Twice Descending
A Due South story

by
Destina Fortunato

Special thanks to Kat Allison, Sigrid, AuKestrel, Livia and Gearbox for beta, support, and all sorts of help with this story.



As far as Fraser could remember, no one had ever said his name in such a beautiful, terrified way before: frantic, with a fine edge of desperation, over and over.

It was Ray, shouting his name.

Two things registered with extreme clarity: the smell of blood, and the rough feel of concrete beneath his cheek. Other perceptions crept into his consciousness, surreal and distant. The sound of bullets, emptied from a gun and clattering down, ringing as they struck the ground. The trickling wetness across the front of his throat, and the sting of air on his neck. There was a whine in his ear; Diefenbaker was licking his face, nuzzling him insistently.

He commanded his muscles to move, and they obeyed, but in that lurching, drunken sort of way he'd experienced many times before. Things snapped suddenly into focus. He was injured. And Ray was still calling for him, somewhere above. The fear in Ray's voice was painful to hear, and Fraser wanted to speak, to reassure him, but nothing was working properly. He was simply a pile of limbs without definition, a jumble of impulses and misfiring nerves. He knew it, but the articulation wouldn't come.

When he lifted his head from the ground, the world went into hibernation - dark, and cold, and quiet.

Time passed; Fraser wasn't sure how he knew, but his surroundings had changed completely while his eyes were shut. It seemed only a moment ago he'd been with Ray, jumping across rooftops, hot on the heels of a suspect. Now he was...somewhere noisy, and the smell was antiseptic, sterile. Clean. There was a scratchy-soft sheet beneath his hands. And voices he recognized. Welsh. Ray. Arguing.

"Did you really have to beat the hell out of your suspect, Detective? I suspect you applied a bit more force than you were authorized to use."

"He shot Fraser!" Ray's voice vibrated with anger. Fraser could see his partner in his mind's eye, shifting from foot to foot, head moving all over the place.

"Be that as it may, you know this is going to come up again."

"Yeah, well. I don't care. I don't." A pause, then, "I don't!" Another pause. "I'm going in."

"Not unless you want these people to pitch you out on your ear. You heard the orders. We're out until the Mountie wakes up."

Ray sighed noisily, a sound that told Fraser his partner was not at all content with the arrangement.

Welsh changed tracks again. "Give me the short version."

"Got a visit at home from a snitch I know. He had a tip, so I went to get Fraser since he broke the case with me. One minute we were chasing this guy, alley-oop over the roof, and the next thing I know, he's got a gun out and he's making like Jesse James. Fraser was in front, right next to the edge, and all of a sudden, over he goes. I figure, must have been shot. So I took a crack at this guy and bang! I caught him in the shoulder. He drops the gun, I drop him. That's all there was to it."

"You're leaving out the section of the story where his face became a giant bruise."

"He resisted arrest. What can I say? Where the hell's the stinkin' doctor? Maybe the wolf can round one up." The sound of a short, willing bark made it clear Dief was in support of that idea.

Welsh's tone changed, became softer. "Get those knuckles bandaged, Detective."

"Sure, as soon as I find out about Fraser - hey, you. Nurse. C'mere."

Fraser opened his eyes and squinted into the artificial brightness of the hospital lighting. His head throbbed. His neck ached. Ray's close-by voice blended into the background, a soothing monotone.

A moment later, a dark-haired nurse slipped through the curtains around his bed and smiled at him. "Well, you're awake! That's good to see. Can you tell me your name?

Ah, a basic question to start with. Given that his head felt as though it might explode at any moment, Fraser felt appropriately grateful. "Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

"That's a long name," the nurse teased. Her scrubs, in their vague tones of green and yellow, were mildly annoying, so Fraser shut his eyes again. "You still with me, Denton?"

"Benton. Yes, ma'am."

"Good." She was efficient; he gave her credit for that much, even if she was apparently very bad with names. Bedside manners were, after all, a lost art. She took his pulse, blood pressure and temperature in short order. "I'm going to get the doctor now. You just stay still."

"Pardon me, but could you tell me if I've been shot?"

"It's just a scratch." She smiled again, and whisked out of the curtained cubicle.

Fraser blinked. Then he spoke, without thinking, without even pausing to contemplate why. He raised his voice and called out. "Ray?"

The curtain between Fraser and the rest of the emergency room was immediately flung back with violence, and Ray burst through, heading for the gurney so fast he seemed a blur of nervous motion. "Fraser, buddy! Hey, back to the land of the living. Wasn't worried for a second."

"No, of course not," Fraser agreed, smiling a little at the obvious relief in Ray's eyes. His voice sounded oddly hoarse. "The nurse wasn't forthcoming with information, Ray..."

"Nothin' to write home about. You took a little crease to the side of the neck. Coulda taken your head off if it weren't for that dumb Mountie luck of yours. What did you in was falling off the building. You whacked your head pretty good there."

"I fell off the building?" Fraser stopped to think for a moment, searching the fuzzy wreck of his brain for details. "Very clumsy of me."

"You'd been shot, Fraser. It was just one story up, but high enough, you know?" Ray's hand settled on Fraser's shoulder, his fingers dancing about on the hospital gown like impatient butterflies. Fraser engaged all the effort he could muster and prepared to sit up, but Ray's hand shifted to the center of his chest and pinned him neatly in place. "No you don't. You're staying put 'til the doc gives you the all clear."

"I'm fine."

"Fraser, I'm holding you down with one hand. You really in a position to argue about it?"

"Well, no."

"Didn't think so." Ray patted him once, firmly, but didn't remove his hand. Fraser found the warmth of it there oddly reassuring.

Time drifted in a surreal sort of way as they waited for the doctor. Ray fidgeted, as though he was uncomfortable in his skin, more so than usual. Fraser wanted to make small talk, but it seemed just a bit beyond him at that moment. Something fundamental was shifting within him, but he couldn't put his finger on it. He'd been close to death before, much closer than he had been on that rooftop. He'd been shot, stabbed, nearly frozen to death, and nothing had ever made him feel this...

...mortal.

Ray's hand had moved again; it was resting on his wrist, where his pulse beat strong against Ray's skin. He could feel the roughness of Ray's fingertips, and if he concentrated, he could nearly detect the individual whorls of fingerprints, jagged and unique, like Ray. His partner was currently engaged in being extremely rude to every technician and nurse who passed by. Such irritation was uncharacteristic, even for Ray.

Something was obviously bothering his partner, and if Fraser hadn't felt so extremely tired, he might have tried to figure out what it was. Instead, he gave in to the lullaby of the beeping heart monitor and let himself drift away.

"You're not paying attention, son."

"This is a dream, Dad. Don't lecture me in a dream. Please." Fraser sighed and removed his hat; the inside of the cabin was toasty and comfortable. Light snow was falling outside.

His father handed him a steaming cup of coffee. "Well, where else am I going to lecture you? If I'd started in while you were on that gurney, they'd have thought you had traumatic brain injury."

"Very considerate of you," Fraser said, feeling more than a little irritable himself. He settled into a chair near the fire and pulled a blanket over the tops of his legs. At his father's questioning look, he said, "If you're going to prattle, I might as well be comfortable."

"You wound me, son." His father shook his head and eased himself into his desk chair. "That Yank of yours is a little edgy today."

"Yes, he is." Fraser could still hear Ray, as though he was at the opposite end of a long tunnel. "Something's upsetting him."

"I wonder what that could be." His father looked at him impatiently. "Get a grip, boy. You pulled an unexpected maneuver on him today. Naturally he's a bit concerned."

"I did no such thing. I fell, Dad. I was in pursuit of a suspect, and I fell. It's as simple as that." Fraser took a long sip of the coffee. It was surprisingly robust for an imaginary brew.

"You're a Mountie. You're supposed to be able to keep your balance under adverse circumstances, not go toppling off your perch like a toddler on a nursery horse." His father squinted at him. "Not as sharp as you used to be, are you? Losing your focus, your edge?"

"I most certainly am not." Fraser wrapped his hands around the warm mug.

"Think back, son. What were you really doing?"

"Really, Dad, that's just annoying. I told you, I was-"

It came back to him in a flash, almost too quick for him to process the images. A tall, thin man with a gun, crouched down behind a rooftop skylight. The flash of a muzzle, pointed at him, but aimed in the wrong direction, at the wrong angle to be accurate. He had made a mental calculation, graphing the angles in his head, and had moved to the side immediately, hoping to..."Oh, dear."

"That's right. Now you're remembering." His father nodded. "Do you think he knows what you did for him?"

"He was behind me."

"He's taller than you are."

"He is not. We're of equivalent height. At any rate, that's irrelevant."

"Don't get huffy, son. Now, where were we? Oh, yes. Your instinct to protect this man." His father took out a book and set it in his lap.

Fraser stared in disbelief. "What are you doing?"

"Reading, of course. What does it look like?"

"You're dead. That book is imaginary. Could you get to the point, please?"

"There's absolutely no reason for that tone, young man. I'm still your father."

Fraser sighed. "Dad..."

"You don't need me to give you the answers. You know them already. And so does your partner." His father shook his head. "Not that I approve, mind you."

"Approve of what? Whatever are you referring to?"

"Think it over, son. It'll come to you."

"Dad?"

"Fraser?" That tone, warm with concern...he was awake. He most likely had been awake all along. He was probably just insane. Fraser opened his eyes to see Ray bending over him, looking extremely worried.

"Ray. I was...dreaming." Fraser lifted a hand and rubbed it across his face, wincing as the skin on his neck pulled with the motion.

"I figured." Ray smiled; the corners of his eyes folded into tiny lines. "Doctor's on his way, said to sit tight. Then I can take you back to the consulate."

"No." Fraser frowned. "We have a case to close."

"I can handle that myself. Besides, Welsh is trying to hand the case over to Huey now. I'm against that, but you know. It'll keep."

"Well, if we stand together - a united front - the lieutenant will have to see things our way, won't he?"

"You sure you're feeling all right?" Ray looked at him suspiciously.

Fraser smiled. "Never better."

From there, it was a series of routine events. The doctor came, did the standard tests, peered at the wound in his neck, poked and probed and massaged the bump on his skull, and pronounced him fit to leave. The surging adrenaline unused by his body had reached his nervous system, making him shaky and a little weak, but Fraser was inclined to ignore it. His body would adjust, was adjusting, and he'd worked through injuries of far greater magnitude.

Ray retrieved his shirt and jeans from their place of folded grace across the back of a well-used chair and handed them to him; he dressed slowly, hyper-aware of every screaming muscle and aching joint.

Through it all, Ray stood there, watching. His eyes never left Fraser. And most curious of all, Fraser found the sensation of being watched, of being quietly protected, quite intoxicating.

Oh dear, indeed.

#~#~#~#~#

"I'm takin' you home."

"I assure you, I'm quite able to perform my duties."

"Fraser, that guy almost took your head off." Ray was driving an endless loop around the police station, circling the block over and over, and the argument was going over similar circular territory.

Fraser closed his eyes for a moment, indulging his fatigue. "Ray. Park the car."

There was a momentary pause while Ray considered his options. Fraser could almost hear him weighing the factors, readying new tactics. He couldn't blame Ray, since he was quite certain he'd have insisted on taking his partner home if the situation were reversed. Which, actually, it very nearly had been. Just the thought of it raised goosebumps on his arms; he pictured Ray, sprawled in the street, bleeding, and he shivered.

"Okay, you win. But listen, Frase. You don't look so good. So we're in and we're out, got it? No big production."

"Yes, Ray, I've got it." He met Ray's eyes, and Ray looked at him long and hard, scrutinizing him down to the bone. Fraser had the curious sensation that Ray could see straight into his head; the thought made him shift position, and Ray looked away.

Late afternoon sun filtered through the dirty windows of the station house as they made their way through the narrow corridors, past the bustling corners of activity and streams of officers and civilians. It was close to end of shift for the majority of personnel, and the flurry of last-minute filing and typing and debriefing was a prelude to clocking out.

Fraser followed Ray through the halls to his desk. It was a strange thing, having a place of his own in this small, foreign universe where he had no official right to be. His chair had magically appeared on the opposite side of Ray's desk one day early on, back before there had been a need for a false Vecchio, and had never been moved or borrowed. It was almost as though he had been given a token of acceptance, one that never wavered.

He was oddly possessive of his chair.

Ray flopped down in his own chair and yanked at a drawer, which promptly stuck in the half-open position. "Piece of crap," Ray muttered. He gave the drawer a savage kick; it popped open and he pressed his advantage, yanking it all the way out. It thumped to the ground. With vengeful glee, Ray fished around in the contents. "File's gone. Welsh must've come for it already."

"That's hardly surprising, given the length of time we were at the hospital," Fraser said. "By now, the interrogation is likely to be over."

"No way. Huey's a good cop, but he's not too quick on the uptake, if you get my drift. He's gonna need time to get up to speed with that file. It's a monster." Ray launched out of the chair and paced two steps, then stopped. "So, okay. Let's go over it so it's fresh in my mind. Frank Miller, rap sheet as long as my arm, forgery, extortion, served a five year stretch downstate. Suspected of doctoring the books at a string of trucking companies, kind of a family thing."

"There's no evidence of mob involvement that I can recall, Ray."

"Family. You know, siblings. Cousins. Kinfolk."

"Right."

"We're after his books. What do you think, Fraser? Couple million embezzled? Maybe more?"

"Perhaps." Fraser massaged the bridge of his nose with two fingers. "He had many of the ledgers with him when he ascended to the roof, so he undoubtedly disposed of them somewhere in between."

"He can save us time searching if he'll give the rest of 'em up. There was something in the file about a contract killing, too. He was a suspect in...in....I can't remember. Something. Something bad."

"If Lieutenant Welsh has the file, we might benefit by looking it over, for the sake of accuracy," Fraser suggested. His neck was aching. He ran a wistful finger over the clean bandage on his neck, and on impulse, pulled it off.

"Hey, hey! What are you doing? That thing was there for a reason!" Ray grabbed the used pieces of gauze from his hand. "Put this back."

"It will heal faster if exposed to the air. Besides, it itches." Fraser rolled his head to the side. Ray's touch to his chin was unexpected, but entirely welcome, and he let it guide him where it willed.

Ray gently poked at the channeled scrape. "This could get infected, you know."

"I have a high resistance to infection." Fraser leaned in to the touch, ever so slightly. As if on cue, Ray's thumb traced the line of his jaw, a slow, deliberate caress, before withdrawing. Fraser drew in a deep breath. "We should get this over with."

"Amen to that," Ray agreed, and darted off down the hallway containing the interview rooms. Fraser stood, and immediately sat again. Something was wrong; he was dizzy, completely out of breath.

As if it were unfolding before him in real time, he saw the scene on the roof, but from outside himself. He dove to one side, neatly avoiding the bullet meant to kill him, the bullet that struck Ray instead. Blood spattered crimson on the loose gravel and tar of the roof, leaving abstract patterns, all that was left of a life once vibrant and real. Fraser turned, always turning, and his voice deserted him as he called to Ray, as he said Ray's name, over and over...

"Fraser!"

"Ray..." He felt sweat cooling on his upper lip as he tried to lift himself from the chair. His legs shook and he sat down again.

"What's wrong?" Ray dropped down in front of him, resting one hand on Fraser's knee for balance. "Fraser? Talk to me, Fraser."

"Nothing, I'm...I'm all right."

"Like hell you are. That's it." Ray hooked a hand beneath his arm and helped him up. "You're going home. Period. End of story."

Fraser looked into the wide blue eyes, at the depth of determination there, and found his strength. "No."

"No?" Ray smiled, and the smile turned into a grin. "You're a stubborn Mountie, aren't you?"

"Most definitely."

"You promise you'll let me take you home when we're done?"

"Yes."

"Then let's get this show on the road." Ray dropped Fraser's arm but didn't move away. "After you."

Fraser took the hint and headed for the primary interrogation room, the largest of the three. Ray fell into step beside him and glanced at him every few seconds; Fraser felt those eyes on him, acute and discerning.

Welsh emerged from the nearest interrogation room as they neared, and gave them both a look of disapproval. "Constable. Detective. I told you I was handing this case over to Detective Huey."

"Yes, sir, I know that sir, but he isn't familiar with this case the way Fraser and I are. We can turn this case for you. All I need is a crack at this dickweed."

Welsh looked sharply at Ray. "You wouldn't have any ulterior motives, would you?"

"No sir. Absolutely not. No." Said with a near-religious fervor, the words took on the shine of convenience.

"I'm not so sure it's a good idea for you to go at this guy." Welsh cast a dubious look in Fraser's direction. "You're not looking too steady, Constable."

"I'm well enough, thank you, Lieutenant." Fraser smiled in what he hoped was a hearty way, but Welsh's eyes were boring into him, and he had the distinct feeling he wasn't fooling the lieutenant in the slightest.

"Of course you are." After a long pause for deliberation, Welsh handed the file to Ray. "I shouldn't even be letting you near him. It's against my better judgment. So don't do anything stupid, understand?"

"Yessir." Ray waited until Welsh had disappeared around the corner before thrusting the file at Fraser. "Let's go."

"Ray, you know, the lieutenant may be right. I'm not entirely certain this would be the right time for you to interrogate-"

Ray wheeled on him. "Don't you think I know what I'm doing? This guy has information, we need it. Simple as that."

Fraser's thumb slipped back and forth across the smooth surface of the file folder. "Perhaps tomorrow would be better."

"You can wait out here. I'll be done...back...in a minute."

A shiver descended along Fraser's spine, cold as sliding into a mountain lake, and he struggled to put a name to the feeling his intuition was trying to provide. "No. No, I'll assist."

"All right then. Off we go." Ray clapped him on the back, only a bit gentler than usual, and opened the door.

Frankie Miller looked up as they entered the room. His hands rested in front of him, fingers laced together tightly. Fraser noticed his knuckles were white. The suspect's gaze flickered from Ray, to Fraser, and back again, and something approximating a smile crossed his features.

Fraser had seen Ray work his magic on perpetrators before. He always passed through a series of steps - watching and listening, followed by threats and intimidation. Like sucking poison from a snakebite, Ray would bait and taunt, and beckon to the devil, absorbing the tension near the breaking point like it was the sweetest thing imaginable.

Today, however, something was different. Something was off. Without preamble, Ray drew a chair around the table, facing Miller, and sat down with deliberation. "You know what I want. Let's not waste time. What'd you do with those bags?"

"Like I'd tell you." Miller's smile widened.

"I've got your whole family in custody - sister, brothers, uncles." Ray pointed his finger at Miller. "Now you. You want them sprung, you tell me what I want to know."

Miller examined his fingernails; they were clean, though his hands were covered with cuts and scratches. The silence stretched and filled with tension. Finally Miller said, "No deal. I want immunity."

Fraser stepped a bit closer. "In general, the state's attorney isn't inclined to bargain for testimony in cases such as these."

"Especially not with scumbags who try to kill cops." Ray tilted his head to the side. "You're going to tell me. I've got all day to spend here with you."

"Oh, sure. You've got all day. But the Mountie looks wobbly." Miller jerked his head in Fraser's direction.

"You don't mention the Mountie," Ray said, and his voice dropped low. "Who, seeing's how you're such a piss-poor shot, is here to listen to you tell me where that evidence is."

"Piss-poor?" Miller leaned forward across the table. "I'd have got him, if he hadn't taken a dive off that roof. Missed my golden opportunity. Too bad." He leaned back again. "I've never killed me a Mountie."

"You fuck!" Ray exploded across the table, wrapping his hands around Miller's throat and squeezing until air wheezed out between his contorted lips like a punctured tire. Fraser scrambled around the table after them and grabbed Ray just as the chair slammed to the floor with Ray on top, feral like a rabid animal half-gone into insanity, snarling in Miller's face. "You sick fuck!"

"Ray. Ray. Ray!" Fraser stared for a moment in horrified fascination as Miller began to turn blue. He reached for his partner, slipped his hands between friend and assailant, and hauled Ray up, startled by the unleashed strength under his hands.

"Lemme loose, Fraser!"

"No, Ray! Think about what you're doing!" Ray's heart thundered like the roar of an avalanche beneath his palm. He dropped his lips close to Ray's ear, hoping to penetrate the haze of rage, and said urgently, "This is not about Miller shooting me. This is about your case. About those ledgers. Think, Ray!"

With a furious explosion of energy, Ray shook him off. Miller scurried backwards, crawling away toward the wall as fast as he could manage. "You're a maniac!" he gasped.

"Hell yeah," Ray snarled. "Where. The fuck. Are those ledgers?"

"The...the bags I tossed on the roof...inside the stairwell. The rest are...in a warehouse...waterfront."

"Which dock?"

"Dock 10. Building 34." Miller's hand trembled as he gestured toward the table.

Ray picked up the pad of paper and the pencil and flung them in Miller's general direction. "Write it all down for me. Don't leave anything out. Not one single thing, you hear?"

"Y-yes," Miller rasped.

With a half-wild look at Fraser, Ray yanked open the door and left the room. Fraser stared at his retreating back, then turned to Miller, who was scribbling furiously on the tablet. "You may leave the paper and pencil on the table when you're through with them."

"That guy's crazy. He's fucking crazy! I wasn't really trying to shoot you. I was..."

"You were aiming at Detective Vecchio. Yes, I know." Fraser allowed a measure of his own anger to show in his eyes, and was gratified when Miller moved hastily back against the wall for safety. "You would be wise to simply do as the detective instructed you. And to remain quiet in the meantime."

Miller nodded fervently and went back to scribbling. Fraser stood by for another minute or so, purposely delaying the action he most wanted to take, and then followed Ray out into the hallway.

His partner was leaning against the wall, head back, eyes closed. "Don't say it. I know."

Fraser nodded slowly. "Then perhaps you can explain it to me." He paused, watching Ray, whose skin was drawn tight and pale across his face, like a death's head. "Are you all right?"

"You're askin' me if I'm all right?" Ray chuckled. "That's funny, Fraser." His head bobbed up, then dropped gently back against the wall again, and Fraser thought for a moment that it was almost as though Ray were holding the wall up, rather than the other way around.

"Are you?" he asked quietly.

Ray sprang up from his leaning position without warning. "This is a done deal here. Time to bail."

"Ray."

"Fraser." Ray cocked an eyebrow in his direction, as if challenging Fraser to make more of it, and Fraser considered doing just that. But before he had a chance, Ray was off down the hall, waylaying a passing uniformed officer and posting him as guard, then stopping long enough at his desk to grab his jacket.

He followed Ray to the lieutenant's office and listened as Ray sketched out the case to Welsh, but his mind was occupied with other things. Strangely, the sound of the gunshot that felled him was still ringing in his ears, mingled with the echo of Ray's voice. He wrapped one arm around his body and thought of what his father had said. There was something he should be discerning, but it wasn't coming clear.

Ray's hand settled on his shoulder, shaking him enough to break his reverie. "Time to go." Fraser nodded, and cast a glance at Welsh, who was looking at him as though he was about to shatter.

"Get some rest, Constable. I'll inform your superior at the consulate what transpired."

"Thank you kindly, sir, but that isn't necessary. I'll see Inspector Thatcher in the morning."

"Nevertheless, I'll give her a call," Welsh said, dismissing them.

Ray didn't let go; he steered Fraser out of the office, away from the noise, away from the interview rooms and the busy squad room, toward the street. He felt as though he was drowning, falling away from everything familiar, with only Ray's arm as a lifeline. Hyperbole, he was certain, but it seemed an apt metaphor.

Diefenbaker had been looping around his feet unnoticed most of the day, and as they neared the car, he looked down at the wolf. Dief looked at Ray, then back at Fraser, and barked once.

Fraser grunted. "Not you, too."

"How's that?"

"Nothing."

"You know, Fraser, if you keep talking to the air I'm seriously considering dropping you back at the hospital. Somethin' might be off in that brain of yours."

"Ray, let's go retrieve those ledgers."

"No way. No way! We agreed. You're done." Ray's fingers tightened on Fraser's arm as he unlocked the car door with his free hand.

"It will only take a few minutes. The wharf isn't far from here. It would bring...closure."

"Closure? What the hell are you talkin' about?"

"If we don't get those ledgers, they may disappear by the time officers arrive to confiscate them."

"There's a little thing called probable cause you might be familiar with. Need that search warrant, Fraser, remember? Welsh called the judge. He's going to dispatch uniforms out there in a little while, when Miller's done writing."

"Well, I thought we -"

Ray exploded in a fury of action; he kicked the door, he flung his keys away, and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. "You just won't quit, will you?"

Taken aback, Fraser answered, "It's our case, Ray. You hate for anyone else to close our cases."

"It's just follow-up. It's not important. We got the collar." Ray looked at him, full-on, no holds barred, and Fraser stared back into eyes that reflected his own determination.

"Just a quick look around, perhaps?"

Ray lowered his head, so his expression couldn't be seen. "Get in the car, Fraser."

Fraser did. And nothing more was said for the duration of the drive. Dief settled down in the back seat, strangely quiet and subdued, and closed his eyes. Fraser waited to see which of three destinations Ray chose - wharf, hospital, or consulate. Or if, in fact, he might choose the fourth - his apartment. Fraser wouldn't have minded passing some recovery time there. Not that he would have suggested it to Ray.

The wharf loomed ahead, ships' lights twinkling against the horizon. Ray pulled off the main road and into a driveway behind one of the huge warehouses. Fraser rolled down the fogged window a tiny crack and peered up at the number. "This is 88, Ray. We're looking for-"

"I know what we're looking for, Fraser, I'm not the one with the broken head." Ray tapped his fingers impatiently against the gear shift, looking much like a time bomb ticking off the last seconds to destruction. "I'm not driving over there until we get something straight."

"What's that?"

"You don't ever take a bullet for me. Ever. You got that?"

"I wasn't aware you'd noticed." Fraser heard the tone of his own voice, and marveled at the softness of it.

"I've got eyes. I see. He was aiming for me. You gettin' in the way was no accident." Ray's voice had gone quiet, but Fraser wasn't lulled into complacency by that.

"You're my partner. You would have done it for me. In point of fact, you have done it for me."

"That's not my point. I'm saying, you don't do that for me. Ever. All right?"

"No, it's not all right. Where the hell are you going with this?" Fraser couldn't stop the edge from creeping in.

"I didn't ask you to take a bullet for me. I didn't want that, Fraser!"

"It's not as if I could take time to consult you, Ray. I simply did what I thought was best."

"Oh, it's best for you to get yourself killed? Why you instead of me? Huh? What makes me more important than you? Nothin', that's what." Ray paused. His lips were pressed tightly together, his jaw set so tightly that the tendons in his neck were standing out.

"So you're saying that you're less...worthy to live than I am?" Fraser grappled for words to express his astonishment, to give voice to the screaming denial of anything that would lessen his friend.

"I'm not saying that," Ray said defensively. "Just that if it came down to you or me, it shouldn't be you dying for me."

"Tell me how that makes sense," Fraser said hotly. "Nothing you're saying makes sense, Ray."

"Because."

"Oh, good. Because. That's good."

"Just because I'm not quick with the words doesn't mean the idea isn't right," Ray said, and the anger radiating from him matched the heat Fraser felt.

"Well in this case, it means exactly that." Fraser narrowed his eyes. "You think I would just stand aside and allow someone to shoot you?"

"No, but you should have."

"You're insane."

"That's my line."

Fraser felt a surge of frustration welling up, and did his best to crush it back. "I did what any officer would have done in my place. You are not expendable."

"Neither are you. Dammit, Fraser, don't you go tryin' to die for me. Don't you do it. You...I...we are getting nowhere here, just around and around and...." Ray slammed his hand into the steering wheel; the heel of his hand pressed the curved metal as his fingers curled in midair.

Fog rolled in from the lake, thick and unrelenting, coating the waterfront. Fraser could smell it; the tangy moisture clung hard to the air. The car was humid, a cave filled with steam, a small world narrowing only to the smell of damp fabric and warm skin.

Fraser closed his eyes and tilted his head back. His hair slid over the slick surface of the window, across the droplets accumulating into an ethereal veil on the glass. He let his face fall to the side until it rested against the back of the seat, where the cool fabric retained the faint scent of stale smoke and aftershave. It smelled of the men who had owned the car before Ray, of men who had left their traces behind, oblivious to the mark of their presence.

His hands trembled against his stomach. Exhaustion had been in pursuit of him for hours, and it was fast overtaking him.

"I don't know what you want from me," he said softly.

Sweat rose on his skin; salt stung the throbbing wound on his neck. He traced the line of the bullet with his fingertips, and when he pulled his hand away, he looked for the crimson seal of blood. But of course, there was none; he was coming apart inside, where it was invisible.

Ray's eyes glittered in the darkness, made bright from within. Fraser could almost read his thoughts in that shining gaze, in the torment and sadness there, but he didn't dare interpret what he saw.

"Fuck." A quiet oath of resignation, and then Ray moved into his space, past any boundaries that might have existed between them, and his hands cupped Fraser's face, framing the answer to the question. And then Ray's mouth descended on his, open and hot and questing, absolutely without restraint, naked with need and explanation.

Something inside Fraser gave way, like ice cracking in the sun, and his fingertips wove their way beneath Ray's collar, stroking gently at the bare nape beneath. Ray was setting him free; his lips seemed to understand the strange language they were speaking, and Fraser rode the waves of passion, letting Ray lead the way.

With a single finger pressed against Fraser's lips, Ray hushed him as he moved away, down, seeking something Fraser could barely believe. Not possible. Not...possible...

A sharp spike of pleasure made Fraser turn his face into the shelter of the seat. He listened with amazement to his own gasps, to the rough urgings deep in his throat. The sounds came from somewhere alien to his understanding, from a place where instinctively, he knew he must not speak. Words could not be allowed to intrude. They had no place in what was happening.

He reached out blindly with one hand, afraid to look, more afraid to see. Fingers caught and twisted with his own, pulling until his palm cradled the soft wildness of Ray's hair. With wonder, he let his fingertips drift among the short strands, aware that he could stop or gentle the motions beneath with just his touch. In the end, he decided not to try. His hand fell away, made hesitant by inaction, and he closed his eyes again.

His body was reminding him, slowly, that it would not be denied, that the impulses he felt could not be calmly controlled. So he allowed sensation to surge over him like unstoppable falls of water, saturating his sensitive skin down deep to the bone.

It began to rain outside, droplets spattering on the pavement, skipping delicately over the metal roof of the car in random patterns of play. He listened, and the world narrowed again, to Ray's pleading growl, to the muted desperation of flesh easing flesh. He knew those sounds, too. They were familiar from long nights of loneliness, nights spent thinking in the dark until thought became torture. With vague intent, he reached out again and was pushed away.

Impulse dictated he speak, but he didn't dare, for fear the spell would be broken and exposure would come. The word hovered on the back of his tongue, bittersweet with loss and with newfound joy, infused with secrets he would never be allowed to share. Ray. It would be so easy to say it, to see the startled expression of fear and feral joy in the eyes of the named, but Fraser whispered out a sigh of pleasure instead, a muted cry of encouragement.

Short and shallow, his breaths came fast, then faster, keeping pace with the steady, torturous rhythm of demand. Fraser watched frost form in the semi-darkness, exhaled from his parted lips, and he listened, bemused, to the scratching slide of fabric against fabric.

Ray's hands grasped his thighs, pushing them apart until they strained against the barrier of soft denim. He heard the threads of the worn jeans tearing, giving way to Ray's insistent need as the jeans were tugged and pulled even further down. Slowly, Ray's palms flattened against Fraser's bare thighs; his hands gripped firmly, digging into Fraser's skin.

There were sounds: the quiet, keening hum of a man possessed by a driving need, and the suckling noises that were driving Fraser out of his mind.

Fraser tilted his head and saw, through half-opened eyes, Ray working him, Ray's eyes flickering up, catching him in the act of wanting, and he couldn't look away. It was too tempting to ignore, too terrible to contemplate. He was caught in a spiral of lust and empathy, and nothing would save him.

Ray's mouth was locked around him hard enough to hurt, oh, God, and it was so good, and he caught his breath as Ray touched him, manipulated him, brought him to the brink and dropped him without warning. Ray's tongue slid along the length of him, making him shiver. And, finally, he couldn't hide any longer, couldn't make his senses retreat, and he lifted his hips and let Ray swallow around him, let himself slide a little further down into the abyss, where he belonged.

Long fingers slid up his torso, beneath his shirt, snugged up against his skin, and wrapped themselves around the neck of his t-shirt. He was tugged forward as Ray shifted, as Ray maneuvered him close, as he penetrated Fraser's last defenses with a low-lidded look. Ray's lips were parted and swollen, and he hesitated for a long moment. His breath heated Fraser's skin, and Fraser gasped softly, just before Ray's mouth closed sweetly over his, before his lips were pushed apart and he was invaded. Ray's soft moans of pleasure vibrated against Fraser's lips and cascaded down through his body.

And just as Fraser thought he would have to speak or die, Ray's tongue touched his, and tangled there, inside him, just the flickering essence of bliss. Slowly, Ray broke away, his lips feather-light against Fraser's cheek, against the curve of his jaw, his kiss gentle over the muscle clenched there.

Another kiss, different this time, tender, lingering, as Ray pressed his lips to the wound in Fraser's neck, and closed his hand around Fraser, moving, always in motion, ever faster, ascending and descending in time to the shudders and jerks of Fraser's body.

The world exploded, tiny fragments of everything familiar raining down around Fraser's ears, and the rapture brought guilt on its coattails. He surrendered to it the way he'd surrendered his body to Ray's mouth, the way he'd given up his control in service to his desire.

More sounds in the aftermath: fast, ragged gasps for air as his lungs clutched at the oxygen around him; Ray's deep, hitching intake of breath, and a pause, where neither of them dared to breathe the other's air.

Ray sat up abruptly and pulled at Fraser's jeans, then buttoned Fraser's fly. His hands were shaking as he worked the small brass fastenings into the worn holes. He stabbed a corner of Fraser's shirt into the waist of his jeans and wiped the back of his hand carelessly across his mouth, eyes fixed on something far outside the world they inhabited together.

Fraser made a tentative gesture in Ray's direction, but Ray held up one hand, a solid roadblock. "Don't."

"Ray, I-"

"Don't, Fraser." A muscle twitched in Ray's jaw, and he pressed the back of his hand to his lips for a moment. "I'm taking you home."

The tropical interior of the car became a chilly vacuum as the air became thinner, and thinner still. Ray leaned forward across the steering wheel and swiped savagely at the inside of the windshield, clearing a tiny patch through which the lights of the city were visible. His arms circled the wheel and he rested his forehead there, face obscured in the folds of his jacket sleeves.

Fraser saw the lines of Ray's back grow tight, but he made no move to soothe them. Instead, he nodded once, internal confirmation, and looked at his own opaque, steam-moist window.

Ray started the car and allowed it to idle for a minute or so while they sat in silence. Eventually, they moved off into the darkness, back toward the city.

Fraser caught himself in the act of looking at Ray, and he turned his face away, blindly, seeking something to latch onto in the vast night outside. The mist reflected back nothing but gray emptiness.

With a sudden ferocious jerk, the car screeched to a halt. Fraser twisted in surprise, half-expecting to see an obstacle in the road. Ray gripped the steering wheel, hard, harder, until his bandaged hand had nearly merged with the cold metal. His face contorted into a painful, tormented frown, and his body actually convulsed with the sound he was about to make.

"Fraser...Fraser...."

And Fraser thought, as he reached out for Ray, that although no one had ever said his name in that beautiful, terrible way before, it was the most perfect sound he had ever heard.



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