Disclaimer: This is a work of fanfiction, written purely for fun.

Author's Notes: Much love to my friend and beta zeldaohzelda

Fraser never shuts up. He whistles. He hums. He has one million too many Inuit stories that always end, basically, in death, but not before some poor sap goes snow blind or freezes his nuts off. Some days it's both. A two-fer. Not that he'd ever call a spade a nut.

Just to be an asshole, one time I said, "Gee, Frase, did he lose both balls or just one?"

And Fraser, because he's so damn correct, replied, "I have no idea what you're talking about, Ray."

So easy.

"You know. Thirty fucking below. His balls." C'mon, Frase. The blush. C'mon. Give it up. Oh yeah. "Like all your stories. First they go blind; then their nuts fall off."

"The story as told to me by the elders did include a reference to going snow blind, however, no reference to their testicles. Ray. As you well know," he added, his mouth pursed in disapproval. 'Cause he couldn't just leave it. He couldn't let it go.

Like being a fucking guy, losing your nuts to frostbite isn't the first goddamn thing you think of when all you can see is snow and ice and it's so fucking white out there and so cold, and every ice crystal has your name on it. I know. I was there and personally stared down every one of those effing ice crystals and told them to fuck off in no uncertain terms.

"The subtext is there, buddy. You gotta listen to the subtext. Jesus h. christ, Fraser. The last time I heard someone actually say 'testicle' was my doctor right before he shoved a finger up my ass. C'mon, say it. Balls. Spell it out. B. A. L. L. S."

Yeah, asshole working overtime. But do you blame me? I mean, jeez, testicles?

"T. E. S. T. I. C. L. E. S," he spelled out, deadpan.

People don't get Fraser. Don't realize he has a really killer sense of humor. It's down deep, like you have to drill to fucking Antarctica to find it, but it's there. He's not a pushover. Takes it and gives it right back at you. No prisoners. When that happens I can't help but shove a hand against his shoulder and murmur, "Fucking freak." At that I get the smile. The smile that he hides from everyone else. But me.

Wonder if he smiled like that at Vecchio?

I've developed the Fraser version of the spidey-sense. Course, I call it the Fraser-Fade-Out-Dance. Hey, you try working with Marlon Perkins. If it's not snow shit, he'll start up with some weird-ass animal shit, like the mating habits of trumpeter swans. (I kid you not. A Saturday afternoon I'll never see again. Like I wanted to spend even a single second, ever, thinking about bird dicks?) In order not to just rip the arm off a park bench and club him to death, I turn off one ear and play some Clash on the left side of my brain, while the right side listens for keywords and sentences that end in question marks:


"Uh, yeah. I could go for something. Chinese?"


"Can't. Got a dentist appointment. Finally getting that molar looked at because I can't stand you nagging me about it anymore."


"Okay, okay, I was wrong, you were right. As usual. Gonna get a new tattoo that says, 'Ray the Rong: Take a number'."

I've gotten real good at this shorthand. So one night Fraser and I are driving home and he says, "…date." I go through a red light.

He doesn't even notice.

I ordered an extra large pizza, all pineapple, and only managed to eat one piece. And that I forced down my throat because why should I be upset because Fraser has a date? Once I proved to myself that I wasn't pulling some mondo-assed hissy fit, I sat down and stared at the dead television and had my mondo-assed hissy fit.

Because Fraser has not, in the entire time I've known him, had a date. He's asbestos as far as women are concerned. And it's not like he's picky, he's just not interested. Except for a few. Okay, a weird few. That bank robbing cunt played him like a violin, but I suspect that she was his first and you forgive a lot of sins with your first. Am something of a fucking expert on that subject. Plus, Fraser's got not a little bit of a martyr complex going on, because who in their right mind sleeps on a cot, and Victoria Psychopath-Much? Metcalf, being the consummate little predator that she is, picked up on that, pronto. Lady Shoes? Am not even fucking going there because that's, like, too weird, even for Fraser. Janet? Thought you'd try dating yourself, Frase?

Aside from the occasional weirdness, which I know is the all Fraser channel, can't even blame Canada, his serge is some sort of pheromone killer. The serge motel. Lust comes in, but it can't get out. Women paw him, he blushes, and in Bentonese he says, "Thank you, kindly, but I'm sure you don't mean to hump my leg."

Not that he couldn't hide a boner the size of Ottawa under that tunic.

But I don't smell anything even remotely sexual on his part. And not because it isn't appropriate then, either. Because Fraser is all over "appropriate." No sense that in another place, another time he'd be happy to get horizontal. He truly doesn't want it.

I may be a grade-A, number one fuck up, but the one thing I do and do extremely well is body language. Tells. Moves. Am the fucking king of moves. Probably why I'm such a good dancer and undercover cop. Five minutes into a room, I can catalogue the tells of everyone there, from the bartender who's snorting up that night's wages, to the fag who's eyeing the ass of the bartender (who might blow him if there was blow involved). This trust-the-force-shit has saved my ass many times.

Unfortunately, it also has its majorly fucked component as well, like knowing for three months before she did it that Stella was gonna kick me out. Wouldn't hold my hand. Pretended she had to go to the bathroom after we did it because she wanted to wipe every trace of me out of her. Like Stella didn't have a bladder made out of rocks. She wasn't getting off on me, she was just getting off. Then the segue to only hand jobs, when she couldn't bear to go through the sex anymore, like my dick was a new age incubator for bubonic plague. And then… Shit.

Okay. Yeah. Know body language. And Fraser. Except for those few lapses, Fraser doesn't pull. Ever.

So who in the goddamn hell was he pulling? His track record was pretty fucking abysmal.

Breakfast. I find out the following: her name is Joanie.

"Diminutive for Joan, Ray."

"No shit, Frase."

They'd gone out for Italian, to Musso's, a place where Fraser and I sometimes go when he feels a hankering for cloth napkins. She ordered the osso bucco. "Your favorite, Ray!" She likes hockey, cars, the Knicks (she grew up in New York, Ray), and dogs. "We're taking Dief for a walk in the park later this afternoon. Would you care to join us?"

Fucking christ on a raft. Second date you do not invite your work buddy along. Not even being Canadian justifies this level of complete cluelessness.

"Naw," I brushed him off. "Engine's knocking. Gonna spend the entire afternoon under the hood. Have a good time."

They must have had a peachy-keen time, because for the next three weeks I barely saw him. We'd work cases in the afternoon and around four he'd start drumming his fingers against the flat of his thigh. The first time he did it, I stared at him. It was such a me thing to do. By five he was kicking my chair leg.

"Time to hit the road?" I snapped at him one day.

"Yes," he said, all chipper, my sarcasm lost on him. "Would you please give me a lift? I'd very much appreciate it. Joanie's picking me up at six."

He'd gotten up and was already making for the door, which means he didn't see my spectacular head desk.

It didn't start getting really fucking weird until about two weeks in. All right, I admit I was fucking weird about all this from the get go. Like hello aneurysm weird. Right from the gate. The instant I heard the word "date" echo throughout the car like Fraser had a bullhorn in my ear, I freaked out.

There's normal Ray freak out, which is kind of everyday shit where I blow my top and rant and rave and occasionally punch things and kick doors and prove to everyone once again that Stella was one lucky woman to have dumped that crazy cop husband of hers.

And then there's the quiet freak out. The one where I got a blender in my stomach set to pulverize. The world is coming apart at the seams, and I'm so terrified at what's happening that I don't even know where to put my hands because it's all going to blow and there's no way to stop it all from coming down.

Happened when Stella left me. I spent the next three years searching for the bits of me that hadn't vaporized. Not much left, but I kind of scraped it together. Not that I didn't put some serious effort into developing a relationship with Jim Beam. Found out that near-alcoholism is not buddies—know I'm slow; me and self-destruction go way back—but even I copped on that if near-alcoholism sucked ass, then full-blown alcoholism would suck six different kinds of ass. Kind of did a stalker number (yeah, I know) on you-know-who. Did a bunch of stupid shit I'm not admitting to anyone. Like tie-my-arms-to-the-bumpers-of-two-cars-set-to-race-in-opposite-directions-and-rip-me-in-half-and-I'm-still-not-going-to-tell-you stupid. Fraser entered into the picture during the worst of it. The 2-7 was my last chance and I knew it. I also knew that it would be a fucking miracle if I pulled this Vecchio shit off. I couldn't have done it without him. I bitched and yelled and on one occasion punched him (hell, he punched me too, so fuck off), but he was there for me like no one else had been in a long time. Maybe ever.

Then I nearly died up in Canada and who knew that barking dogs would be the second happiest sound on the face of this earth? I could feel the frozen tears on Fraser's cheek as he rubbed against my own, whispering, "They're here, Ray. Hold on. They're here. We're safe." Which is the first happiest sound on the face of this earth: Fraser's voice.

I'm a territorial asshole. Admit it. I don't share. Sharing schmaring. This thing with Joan had me going from "off" to "pulverize" with one push of the button. She was poaching, thieving bitch, and the fact that she had every right to do her little hetero dance with my Fraser was killing me. Full-blown, twenty-four seven quiet freak out. Do not pass go. Do not put a gun to your head.

Not that I had any right. I got that. But quiet freak mode isn't exactly logical. I could tell myself, "That's the whole ballgame for him. Don't bother stepping up to the batting cage, Ray. It's a shut-out."

Didn't stop me from feeling so jealous it's amazing I didn't gnaw off an arm or something in frustration.

Yeah, I want him. And like that. Surprised? Me too and it's my dick.

I wouldn't have understood any of this at twenty. In fact, I would have beat the total shit out of someone for suggesting that I'd be panting to touch another guy's dick. But now I'm nearly forty, and it's not so clear cut. In fact, it's fucking dark out there. Not even any emergency lights. I'm flying blind, as they say. The only thing I know is that I'm crazy in love with Benton Fraser, so crazy in love with him that the idea of fucking him doesn't make me run to the john to heave; it makes me run to the john to jack off.

The light bulb went on real soon after we set out. I ain't gonna bullshit you with crap about violins and true love. It was as simple as Fraser giving me something to drink. We'd just finished yet another meal of caribou stew for the fourth night running, and why did I know that was going to be on the menu every night for the next three weeks? I hurt all over, too macho to say anything. I was cold. And don't give me any shit about that because until you go on an adventure with Benton Fraser and sled dogs and glaciers and all that fucking white, you don't know cold. So I groused about Fraser's cooking and needled him about those defenseless caribou dying in the name of stew. Not my finest hour. In full asshole mode and grooving on every second of it.

When I came back from taking a piss, all revved up to complain some more—cause it took me five minutes to even find my dick, which had shrunk to the size of a mole—Fraser handed me a steaming cup of coffee, laced real heavy with booze and about six tons of M&M's. "I know you hurt and you're cold. This will make you feel better."

The sheer goddamn Fraser-ish-ness of it was so overwhelming that all I could do was nod a thanks. His understanding that my jerkiness wasn't personal, his turning a blind ear to my grumbling because making me feel better was more important to him than calling me on my hissy fit. Proving once more who was the much bigger man. My brain, the part that wasn't frozen, said, "You're in the presence of greatness, Ray. Don't fuck this up."

I knew this before, but now I knew it.

So Fraser hands me that coffee and the word "greatness" has just left my brain when it happens. That free fall where your stomach backflips and your dick upflips and it's hootenanny time. Maybe it was the fact it was only down to me and him. Nothing out here. Like nothing. You don't know nothing until you've been in the Arctic tundra. We were down to snow and sled dogs and caribou stew. No failed marriage, no crappy apartment, no GTO, no pizza, no Chinese, no Chicago, no Vecchio. All the noise of my life just not there. It was Ray and Fraser and a bunch of fucking dogs and that was it. My dick began screaming, "Good to go, here!" my heart was in atrial fib, and because it was so silent, I could hear, "Fuck your straight."

Which I admit, freaked the holy hell out of me, 'cause besides those two mutual hand jobs with Lenny Lipinski when I was thirteen, the thought of me getting cozy with another guy's package had never entered my mind.

Not that I would have let that stop me.

If I'd gotten so much as one fucking tell from him during our adventure, I'd have let my inner queer free and shoved my hand down his pants so fast they'd have had to clock it at Nascar. Because I'd had greatness before, and I knew what greatness was. Fraser was my chance—who are we kidding here—my last chance at greatness. I wasn't going to let a little heterosexuality stand in the way of that. Plus, when you think about it, no one, no one has a nicer ass than Benton Fraser. Frase prancing around in his long-johns? A piece of clothing designed to totally fuck up your "straight," let me tell you.

Greatness plus Fraser's ass equals Ray's "straight" takes a hike.

By the end of our adventure I now knew that the constant tightness in my chest wasn't my arteries crying uncle (although considering what I shove down my throat, they have every reason to). No, it was grief mixed in with a motherfucker of an epiphany. That what we are fucking may not be so important as who we are fucking.

Which must have been right because my dick was sooooo all over that little notion.

Fraser seemed utterly cool with me leaving. Obtuse as all hell, but cool. Wouldn't you think that someone with Fraser's brains would notice, and perhaps comment, when someone like me hasn't so much as said "yeah" in ten hours?

I packed while he kept up a running monologue with Dief about what I'd do when I got back to Chicago: how I'd walk in the park, take the path Dief liked, the one that skirted the pond, eat pizza, work on the GTO, all the things I'd be doing without them. In hindsight, I should have taken that as a tell. But how was I to know that Fraser's tells are different than everyone else's tells? Most of his tells don't ever get told. Kiss my ass, because if he doesn't even know they are tells, how in the holy fuck am I supposed to know?

Still, I know, I should have gotten it. Already admitted that, didn't I? That his blahblahblah, "Dief, did you know that there are forty-nine varieties of trees planted in the park, none of them indigenous, however. While the conifers have adapted splendidly to the Chicago winter, the…" Yeah, a tell. Much easier having the verbal shits about conifers than thinking about your friend, the one you've been sharing air with for the last two years, getting on that plane. Now I'd have gotten it, but then I was still a little freaked out by my dick wanting to do its "do me, do me" dance with a guy.

His voice was so calm and measured, nothing like what I'd sound like if I'd had the cojones to open my mouth. So, I packed my duffle in silence and went to bed, knowing that the next night I'd be in Chicago, with no one but Jim Beam for company, and, sorry, Jim Fucking Beam is not buddies. No Fraser. No Dief. No fuck. Fraser takes me to the airport, gives me a big hasta-la-vista-bro hug, wishes me a good flight, and has me promise to give his regards to the 2-7. I got so drunk on that leg of my trip home that they had to get a stretcher to carry me off the plane.

Score? Ray, zero, ice crystals, ten.

I got my hopes up when Frase, now Corporal Fraser, transferred back down here, but nada, zip, nothing. Status quo. It was all about being buddies to him. Nothing else.

Was I about to sneeze at being buddies? No. Fucking. Way.

It took a few weeks, but I kind of got okay with it. It was greatness lite. We were back together nearly twenty-four seven, and if you ignored the fact that we were acting about as married as you can get without shoving our dicks up each other's asses, it was jake. My dick wasn't okay with it, but since it was largely the perp behind all my really stupid ideas, I ignored it. That way, no one would be slapping a restraining order in my hand, and I'd stay employed and out of prison. I'd behaved like a total asshole over Stella, and I was determined not to ask things of Fraser he obviously couldn't give me.

But then. This goddamn woman. Where in the hell had she come from? Hitching up my mouth into a reasonable facsimile of a smile when he announced he had yet another date was one of the hardest things I've ever done. And I had to do it nearly every goddamn day. Worse, much worse, he was happy. He laughed a lot. Which if you know Fraser is pretty much grounds for duck and cover. The weather was always beautiful.

"Isn't it a gorgeous day, Ray?"

"Yeah, something really picturesque about sleet, Frase."

The worst thing, the absolute worst thing was that he stopped sniping at me.

Fraser's biggest tell. The courtesy meter. The people he hates the most are the people he's the most polite to. The Ice Queen? It's "Yes, Sir," "Of course, Sir," and "I'll be right on that, Sir," when really what he's saying is, "You pathetic excuse for a Mountie. How mature of you to order around your subordinates to massage continuously an essentially shallow nature. I despise you."

Part of their dynamic is that she knows exactly what he's saying. They both speak "habla fuck you", but with lots of pleases and thank you kindlys, attached. She might be a castrating bitch, but she's not a stupid castrating bitch. And what she says to him every time she orders him to count paperclips is, "In god's name, what sins did I commit in a past life to get stuck with the likes of you? And Fraser? I despise you more."

Which doesn't mean she doesn't want to jump him, because she does. Who doesn't want to jump Fraser?

Most everyone else he dials down the courtesy to something only mildly freaky. Really freaky for someone else, like fucking insane freaky, but Fraser kind of rewrote the book on freaky: he's patient with Frannie shoving her tits in his face every chance she gets; he's professional and deferential with the lieu; he's tolerant of Dewey. Fine. You know what? No one ever gets farther than the serge. People think he's the nicest man they've ever met. He is. No arguments on that score.

He can also be a first-class asshole.

Don't get me wrong. He's thoughtful and patient and always knows the difference between a true meltdown and a blood sugar-induced meltdown. Will pour me a cup of coffee and throw in a handful of candy even though he strongly disapproves of coffee because I treat it like a food group. Which it fucking is, and I wish people would get with the program. He's down with the buddies business. Real down with it. You couldn't ask for a better friend.

On the flip side, he's also down with sarcastic and snide.

"You really think so, Ray? I don't doubt that you think that Mr. Turner snatches the purses while Mr. Cardoza drives the car." Insert really snide Canadian 'tude here. "There is the small little matter of Mr. Turner's cane. Did you forget about the cane, Ray?"

Shit like that. All frigging day long.

Once or twice he's even been downright nasty. And while it makes me want to punch him (alright, I won't, but sometimes it's really, really hard not to pop him one), it's also fucking cool. Because he lets me in. Lets me behind the serge. Maybe he did it with Vecchio, too; I don't know. But he does it with me. He lets me see when he's tired. He snaps at me when he thinks I'm being too Ray-ish. He'll come over to my place, with his face all tight with some emotion. He won't talk about it, but just the fact that he can't or won't hide it from me is an unbelievable high. It keeps me hoping. Looking for that goddamn tell.

Now he's begun to treat me like everyone else. He's so fucking polite I want to smash a fist into his mouth.

The fact that I owe him big time, for every night he's listened to me rant for hours about Stella and stopped me from cuddling up too closely to Jim and the Beam, not to mention saving my life (which is nearly equal to the number of times he's nearly gotten me killed, come to think of it), means I gotta be stand up about this fucking bitch.

Stand up. Yeah, I know what you're thinking, and I did not follow them on their dates, so fuck off. I thought about it, maybe more than a couple of times, but I didn't. And I might have run her through VICAP, and dammit all to hell if she wasn't exactly who she said she was. I tried to be supportive. Hate that fucking word. Even offered Fraser use of the GTO. I mean, people have been canonized for less. Mother Theresa's got nothing on me.

And it killed me.

I went to the gym every night they had a date. Pummeled the bag until my knuckles were raw. Split them open because if I didn't exhaust myself, I couldn't sleep. Even then I dreamed of being trapped in ice (which was, believe it or not, better than dreaming of Fraser riding some faceless women), unable to move, and hearing Fraser's voice calling me, "Ray. Ray." But the longer the dream lasted, the fainter and fainter his voice became. My Voice-of-Reason-Ray, the one I always ignore but the one who's usually right, stood on the side lines and kept reminding me it was a dream. The Ray-Kowalski-Whack-Job panicked, because I knew—in that shitty way of dreams—that once I couldn't hear his voice anymore I'd die. Was now the time to start wondering how real was that urban legend crap where dying during your dreams means you die in your sleep?

You want tells? Or lack of 'em? I had my hands bandaged up for two weeks straight before Fraser noticed.

So sue me if I hadn't even met her and I still wanted to clock this Joanie bitch to Tukto-fuck-tuk and back. He never stopped talking about her. Ever.

How the mighty have fallen on their ass. I'd now kill to get a two-hour lecture on the migratory habits of blue whales.

It took me a while. Because if I listened to this shit for more than three minutes, my stomach went from blenderize to pulverize in nothing flat.

But then those detective genes started kicking in, and it was all I could do not to stroke out.

Her last name was Crawford. Joan Crawford. At first, it was, like, fucking-a, I'm not the only person in the entire United States whose parents fucked them over name-wise.

  • She was Polish. "Like you, Ray."
  • She was a cop assigned to one of the high schools.
  • She drove a 1966 Mustang that she'd stripped down and cherried out herself. His exact words.
  • She played pooled.
  • She smoked.
  • She lived on Chinese take-out and pizza.
  • She loved The Clash.
  • She was divorced. Her ex-husband was a lawyer.
  • She grew-up in a working class neighborhood in Queens (Fraser said "neighborhood"; I immediately swapped in "slum"). Her parents wanted her to go to college, but she hated it and instead put the slimeball (my bad) ex-husband through law school working as a cop.
  • She had tattoos.

When Fraser said she had a pet lizard, I choked on my pastrami sandwich and he had to do the Heimlich on me.

Even as I was gasping for breath, a smile tugged at my lips. Joanie Crawford sounded a whole lot like me. Except she had tits. A tell with tits.

We were doing take-out and the game. Together. Because the RCWT (Ray clone with tits) was having dinner with her corporate lawyer ex-husband. He was taking her to some god-forsaken inn more than a hundred miles out of town—like Chicago is a restaurant-free zone?—and my gut feeling was that they were having dinner in outer-Mongolia because the RCWT embarrassed him. My first wince of sympathy for the bitch, because I'd been there with Stella and it hurts like holy fuck. At the time it made me want to break chairs.

"Frase?" I yelled from the kitchen. That got a grunt, the Canadian equivalent of, "I'm watching the game, asshole." "This Joanie and I have a lot in common, don't you think?" I said, as I walked into the living room balancing dinner plates in both hands.

Fraser's eyes never left the screen; he held out his right hand for a plate, while his left fumbled for the fork. Fortunately, a commercial came on.

"Excuse me, Ray. You were saying?"

"Me. Me and Joanie. We got a lot in common." I didn't look at him and began shoveling pork fried rice down my craw.

"Hmmm," he wondered. "The osso bucco and the interest in cars are all, I think. Unusual for a woman, but I understand she grew up with five brothers. Which explains the affinity for cars, you understand, not veal."

Five brothers. Thank christ. I heaved a silent sigh of relief, because up until this point, I wouldn't have been the least bit surprised to hear Rod Serling's voice boom over the toothpaste commercial, "Picture if you will…"

"Not just the cars. You know the other stuff," I pressed.

"Really? I don't know what you mean, Ray."

Cripes, this was one of those times when I just wanted to break a plate right over his head. I got it under control because I figured I only had three commercials worth of time left and then the game would be back on. Plus, I was hungry.

"What about the, uh, tattoos?"

His fork stopped. "Yes, I suppose that's true. But then many Americans sport tattoos."

"The Polack thing?"

"Oh, I forgot about that."

"The pool?"

"A popular American pastime, I understand."

"The name."

"The name?"

"Yeah, like her parents are fucking freaks like mine and saddled her with a name of some movie star whacko who beat her adopted kids with coat hangers."

"Interesting connection…"

"The smokes. The Chinese take-out. The pizza. The lawyer ex-husband. The Clash. The lizard. She's a cop for Christ's sake!"

Do I even need to mention that I was fucking losing it by the end of this-is-Ray-with-tits list?

He ignored me.

"Never really thought about it, to be honest," he said and went back to eating his food. I left the room before I popped him good. Because I didn't just want to pop him.

I wanted to pop him.

I woke up at three a.m. in a complete panic. Had my usual dream where Fraser's voice does its slow disappearing act. I'm shitting dream bricks, cause I'm nothing more than a snowshoe's length away from becoming a polar bear snack, when the Voice-of-Reason-Ray interrupts our regular programming with, "What if it isn't a tell?"

That wakes me right up. So "up" that I fall out of bed. Something I haven't done since I was four-years old. Okay, there was that time I had way too much blow on top of eight rum and cokes, and I don't think I fell out of bed so much as twitched out of it.

Back to the wing ding at hand. What if he was happy because he'd found a female Ray? He was so profoundly straight that no matter how much he loved me (I kind of had to believe that, otherwise I'm getting fitted for a straightjacket—no pun intended, asshole) he couldn't do the "fuck who you love and don't worry whether they have a dick or not" thing. I didn't have tits and a pussy. End of story.

I got up, showered, dressed, and went into work. Because if I stayed home, ugly things were going to happen.

"You don't look well, Ray. Are you all right?"

Considering that I'd been at work since four a.m., not looking well was an achievement. Because I felt like a garbage truck had run me over and then backed-up. A few times.

"Tired. Came in early so I'm knocking off early." I left it at that. "Gotta finish up the paperwork on the Lucchese case and then I'm out of here."

"Oh. I see. Are you busy later? Joanie and I were wondering if you'd like to join us for dinner."

I looked at him, his face all expectant and happy, like why wouldn't I want to meet his girlfriend and it was a mere formality for me to say yes. And in a normal world, I would. But Fraser doesn't do normal and I don't do normal anymore because of him. In the mood I was in, evil Ray tends to muscle his way to the front, and I couldn't trust myself not to do something really stupid.

"Can't." Not a thing I could do. Evil Ray entered the building anyway. "Got a date."

Fraser stared at me. Which was kinda weird because I've been out on a few dates since Stella dumped me. Nothing ever stuck, but it's not like I'm a fucking monk or anything.

"A date?" he said, in a bewildered tone.

"Yeah, a date. In fact, I'll finish this stuff up tomorrow. Need to take a nap. Before my date." I stood up to leave, but Fraser was blocking my way. And Fraser is solid, let me tell you.

"A date," he repeated.

"A goddamn date!" I exploded. "You make it sound like it's the second coming of jesus christ. Yeah, we're going out to dinner and maybe drinks afterward."

His shoulders stiffened and he did that prissy prune thing with his mouth. "Perhaps you two might meet us for drinks at Pinky's. Joanie's expressed special interest in meeting you."

Fuck, I nearly popped him. Not that he wanted me there. Nope. Joanie wanted to meet me.

"We might. I'll have to check with…" Name? Name? "Charlene. Yeah, Charlene."

"That's a nice name," he said in a snippy tone, indicating he did not think it a nice name. Like Satan's third child was named Charlene and wasn't that a coincidence.

"Well," I drawled. "She's a nice person."

"Why don't you and this nice date join us? After your nice dinner."

"Maybe we will. Thank you, kindly," I shot back.

All of a sudden were we this close to punching each other's lights out, both of us poised on the balls of our feet, gearing up for the pop.

At this point, someone either rears back their fist or cries uncle, and it was Fraser who cried uncle. He eased back on his heels and said quietly, but with enough grit to know that he was still really pissed about something, "We shall be there after nine."

With that he stalked out of the bullpen.

My date consisted of a long session with the punching bag. Should have a pallet of gauze delivered to the gym solely for my use.

But it got my uglies out, and now I felt like shit for making up Charlene. It wasn't Fraser's fault he'd found someone who rang his chimes. It wasn't like he'd led me on and then dumped me for a set of boobs. I'd meet her, be nice to her, and try to keep whatever friendship I had with Fraser intact.

Sounded like a great plan. Until I walked into the pool hall.

Fraser is just a fucking "weird" magnet, okay? Plain and simple. I never had freaky shit happen to me before I met him, and now I was knee deep in it. First, telling my straight to fuck off, then I walk into this bar and there's my double. My double with tits. I knew she did the same shit as me, had the same bio, more or less, but the fact that she kinda looked like me was the capper. The weirdness to top all weirdnesses.

She and Frase are at the pool table, racking up the balls. Fraser has a cue in one hand and is laughing at something she's said. She's standing there with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth, a pack of Marlboros rolled up in the cuff of a Clash tee-shirt that's identical to one I own.

She's shorter than me, which isn't surprising, but her hair's bleached, short, and spiked way cool. Just like mine. She's got a long, lean body that could be mine, no hips or ass to speak of. Except she's got these hooters that won't quit. She's me. She's fucking me with tits. I can tell she's at least half Polish, cause she's got a Slavic tilt to her nose. You wouldn't take us for twins, but you'd definitely take us for brother and sister.

Fraser sees me first. He taps on her shoulder and points in my direction. I see his mouth say, "Ray." He's trying to look cool about it, but he fucking fails as he glances to the left and right of me looking for my "date."

She squints, trying to get a bead on me through the smoke of her cigarette. Waves her hand to dispel the smoke and then sees me. The hand holding the cue slackens and her cue falls to the floor.

I nearly get down on my knees with thanks. Because I thought that it was me going crazy. That this was the final episode of Ray losing it. Fraser's complete denial about him dating the RCWT had thrown me for a loop. It wasn't me having a wingding. The shock on her face confirmed it.

Fraser was so excited I'd come that he didn't notice her dropping her cue. He raced over and grabbed my arm. "Ray, I'm so glad you made it. Come on. Come meet Joanie."

By the time I'd reached the pool table, she'd picked up the pool cue and gotten her shit together.

"Hey, I'm Ray," I said and held out my hand.

"Hey, I'm Joanie," she said, simultaneously, and held out her hand.

"I've heard a lot about you," we said. Yeah, you got it. Simultaneously. After that I was afraid to say anything because this was fucking bizarre. What was more bizarre was that I knew that she knew it was fucking bizarre.

"What are you drinking, Ray? Joanie, you want another?"

"Beer's fine. What she's having," I managed to mumble.

"Excellent," Fraser beamed at us. As if the fact we shared the same taste in beer was up there with dramatically increasing the survival rates of heart transplant patients. He raced off and we cased each other like cops do, getting the tells. Which only confirmed in my mind that if Fraser had done a nationwide search, he couldn't have possibly done better than to come up with a female me. Obviously she felt the same, because I swear to god, S.W.E.A.R. T.O. G.O.D., we both started do-do-do-ing the theme from the Twilight Zone.


Then we stopped at the same time.

Then we both said "fuck" at the same time.

Then I said, "Light me a cigarette, because if I don't have something to do, I'm going to go nuts, which means if you don't have something to do you're gonna go nuts."

"Yeah," she agreed.

She lit a cigarette, handed it to me, then lit one for herself, took a couple of deep drags, then crushed it out, and held out her hand.

"Gotta split. It's been weird, Ray."

"Hey, where are you going?"

"Home. Knew it was too good to be true. A nice guy like that."

"No, no, he wants you. I'm not… At least I wasn't… He's not… We aren't… I didn't think I… Fuck!" I moaned and closed my eyes for just a second, because this was so goddamn weird. When I opened them, she was staring at me like I was something from outer space.

"Christ, it's like looking in a mirror, isn't it?" she mused. I nodded. "Look. Seems like you two have some serious shit to talk about. Isn't me he wants to fuck, trust me. With tits like these, a guy usually says hi to them for twenty minutes before noticing that a human being is attached. You were kinda sneaky about it, which I appreciate, but you've raked your eyes over my chest at three times in the last two minutes. Fraser? Not once. Hasn't kissed me. Not once. Was kinda thrilled in the beginning because it's not often you meet someone as nice as him, actually interested in talking to you as opposed to getting you to bed as fast as humanly possible. But then I began to wonder. What's wrong? Why isn't he making any moves? Plus, he never shut up about you. Ray this. And Ray that. Let me tell you, it got real old."

"Tell me about it."

"Give me a hit off your cig. Bored you with Joanie stories, did he? Cry me a river. One more story about you and I was gonna brain him. Anyway, I take one look at you and I gotta think that he didn't jump my bones because it ain't my bones he wants to jump. I'm not the real thing, baby. If it's not that way, tell him to give me a call."

"I… I…" I nodded and shut the fuck up. Because I really believed she was right. That she was something Fraser's straight could wrap his mind around, but his body wasn't in on the lie.

"Our table's over there," she pointed to a table in the back. I could see Fraser's coat draped over a chair. "See you around. It's been really fucking weird, Kowalski."

"You get used to that hanging around Fraser. He's a weird magnet."

"Kinda twigged to that. Your first name really Stanley?"

"Yeah and my ex-wife's name is Stella."

She grinned. "Nice meeting you, Stanley Kowalski."

"The pleasure's been all mine, Joan Crawford. Got a bunch of coat hangers I could lend you…" I said with equally good-natured snide.

Her answer was a middle finger hoisted above her head as she turned and left.

You know, if this wasn't so fucked, we could actually be friends. Always wanted a sister.

The bar must have been real backed up because I had time to finish my cigarette before Fraser returned.

"Where's Joanie?" he asked, all concerned.

"She had to split. Look, can we go to my place? I need to talk with you."

The ride to my place was silent and horrible. Fraser was furious with me because he was sure I'd said something to awful to Joanie.

"Ray, were you rude?"

Like being rude was the worst possible sin, and that she'd run out of the bar in tears. Which was bullshit, because women like her don't do tears. A dropkick to the balls, maybe. I denied hurting her, but he didn't act convinced.

Me? I was trying to figure out what I was going to say short of, "Hey, that woman you're dating? Well, you're only using her as a substitute for me, cause you can't admit you have the hots for me. Just ignore the fact you thought you were straight, cause you ain't."

"Want something?" I yelled from the kitchen.

"No. Thank you."

I groaned. He was in full-fledge pout mode. I slammed the refrigerator door shut.

Okay, show time.

He sat on the edge of the couch, still in his coat. Also a bad sign.

"Um, I really liked Joanie. She's…" god, I almost said nice. "She's great."

"I think so."

Fraser should look into a possible second career as a ventriloquist, because I swear to fuck his lips didn't move.

"Look, I just gotta say this, Frase. I don't know how, and I know I'm gonna fuck it up. I don't say things real pretty. I just blurt them out. You know that. So please cut me some slack like you always do and read between the fucked-up part."

That got his attention. He leaned back. Didn't unzip his jacket, but he'd relaxed a tad.


"Yes, Ray?"

"Don't you think… Don't you think that Joanie is a lot like me?"

"For heaven's sake, Ray, we've been through this before. What does this have to do with Joanie leaving the bar in tears?"

Which jerked my chain big time, because Fraser was so ready to tar me with that asshole brush when it wasn't me being the asshole. He was the one dating a near fucking clone of the man he couldn't admit he had the hots for.

I pointed my finger at him. "She didn't leave the bar in tears. And FYI, I ain't the asshole here, Fraser."

"I beg your pardon."

Now it was getting ugly. Because he was sounding really courteous. Really polite.

"Ain't the one who's the asshole."

That got no reaction, except for the pursed lips. Another bad tell.

"Look, I have to lay it out here. Lay it out. I think you're dating her cause you can't admit that you want… you want… Fuck it! To date me. Okay? Date me. But you're having trouble lining that up with being straight, but maybe you're not as straight as you think you are because look at her, Frase. You found a woman, who, if you took away her tits, would basically be me. 'Cept I don't have five brothers. That's the only difference."

Said it. It was out there. I sighed with relief. Or sort of. Because Fraser cracked me one on the jaw mid-sigh.

I lay there sprawled against the couch, struggling against the impulse to haul back and retaliate, my usual M.O. I dialed it way down because if I hit him back, I think we might come close to killing each other.

I opened my eyes. Fraser hadn't lost any of his rage. Poised on the balls of his feet, he was waiting for me to punch him back. His innate sense of fair play wouldn't let him sock me again while I was down, but I could smell the rage. He was dying to just pound me.

I held up my hands in surrender. He turned his head to the side, trying to get control. I could see his fists slowly unclenching, the desire to beat the shit out of me ebbing out of him. Which completely disarmed me when he went in for the verbal one-two.

"Are you so unhappy, Ray, that you have to disparage my one relationship since, well. That you can't accept the fact that I'm in a viable relationship, while you are still pining for that ex-wife of yours. Who, I might add, has moved on to greener pastures?"

I stopped rubbed my jaw, which hurt like six different kinds of fuck. "Excuse me?" I shouted, and now really regret I didn't return the favor and lay one on his jaw. "Vecchio's greener pastures?"

I mentioned that Fraser can be an asshole, just like the rest of us, didn't I? Yeah, well exhibit A. A is for asshole.

"Obviously," he snarled. "Because I have serious questions about your character." The lowest thing Fraser could say to me, because most people don't care about character, but character equals soul to Fraser. Essentially, the only people whose character Fraser has questioned are Hitler and Pol Pot. "Your venom regarding me and Joanie, then insinuating, on the flimsiest of evidence, that she is merely a substitute, a substitute, Ray, for yourself, is just so vile and—"

"You haven't even kissed her!" I yelled. "That ain't normal."

"You're the arbitrator of normal, are you? I've read your file—"

"I ain't the one who's dating someone who's the replica of me! I'm at least honest about how I feel about you. You think this has been easy? Looking at yourself pushing forty and realizing you have the hots for your partner. Your male partner. That you want to touch his dick—"

Even in my freak-out I could see I'd gone too far. His face crumpled in on itself, like I'd pulled out a gun and shot him. He'd trusted me and I shot him. Right between the eyes.

"This…" he closed his eyes and then opened them wide. Like he was seeing me for the first time and what he saw was horrible. "You couldn't have said anything worse, Ray."

He left, slamming the door.

A definite tell.

Way to fuck it up, Kowalski.

I left him alone for a week. I kept expecting a call, even if to hear a replay of how me and Hitler were now buddies in his eyes, but nada.

The lieu called me into his office and asked where Corporal Fraser was. I shrugged.

Nothing gets by the lieu.

"It's like that, is it?"

I shrugged again.

"You want a new partner?"

I don't know how I held it together because we were now on pulverize twenty-four seven. Pieces of me were poised to scatter everywhere, and if Fraser didn't come back, I didn't think I had the energy to start picking myself up again. I shook my head.

"Just wait, Ray. Just wait."

I lasted another three days and then I called the Consulate.

"Welcome to Canada. May I help you?"

"Turnbull. Ray. Fraser there?"

Silence; usually a sign that Turnbull's in over his head. Which isn't hard, but this time I think it's justified.

"Um, Ray." I could hear it in his voice. Been on the other end of that many times. That feeling of doom so close its breath is wetting the side of your neck. "He's on leave. He went home."

I worked every day that week and every day the next week and the next. I worked sixteen-hour days, twenty-one days in a row. If I didn't enter my apartment dead exhausted, so tired I was asleep before my head hit the pillow, I knew I'd do things I'd hate myself for. I didn't know how long I could keep this up, but I was afraid for myself. And what scared me is that everyone was afraid for me. Dewey canned the jokes for once. Frannie must have alerted Ma Vecchio because I'd find dinner in my refrigerator every night. The lieu never said a word, even though I was practically living at the station. Stella called from Florida twice.

Normally, this would have royally pissed me off. It didn't. I didn't even care. Which scared the shit out of me because if I didn't care about this, would I care enough to get out of the way if some perp gave serious consideration to putting a bullet in my chest?

Three weeks after our blow-up, I came home around eleven, another sixteen-hour day. He was sitting on the stoop.

I stopped at the bottom. We stared at each other for a few seconds, then I trudged up the stairs, skirted around him, and let myself in. He was behind me. I could smell him, that particular blend of leather and soap.

I threw my coat on the floor in the corner of the hallway. He probably picked it up for me, but I didn't wait to find out. I parked myself on the couch and waited for him.

He picked the opposite side of the couch, which considering how big he is still meant we were sitting pretty close to each other. He'd hung up his own coat, which I guess was a good sign. But I was fucking sick of signs.

"You look exhausted."

I shrugged. "You, too. You went home."

He nodded. "I needed to think."

I closed my eyes, realizing I was so tired I could fall asleep right here on the couch.

"After our discussion—"


"Argument. I went to see Joanie." I'd expected that. "You will be pleased to know that she corroborated everything you said."

I opened my eyes. "You know what, Fraser? Fuck you. That doesn't please me. I didn't say those things to hurt you. I said them because I thought they were true."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound condescending. She thought I was using her as a Ray substitute as well."

"A Ray clone with tits." I couldn't help but rub it in. He blushed. Good.

"Yes, those were her exact words, too. You two are very alike."

"Earth to Fraser. The only one who doesn't get it is you. You know what? I'm going to bed. I've had maybe three hours of sleep in the last three weeks. I'm gonna start hallucinating if I don't get some ZZZZs. You want to talk, follow me. I'll try to stay awake. But I gotta tell you: I said everything I had to say on the subject and got socked in the jaw for my trouble. It's your turn."

I did just that. I walked into my bedroom, stripped down to my tee-shirt and shorts, and climbed into bed. I gave a brief glance at the doorway. Fraser was hovering there, uncertain. Fuck him.

I was nearly asleep when he started talking again.

"She… I tried. I was determined to prove you wrong. Prove her wrong. I… I insisted that what she said wasn't true. That I had no homosexual leanings, that she had traits that I admired in you and was overjoyed to find them in her and that… I hadn't, well, done anything because, because, I'd been very badly hurt in my last relationship and wanted to be sure…"

This is where he started to lose it. A tremor, very slight, but there. His voice got louder, higher. He began to break apart. Fraser. My Fraser breaking apart. Man of steel. Bits and pieces of him were flying all over the room.

"And I began to kiss her. To prove to both of you and I put my hand underneath, underneath, and at first it felt wonderful because I haven't in such a very long time and I thought that it would answer, answer all my and I kept kissing her and it didn't didn't and I then I thought I thought of you and your mouth and your and and and your body…"

He stood at the door sobbing.

I hauled my exhausted ass out of bed, wrapped my arms around him, and held him. He sagged into me like he was made of rags. He continued to cry. I dragged him to the bed. He let me take off that enormous white sweater of his. Let me undo his boots. I dragged him into bed. I held him, rubbed his back, and let him cry it out.

"You okay?" I asked when he was at the sniffling stage.

"Need a handkerchief," he mumbled.

"Here," I leaned over, nabbed a tissue, and gave it to him.

I pulled away from him so that I could see his face. The light from the living room cast a faint light into the bedroom. I brushed the hair away from his forehead. He was so beautiful.

"Ray, I'm so confused."

"Yeah, I know. Me, too." I kissed his forehead and pulled back again. "Look, I'm not asking you for anything you can't give me. I know you can give me friendship because we're buddies. I mean, I hope we're still buddies?" He nodded, and the blender went down to slow churn. "Best buddies and I wouldn't want to lose that for anything. You want more, we'll take it real slow. I haven't a fucking clue how to fuck a guy. Probably could give a decent hand job because I imagine it's like doing yourself. I've received enough blow jobs that I could probably fake that, too, but I've never, like never done anything with a guy. Never wanted to." Made my silent apologies to Lenny Lipinski.

"Me neither. Never have. Never wanted to." he repeated.


"I don't know."

Okay, I could live with that. It wasn't an outright "no."

"Fair enough. I gotta be honest, Frase, cause that's me." He threaded our hands together. "I want us to get down and dirty," I whispered. "I can't lie about that, but this is all about love and am willing to do anything to love you, you freak. Even if it means we don't do shit because you don't want to."

"Ray? You… You love me?"

He said it like, like it was the most wonderful thing in the world. Not like, "Oh, Ray, get over me. It's done." Which is what happened the last time I told someone I loved them. No, this was said with awe. Like he'd never think anyone would say that to him. Like total greatness was happening.

"Yeah," I managed to mumble because I was two shakes away from breaking into uncontrollable sobbing myself. Which was not greatness.

He burrowed his head into my shoulder and squeezed my hand. "Understood. Sleep, Ray."

I woke up because I was jacking off; I'd know that wrist movement anywhere, the scrape of elastic and fabric as a hand winnows its way into a pair of boxers, but my dick didn't feel a thing. Which really woke me up because I thought my dick had died, but it didn't feel dead but really awake and I was so confused until I realized it was Fraser I was jacking off and, shit, what in the hell was I doing and, christ, he's gonna freak out on me… I made to pull away. He stopped me, and I realized that his hand was over mine, guiding me, setting the rhythm he liked.

What happened in the hours between "I'm so confused" and now?

He must have sensed my hesitation, because he panted, "Put your hand back. Don't stop. So good…"

He didn't know fuck all about good. It couldn't possibly feel as good as me jacking him off. Solid. Warm. Hot. Sooooo familiar and yet soooooo not. What a goddamn high. "Frase," I whispered. "Fuck my hand. Want to see your hips move. Your face. C'mon, fuck my hand."

He moved forward into my palm, wet and sticky already, panting wet on my face, the tense cast to his face as he chased his orgasm. The power in those hips, doing his unique sexual dance. So beautiful. I've never seen anything as beautiful. "Frase, come for me. Let me see you. Please come for me," I begged. As he came, he gripped my shoulders so hard I later discovered a trail of half moons where his nails had gouged into me.

I held him while he shivered through the aftershock. I was planning on letting him fall back asleep, and then I'd get up and take care of myself in the bathroom.

"You," he whispered.

"Naw, don't worry. Take care of it later."

He kissed my chin. "Later?"

I nodded.

He kissed the side of my mouth.

"You taste nice," he murmured.

I couldn't breathe.

He kissed the other side.


He licked my lower lip.

"Fraser, please. Can't…"

"Can't what?" He licked my upper lip

I began thrusting up against his hip. He'd shed his jeans at some point in the night, because I was rubbing against soft cotton that hinted at the firm muscle below and christ…

"Can't stop. Don't. Want. Freak. You…"

He grabbed my lower lip between his two lips and sucked.

Over and out.

Took months to get down with all this shit. Neither of us had a goddamn clue of what to do, and I'd be lying if the two of us still didn't freak out occasionally about doing a guy. Then we both figured out that maybe we were bisexual, or I was

Fraser-sexual and he was Ray-sexual. Tits still did it for me. And it turns out that Fraser isn't so much a tit man as a leg and ass man. Both of us recognizing that our previous sexual orientation wasn't so much a fluke as part and parcel of a larger package kind of toned down the freak outs.

We got stalled at hand jobs and blow jobs—don't get me wrong, I ain't complaining—until I realized that, duh, this was Fraser. I bought a lot of books. Fraser actually read them, of course; that was a no brainer. I just looked at the pictures. Also a no-brainer.

Eventually we got there, and along the way I discovered I wasn't wrong about the greatness. Which was the best part.

"Why are you coming again? You usually hate these affairs."

Fraser was suiting up for the open house today at the consulate.

"Joanie and I need more ammo. I figure an afternoon watching you hand out drinks and converse with other Canadians will fix us for a year."

That got a roll of the eyes.

"The Ray twins are not ganging up on me today of all days. You promised. I'm on from noon to two. Surely, you two can control yourselves for a couple of hours."

"Don't think so. It's only fair. Two of us against you. It's the only way I ever win." I was just teasing, because I had other fish to fry today.

"No shenanigans, Ray," he warned and then without warning, pinned me to the door. "No shenanigans today or there will be no shenanigans after the game."

"Playing dirty," I groaned, as he moved his groin against me in that hip swivel thing that drives me crazy.

"I learned from the master," he growled and suddenly pulled back. "I shall see you there."

"You are so dead," I called after him, but all I got was a laugh as he walked out the door. I adjusted my now really hard dick in my pants and smiled. Like I said, took him ages, but once he got with the program? I thought I was a horn dog. That still waters run deep shit. Fraser. Wrote the book.

Time for Operation Find a Freak.

"Tell me again, Ray, why we are going to the open house at the Consulate?"

"To tease Fraser and freak out the Ice Queen. She hates me by my lonesome, but she'll have a fucking stroke if the two of us walk in."

"We are not missing the beginning of the game. I don't care how many hoops that Thatcher bitch makes Fraser jump through. We leave at two. He can take a cab home. You know she'll make him stay longer. Glove compartment. Get me a cigarette, will you?"

"We're not smoking, remember?"

"Give me a fucking cigarette, Kowalski, or I'll rip your ear off."

"He'll smell it on us and then kill us."

She groaned. "Tell me why I'm his friend, and why you're with him?"

I grinned. "Don't know about you, but he's one hell of a fuck."

That earned me a smack. "TMI, Kowalski."

We arrived just as the party was getting into full swing. Fraser was passing champagne and doing his Mountie thing. Joanie parked herself in a corner and was doing some harmless flirting with Turnbull. Aside from a frosty smile acknowledging our presence, the Ice Queen ignored me, but I knew we were bugging her cause her head had this tilt to it, geared in whatever direction I happened to be in. Like some Ray-GPS thing. She couldn't pull ninety percent of the bullshit she used to pull on Fraser now that he was a corporal, but she still could make his life fairly miserable if she wanted to.

Despite my explanation to Joanie, I wasn't here to yank her chain. I was here to find Joanie a freak.

Phase I: Wheel Rocket to Launch Pad

Found him right away. He was in a corner arguing with a power couple, who seemed together based on the proprietary grip the woman had on the guy's arm. Built like Fraser—christ, do Canadians just give kids steer hormones along with their small pox shots?—it's a nation of fucking hockey players. Let's just say I wouldn't be able to take him. So check on the build. Dark-haired, not as dark as Fraser, but brunet enough. Check. Blue eyes? Check.

"Look, the game starts in one hour," I could hear him grousing. "And I'm watching it. Unless that flea-bag motel you guys parked me in hasn't fixed the television. David, couldn't you have upped the allowance a bit? I sleep sitting up because I'm afraid I'm going to contract head lice."

"Stop whining, Clark." That was followed by a diatribe about budgets and cost-cutting and more complaining. They were so engrossed in the head lice population of where this guy was staying that I got pretty close without them noticing.

Time to do the freak check.

The ultimate tell. The sleeves of his polo shirt had a nice crisp crease to it. He ironed his polo shirts or sent them out to be ironed.


"Five more minutes. That's it. I hate these dog and pony shows."

I found Dief, who was pouting in Fraser's office, banned from the festivities. A few words and then, "You know what to do? Guy sort of looks like Fraser. Navy colored polo shirt and khakis. And you stay away from the food or the deal's off."

That got me a disdainful woof. Like, hey, professional here!

I let him out.

Phase II: Strap Yourselves In

Dief's such a pro. Went right up to him and started humping his leg.

"Diefenbaker," I hissed. He looked up, acting all innocent. "Back in the office at once." He slunk off, his ears hanging low. What a ham-bone! A definite seven-donut performance.

"Sorry about that. He's really fairly well behaved."

The guy didn't freak out. Ten points for that.

"No problem. I've got that kind of leg," he deadpanned. "Plus it was the most interesting thing that's happened to me since I walked in the door." Was really getting good vibes from this guy. Another ten points. "You don't sound Canadian. Why are you suffering through this?"

"The owner of the wolf is my partner. That Mountie pouring the champagne."

I've learned to say "partner" in a way that the clueless take it at face value, the prurient give me a wink and a nudge; this guy got it but wasn't freaked out by it. Fifteen points. Whoa. So far so good.

"Hey, I'm Ray Kowalski," I held out my hand.

"Clark… Kowalski. That name's familiar. Is that guy Benton Fraser?"

"Yeah, he is." My cop sensors started firing overtime. "Take it if my name is familiar, you know I'm with Chicago P.D. What do you do?"

"Oh, your typical boring civil servant," he said, real nonchalant. "Your names must have come up in the billions of reports I read."

Like a civil servant would know Fraser's name. Figured him for Canadian C.I.A. I gave him the look like, don't bullshit me. He raised his right eyebrow in amusement.

"The ones that figure Russian subs?"

"Among others," he deflected.

Yeah, definite spook material.

"Didn't catch your name," I reminded him. "Clark?"

He grimaced. "Gable. Don't say a word."

Dingdingding. We have a winner.

Phase III: Ignite Boosters

"Joanie," I yelled across the room and pointed at Clark Gable's head. "We got a new member."

She moseyed across the room. Joanie can mosey with the best of them. Gave him some time to assess her, look her over. In other words, check out her tits.

"Joan Crawford, meet the newest member of the children-saddled-with-horrible-names club, Clark Gable," I smirked.

"You're shitting me, Kowalski," she insisted, while quietly giving Clark the once over. Then she narrowed her eyes at me for a split second, like she knew what I was up to. Which, knowing her knowing me, she did. When she didn't lay a spine-crushing karate chop across the base of my neck, I figured she approved.

"Nope. Apparently there are three sets of sociopaths in living North America whose child abuse of choice was naming their kids. It's amazing none of us are serial killers."

Clark raised that eyebrow again because Ray Kowalski wasn't that weird.

"Don't let him fool you. He's one of us. His first name is Stanley," Joanie explained; now it was time for her to smirk. "I can't speak for Ray, but I'm definitely not a serial killer. Joanie Crawford. Nice to meet you, Clark." Joanie held out her hand. "You new in town?"

"Yes, yes, I am. Just transferred down from Ottawa." He blushed and held out his hand. She grabbed it and blushed, and damn it all to hell if the tells weren't going, "TELL!" "TELL!"

"Couldn't help overhearing you talking about the game and the fact your television doesn't work," I said, all innocent. "We're about to head to my place to watch it. You want to join us?"

He paused. Then Joanie went in for the kill.

"The Hurricanes are so going to beat Edmonton's ass."

He whirled around. "In your dreams."

"Them winning is nothing but a dream. They stink this season—"

"Gonna get Fraser. Be right back," I said. Not that they heard me.

They bickered all the way to my place. Fraser and I were in the back seat with Dief.

"What did you promise him?" he murmured. "I saw his little performance."

"Donuts every morning for a straight week."

As we were getting out of the car, Joanie said, "Telling you two right now: no hanky-panky in the bathroom during half-time. I don't want to listen to you two when I'm not getting any."

Phase IV: We Have Liftoff

"Smooth, real smooth, Crawford. Why didn't you just grab Fraser's knife and carve 'single' on your forehead?" We were in the kitchen getting another round of drinks, letting the two Canadians exchange pleasantries in my living room (because that's what freaks do).

"Haven't had a date in six months. And my last date was with Fraser, so that doesn't count. Desperate times call for desperate measures." She smiled. "Thanks, Ray. He a cop? Getting that vibe. Holds his body like he usually wears a holster."

"Yeah, saw that, too. Canadian C.I.A."

"I can deal with that."

"In your face! In your face!" Joanie screamed as the Hurricanes made a goal.

"Penalty! Penalty! Did you see what no. 14 did with his stick?"

"Grow-up, Gable. This is hockey, not kindergarten."

I hiked a thumb to Fraser to meet me in the kitchen.

The minute he stepped across the threshold, I grabbed him by the shoulders and drew him into a hug. He embraced me back, because Fraser doesn't hug, he embraces.

"Doughnuts for an entire week?"

"Thought it worth a try. I got my freak. Thought Joanie deserved one of her own. And where else to go cruising for freaks but in a crowd of Canadians."

"Do you know that he's originally from Vancouver, but they moved to Ottawa when he was eight. I detected diphthongs particular to that region on the very edges of his vowels, although diluted, which naturally led me to enquire if he was originally from the northwest corner."

"Diphthongs did you say?" and began sucking at my favorite spot where his shoulder meets his neck.

Which I've found is the perfect way to shut him up. I haven't heard a peep about bird dicks for months.