolate body paint, Ray wouldn't have been able to keep looking.
Just to prove him wrong, his eyes did shoot open at the mental image he was being assaulted with. God, where the hell was all this coming from? His subconscious needed a serious spring-cleaning. Ray decided that right after the court case, he and the Mountie were having a long talk.
The helicopter dipped slightly as the warmer air just above the building jostled it, and Ray felt his stomach heave. Fraser leaned out even further.
"Jesus, Frase, if you go, I go!" he ground out, trying to tug Fraser back inside the helicopter by the handcuffs.
Fraser popped his head back inside, grinning like a loon. His voice sounded weird inside the headset Ray was wearing, "Brace yourself, Ray. We're about to land."
Just then the helicopter skids touched down on the roof. Fraser helpfully began to peel Ray's fingers from the headrest. The pilot clapped Ray on the back, and gave him the thumbs up sign. "I think we got you here in time, Detective. Good luck!"
Ray nodded tightly, handed him the headset and jumped down onto the roof, where Welsh waited with Huey and Dewey. His legs were shaking as he ran across the landing pad to meet them, Fraser jogging along at his side.
"Leftenant," Fraser greeted Welsh with his customary mispronunciation of the title, " it's good to see you." He raised their joined wrists, and Welsh shook his head, grabbing Ray by the elbow and running with him towards the stairs.
"Yeah, good to see you, too, Constable." As he spoke, Welsh's eyes took in their filthy clothes, dirty faces, the twigs and leaves in their hair, and the splotchy red stains all over their clothing, and finally the handcuffs still joining Ray to his partner. "Vecchio, I can't wait to hear all about this, but right now, I got five minutes to get you into court. Oh, and you do know that it's almost 12.30, don't you?"
Ray thundered down the stairs, gasping for breath. "Hey... we got here... as quick as we could!"
"That's... not what I... meant...." Welsh panted, "The cuffs should... have come off...at eleven."
They were all at the foot of the stairs now, banging through the double doors and down the corridor towards the courtroom.
Outside the court a grim faced bailiff was shouting "Final call for Raymond Vecchio."
"Here!" Ray yelled, stepping up the pace, running flat out and dragging Fraser behind him. "I'm here!"
He skidded to a halt, stopping a hairsbreadth from the bailiff's toes.
"Vecchio?" the man asked dubiously, and at Ray's nod he rolled his eyes. "Very well, Detective. You'll have to release your prisoner into someone else's custody."
Ray bent at the waist, panting harshly, "What the... fuck are... you... talking about?"
Welsh reached over, tugging at the handcuffs. "Constable, the key?"
Before Fraser could reply, Ray straightened up and propelled the startled bailiff backwards through the courtroom doors. "Never mind the key! Fraser lost it! C'mon, c'mon! Move it!"
The courtroom fell into silence when the three men stumbled in. The bailiff, recovering quickly, turned to face the judge, straightening his rumpled clothing. "Detective Raymond Vecchio, Your Honor," he said with as much dignity as he could muster.
"What's the meaning of this?" Judge Ferris spluttered indignantly. "How dare you burst into my court looking like a vagrant, smelling like a sewer, and handcuffed to a... to a...."
"Mountie?" Ray supplied helpfully, feeling a strong stab of déjà vu. Still breathing harshly, he walked straight and tall down the center isle, Fraser at his side. A moment later, he was seated in the witness booth, Fraser standing at attention at his side, and Ray was staring right into the hate-filled gaze of Alexander Tempest.
"Beggin' Your Honor's pardon, but it's a small miracle I'm here at all. Yesterday I was kidnapped and taken to a ranch in Indiana to prevent me from giving evidence at this trial. I've been trying to get back here to testify ever since."
A tall man in a dark gray Armani suit and silk tie stepped forward and cast a disapproving eye over both men. "I hope you're not suggesting that my client had anything to do with that, Detective?"
Ray's eyes narrowed, but they didn't waver from Tempest's. "Doesn't matter. I'm here now. Bring it on."
"Alexander Tempest, on the strength of the evidence presented against you, you have been found guilty of racketeering. Your sentencing date is July 8th. Until that time, you will be remanded in custody without bail. Court dismissed."
At the sound of the judge's gavel, the court erupted into loud cheering. Ray heard it all as if from a distance. He barely felt the many hands patting him on the shoulder or back. He couldn't believe they'd done it. Couldn't believe he and Fraser had made it happen.
He turned his head, blocking out all the commotion, and found Fraser staring back at him, a tiny smile playing at the corner of his mouth. He was a mess; windswept hair sticking up in tufts, face smeared with muck and melon juice, clothes torn and filthy, yet still he was the most beautiful sight Ray had ever seen. "Thanks, my friend," he said quietly.
Fraser nodded in reply.
When the chaos died down, and almost everyone had left the courtroom except for the officers of the 27th, Welsh slipped into a seat beside the two men. "You lost the key, huh?" he said, giving Fraser a disbelieving look.
"He did it on purpose," Ray smirked, watching with glee as Fraser's face flushed red.
"Oh... on purpose, you say?" Welsh repeated incredulously. "Oh, this should be good. Carry on."
Fraser stared down at his boots. With a deep sigh, he began to recount, in great detail, the reasoning he'd used to justify his course of action. As he spoke, he began absently untying his bootlace with one hand. Ray watched in fascination. He wouldn't have been able to untie his laces one handed like that.
"And so I deduced that we were in no danger, and that we had a better chance of escaping if there were two of us," he finished, tugging off the boot and turning it upside down.
Ray's eyes widened as the key for the handcuffs fell out and tinkled on the courtroom floor. "You had it the whole time?" he said slowly, eyes flicking up to look Fraser in the face.
"I'm afraid so, Ray."
"And you never thought to mention that? You know, when we were bouncing around on that horse, or trying to escape from the sheriff through a window, or being rolled on by giant fucking mutant melons? Fraaaser...!"
Fraser slipped the key into the cuffs and turned it. "If I had, would you have let me release the handcuffs before the deadline?" Fraser asked quietly, finally releasing Ray's wrist.
Ray's other hand immediately circled his wrist, absently rubbing at the faintly reddened skin. "Good point," he replied. He felt strangely bereft.
Welsh was smiling, which in itself was a scary thing. He brought his big beefy hand down hard on Ray's back, nearly knocking the wind right out of him. "Well, thanks to you, the shelter gets its roof, and I'm gonna give you a couple of days official leave for keeping the cuffs on three hours longer than necessary. Hell, you should get a medal for that!"
Welsh got up and wandered away, leaving Ray and Fraser alone. Ray looked at his partner. His friend. "To hell with a medal. Is there a badge for this? A 'cuffed to my partner, and got a sore ass' badge?"
Fraser's eyes grew wide. "I don't believe there is. Sore ass...?"
"Ah, understood. I'll get you one."
Ray nodded. "A badge or a sore ass?"
Fraser flushed bright red, and Ray could see him struggling to hold back the answer he really ached to give.
Ray wished they were somewhere more private now. He wanted to tell Fraser how much he appreciated having his partner along on this ride, how much it meant to him, that Fraser had been there, quite literally at his side through it all; how much he cared; how much he'd guessed and how little it changed things. But somehow, he had the feeling that things were changing.
Fraser was gay... Fraser found Ray attractive... Ray was okay with that.
If it were anyone else, he'd be freaked, but it wasn't anyone else, it was Fraser, and Ray loved him.
There were all sorts of different kinds of love; the love between friends, the love between families. That was familiar to Ray; that was known. Physical love between two men, he had no idea about. He'd never had reason to think about it before. Could he have that sort of love with Fraser? Did he want that?
He remembered the moment in the forest, when he'd been a heartbeat away from kissing Fraser. He was obviously okay with the kissing, so maybe the rest would follow?
They stood as one, walking side-by-side toward the door. Outside the courthouse, Dewey was waiting for them. He handed Ray the keys to a motor pool car, the back seat of which was occupied by an ecstatic wolf.
"He turned up at the station early this morning, " Dewey explained. "Frannie's been feeding him bagels ever since."
Fraser groaned and rolled his eyes. "There'll be no living with him now'" he complained good-naturedly, sticking his fingers through the partially opened back window so Dief could lick them. "Well, of course I didn't abandon you. No, no I don't want to know what you had to hunt in order to survive. Diefenbaker, a pretzel vendor can hardly be classified as prey..."
Dewey patted Ray on the back again, shaking his head in silent admiration. "And I though my weekend sucked!" he muttered, wandering off in search of his partner.
It seemed the whole division was impressed that Ray was still relatively sane, after spending more than three days in close proximity with Fraser. Like he should be a drooling wreck by now, desperate to get home and be alone, for two blissful, Mountieless days.
"My place?" he asked as he unlocked the car.
"Your place," agreed Fraser, getting in.