A Smile Is Worth A Thousand Words
by Pir8fancier

"Ray, it's two in the morning, what's wrong?" I doubt he can hear the panic in my voice, but I can feel it.

"Oh, uh, nothing's wrong, Frase, just can't sleep. Was wondering."

My shoulders drop in relief and irritation. I ease back into my cot and cradle the telephone between my pillow and my ear. Thank god for portable telephones.

"What were you wondering? It's Ray and he's fine. Go back to snoring... The issue of whether you snore is not debatable. I am not having this argument with you again."

"It's not even snoring. It's more like being on the tarmac at O'Hare and standing in front of a 747 when it takes off."

"Ray agrees with me... Oh, and just because Ray is doughnut central his opinion is more valuable than mine? Don't come crying to me when you start waddling."

I hear a chuckle on the other end.

"Night, Fraser."


"Yes, Ray."

"How'd you know it was me?"

"You've been calling me at two in the morning for three nights now."


"Is it pissing you off? Oh wait, nothing pisses you off."

"Are you implying I never get angry?" For some reason this really irks me, and not because it was yet another two in the morning chat with Ray.

"No, I'm not, yeah, actually I am. Sort of. You get angry and then you shove it down into some deep dark place where no one ever can go because it's not in the fucking Mountie manual to get pissed off once in a while like some normal person. Because we all know that Mounties ain't normal. But one day there's gonna be some enormous nuclear reactor of suppressed Canadian pissedoffishness that's going to erupt and kill us all."

"That's an interesting thought, Ray."

"I want to be there when it happens. But I want to be wearing a vest, because I think it's really going to be ugly when it comes down."


"Ever feel primed, Fraser?"

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

"Like I feel too much, you know? I'm just itching all the time, like I want to crawl out of my skin or it's on fire and sometimes I need someone or something to stop me. For you I'm thinking it might be the exact opposite. But me. Yeah. Really primed tonight. Stella used to say that to me, "You're primed, Ray," which was Stella code for put a lid on it buddy because I'm not in the mood for any of your shit. Don't know why, but it kind of worked. Kind of calmed me down to my usual state of only sort of thinking about leaping out of my skin. Now nothing works. For a while a couple of shots of tequila put out the flames. But I'm on fire tonight, Frase. Right now I'm burning the fuck up. I've had my tequila and it's not doing its fucking job and I think I'm like, like maybe I'm looking at a motherfucker of a drinking problem because the fucking tequila is not working anymore. And, like, yeah. Do you ever feel like that?"

"Training," I cough. "Even if I were remotely..."

He cuts me off.

"Just can that bullshit. Okay, it's different for you. Fucking freak. All wrapped up in red serge like a goddamn Christmas present. But don't tell me that sometimes you don't feel like you're going blow. But knowing you, you'd probably want to do the exact opposite. Cause you're Canadian and you're Fraser. I mean that's freak squared right there. You'd let yourself feel. How about you blow and put out my flames?"

"I don't think it works like that. How much have you had?"

"I don't either. And not enough. Pass the lime."


"Frase, do you miss sex?"

I drop the phone.

"Sorry, Dief bumped me and I dropped the phone." Ray's chuckle tells me he doesn't believe me. I wouldn't believe me either. "My sexual experience has not been broad. The vastness of the Territories. The, well, limited opportunities..." I leave it vague. I suppose where there's a will there's a way, but my initial experience with "will" ended rather badly. I am not the sort of person who indulges in one-night stands, notwithstanding the fact that even in my woefully limited sexual experience, asking someone to join you on your cot does not exactly inspire lust.

"Didn't figure you for a slut, Frase."

"How do you know I'm not involved with someone, Ray," I say, a trifle frosty because, really. How dare he assume? I put my hand over the phone. "Stop that smirking," I hiss. "It's not like all of us can just go to the park and cruise the canine population of greater Chicago."

"Cause you're with me pretty much twenty-four seven, and I don't see no evidence that you're getting any. Detective, remember? If you were it'd be with Turnbull or the Ice Queen and nobody is that desperate."

"I agree. No one is that desperate."


"You jerk off much?"

I am exhausted. These late night conversations are finally beginning to take their toll, but I must admit that wakes me up. I do not respond, but it doesn't matter because it's more a rhetorical question than a real question.

"I used to do it all the time when Stel left. Thought if I'd just rubbed myself raw I wouldn't miss her as much. Didn't work. Fucking your hand makes you really conscious that you've only your hand to fuck. It's like eating a jelly doughnut and you keep eating, knowing you'll get to the jelly eventually and you take the last bite, suck the sugar off your fingers, and you realize they forgot to squirt in the jelly. You don't want another one but you feel fucking cheated."

"I've never not felt cheated."

"Yeah, I guess I was lucky that I didn't feel cheated for a while."


"Truth or dare, Fraser."

"Ray," I groan. "It's 1:45 a.m. I do not want to play truth or dare. Can't this wait until the morning?"

"Nope, because then you'll be behind your red armor and your hair all slicked back and so goddamn Mountie-ized that it will make my teeth hurt. Need you half asleep and all vulnerable. Pitter patter. Truth or dare."

"No, it does not involve a ball. Go back to sleep. Truth," I yawn. This should be easy. Lying is not in my lexicon.

"You ever make it with a guy?"

But then I forgot the "ray" factor.

"Hear me? You make it with a guy?"

The simple answer. "No, I have not."

"You ever think about making it with a guy?"

"My turn. You prefer glazed or sugared?"

"That's not buddies. Fraser. You are such a fucking pussy."


"I can't believe you. I thought you had cojones, really honest-to-god balls..."


"Even if you're some freak-ass Canadian..."



"Have you ever had sexual congress with your own gender?"

"Not when you put it like that. Sounds about as exciting as a cole slaw tasting with a bunch of politicians. But if you mean have I ever fucked a guy, yeah."

I don't say anything because I have spent much of my life being sure about things. I am sure that if the mold appears on the aspens in late September, it will be a severe winter. I am sure that arctic rabbits mate six times a year. I am sure that Diefenbaker has enough wolf in him to survive in the wild, but not enough to last very long. Add to that I am sure Ray is straight.

Apparently not.

"Stella?" I manage to croak, not quite able to visualize Ray and a man.

"In college. Exper. Ri. Menting. Her fancy way of pissing her parents off. Not like she actually said to them, 'Yeah, not only am I fucking my loser boyfriend that you hate, but we had a threesome and I watched Ray fuck a guy and it was hot and really got me off.' I guess the whole knowledge that she knew was the turn on."


"Shut-up. My turn. Truth or dare."

"Truth," I manage to spit out.

"Jelly or glazed?"


"Did you ever trust that pathological bank-robbing bitch who tried to tie your nuts to a prison cell so she could have muscled pool boys keep her knee-deep in Mai Tais?"

"Ray," I warn in the same stern voice I use on Dief when I'm not kidding. Because Victoria Metcalf is off limits. Even to Ray.

"Oh, sorry. Forgot. The rules. Ms. Metcalf might have a jacket that would fit an entire wall in the Library of Congress, but we pretend that she doesn't. Saint Pathological Bank-Robbing Bitch."

"Enough." Because while I might agree with him privately, by this point her pathology has become second to my own in that affair.

"Keep your starched knickers on. Hear you. Truth or dare."


"Did you ever trust that pathological bank-robbing bitch who tried to tie your nuts to a prison cell?"

"Oh for god's sake," I snap. A personal sore point and trust Ray to push on it. "No, I did not. That didn't stop me, mind you. Which is not a ringing character endorsement. Of me. I believed it was just a matter of time. Because. Just because."

I left it at that. How do you gracefully admit: I was willing to take what I could get.

"Matter of time before she fucked you over?" I made to protest that that was not what I meant, but he plowed on. "Knowed what you mean. Didn't trust Stella none either. Knew that a lot of it what attracted her to me was the 'fuck you' she was giving her parents while doing me. Just thought I could make it work, you know? Like I'm an okay guy, right?"

"I think you're fine person, Ray."

"So, why not once she got that screw-my-parents-over-thing out of her system couldn't we still be good? Ray Kowalski, good guy, decent husband. Great fuck. I mean, why wasn't it enough? Why was the Versace suit so fucking important? I didn't care, but she cared that I didn't care. At the end it was like I was raining on her parade. Like just being in the room meant that her designer-wearing ass wasn't real; just kind of like she was playing at being the smart lawyer. It sucks being an embarrassment. I remember the last Christmas party we went to before we split. Attorney General's shindig thing at the mayor's mansion. Black tie. I still had my tux from when we got married, and I thought I looked pretty cool. Outdated, but it kind of worked with my personality. Cool but loud. You know. And the minute we got there, she ditched me. Couldn't find her all evening. Every time I got near enough to hand her a drink, she made some excuse about having to talk to someone. Finally, I got it. She was embarrassed as all hell to be seen with me. It was like that movie Stella Dallas, if that isn't a mind fuck, except I was playing the Barbara Stanwyck part of the trailer-trash mom. And you know, I..."

"Stop right there! I will not listen to another word of this nonsense. Your ex-wife," I couldn't even bear to say her name, I disliked her so intensely, "is an utter fool, Ray. You are the bravest, most decent person I've ever met. I trust you with my life every goddamn day. You always go that extra mile for me. Always. You have integrity, you are... I can't even speak I am so livid. One day you will find that person who loves you for who you are, and not use you in a selfish, adolescent, pathetic attempt at establishing independence from her parents. When you find that person, I hope to God she wake-ups and realizes how, yes, you might not have a designer's monogram on your buttondown, but you have a warm, loving, heart underneath your tee-shirt and that's priceless. For what it's worth, I, for one, will not hide my scorn. I will not hide it at all. She is an absolute fool."

I am shaking, literally shaking by the end of this, well, tirade. There is no other word for it. Ray and I have come to a tacit agreement not to comment about our respective relationships, but I couldn't bear to hear Ray disparage himself, thinking himself coming up short in regards to her. Stupid woman. What she had and what she threw away. People like Ray Kowalski don't grow on trees. No, I don't just dislike her, I despise her.


"I apologize."

"She really ticks you off, doesn't she? Even got you to swear."


"S'okay. Just glad I was wearing the vest, you know?"


"Sound a little snippy tonight. You okay?"

"Not exactly. I am exhausted. First of all, it's midnight. Second, I am still slightly miffed at Diefenbaker's behavior today. We have had words, believe me."

"Whoa. Slightly miffed. Words. Batten down the hatches. Call out the dogs. Danger, Will Robinson. Red alert. Red alert."

"You are not amusing. Currently, Diefenbaker and I have reached an impasse."

"Which means that after nagging him for three hours you've finally run out of steam, while he's pouting in the corner with his paws over his ears." It is not a little eerie how well Ray knows us. "Hey, just leave it."

"He urinated on your car, Ray."

"Yeah, I know. It was kind of a pee casa, su casa thing. I don't mind. He explained it to me. It was a pack/wolf/thingamabob thing. Wanted to let me know I'm part of the pack as far as he was concerned."

This stunned me. Of course Ray was part of the pack, although I never quite thought of it quite like that. A pack of three.

"I... I... You're already part of the pack, Ray."

"Am getting there. Close, but no cigar. Working on it. Get some sleep, Frase."


"Okay, you need to take off your clothes."

There are some things I just will not do for Ray. Until tonight, I couldn't have named them, but this is one of them. Clearly.

"I am not taking off my clothes. The last time I checked,"-- is truth or dare in Hoyle's? I imagine not-- "one does not need to be naked to play truth or dare."

"Yeah, well, the normal rules don't apply cause (a) you're Canadian; (b) you're a Mountie; (c) you're (a) and (b) and then add Fraser to that and all bets are off. You use clothes like a type of armor. Wanna to play again tonight, and I want some serious questions and some serious answers back. So pitter patter. Let's get this show on the road. We're good to go. Take 'em off. Down to skin."

I'm not wearing the serge tonight, but I have a feeling it doesn't matter to Ray. I have a thought. It isn't like Ray can see me, now can he? I cup the phone under my chin and rustle the covers of my cot with my feet, assuming this adequately mimics the sounds of clothes being shed.

"I am unclothed."

"You are such a fucking liar."

"I am not!" I protest. Dief barks.

"You are so. Liar, liar, pants on fire."

"I do not prevaricate," I say in my "I am a Canadian Mountie" voice. In another era, a choice of pistols or epees, a location, a time, and seconds appointed would have followed.

"You are so prevari-whoosing. Put Dief on the phone."

I hold the phone to Dief's ear. He barks again. "Traitor," I hiss and take the phone back. "And you have the nerve to call yourself a Canis lupus arctos."

He flicks his tail at me and curls back up in the corner, his attitude completely one of "I know which side my doughnuts are buttered on."

"Take 'em off. Fraser. I took mine off."

For some reason this brings me up short. Like out-of-breath short. Because the idea of a naked Ray slouched on his couch surrounded by a pile of clothes causes some sort of temporary allergic reaction where my lungs have stopped operating.

"Fraser! Get with the program."

"Oh. Oh. Must I?"

"Mother May I? Yes, you must," Ray sing-songs. "What is this? Fifth grade?"

"The school system in the Territories..."

"The clock's only ticking away, Frase. Do I need to come over there to double check?"

That has me hauling my tee-shirt over my head. I do not need Ray to see me in the altogether. Not that we haven't seen each other. It's interesting how many of our adventures apprehending criminals occur around bodies of water. Of course, then there was that time last summer in the sweltering Chicago heat when Dief decided to take a swim in that fountain and would not come out, despite Ray's hollow bribes of a pastrami sandwich. That rather surly park ranger was not sympathetic to our pleas of Dief's propensity to heat stroke, not an impossibility being an arctic wolf trying to survive a Chicago summer. Some people are idiots. I'd like to see how he'd like it wearing a fur coat when the humidity is...

"Earth to Fraser!" I hear a tinny voice from the phone lying on the cot yelling at me.

"A minute of two if you please, Ray," I say in a loud voice and then whisper to Dief, "Don't look," who has the temerity to roll his eyes. Not that he hasn't seen me naked before; he has, a million times; but somehow I suspect he is in collusion with Ray on this whole truth or dare business and it makes me a trifle uncomfortable. "Shut your eyes," I command in a stern whisper. With a snort, he turns around. I undress quickly, because as Ray has reminded me, the clock is ticking and it is now 2:00 a.m.

I sit on the edge of the cot, my arms at my side, my legs together. I am Sunday school prim. Assuming they have Sunday school at nudist colonies.

"I am ready, Ray."

"Okay, ask. Truth or dare?"

I am completely flummoxed. All that and I'm supposed to ask the question?

And perhaps Ray is right about my relationship to clothing. Not that he isn't often right, it's just that I rarely admit it. But being naked is the only possible explanation because at his "truth" I blurt out the question, "Did you enjoy your sexual experience with this, ah, friend of Stella's?"

I hear a tiny, "Whoa," on the other end of the line.

I believe panic is in order. "I apologize profusely. Another question, do you think that the Bulls..."

"No dice, Fraser. That's the whole deal. Gotta answer the question. Yeah, it was good. The guy was more into Stella than he was into me. If he wanted to bang her, I was along for the ride. I wasn't freaked out by it like I thought I'd be. You know, I was into all sorts of stuff then. Smoking. Drinking. Drugs. I'd try anything, but I didn't think I'd swing that way at all. No sirree. Not Ray Kowalski. And then Stella kind of hotted me into it. 'Wouldn't you like to watch, Ray? See what I look like when you fuck me.' That sort of shit. Wasn't hot at all watching her make it with another guy. First, the guy didn't look like me, so it was fucking impossible trying to imagine me doing the shit he was doing to her."

The room is all of a sudden infernally hot. The furnace must be acting up.

"Plus, too many legs and arms, to be honest. Threesomes. Nobody tells you it's a fucking miracle someone doesn't loose an eye. All that scrambling around. So I start checking him out, because, hell, he's got the Stella angle covered, and if I want to get off I have to play ball with someone. And it was okay. You know what was cool?"

I manage to say, "What, Ray?" before I wipe my brow with the edge of my sheet. I ease my legs open trying to get some air.

"Like you kind of have a built in manual for guys. You know how women just don't jack you hard enough?"

"Mmmm," I mumble. I have no intention of admitting, "No, that hasn't been an issue for me because I don't have a plethora of women groping for my genitalia."

"Guys know that guys like. With a guy, you just know what works. Sure, we all have preferences. Fast. Slow. But with a guy, you're way ahead on the learning curve."

"Learning curve?"

"Yeah, you just kinda do what you like done to you. It's not like, yeah, I'm human, too, but, hey, pardon my French, I don't have breasts and a pussy so a little coaching here on the basics would be appreciated. I mean, girls are the exact opposite. You dive in there with your fingers and they're screeching that you're too rough. Takes some finessing. Steep learning curve."

"Steep learning curve, I see." Not that I really see because I am too busy trying to imagine someone else doing to me what I like to do to myself. What if someone else wet their thumb and pushed aside my foreskin? And rubbed my crown in a slow, easy, teasing roll, while their other hand, the hand that was holding the phone, in fact, was moving slowly up and down...

"Ray," I almost pant his name. "Did you perform actual intercourse with this gentlemen?"

"Yeah, Stella was hot for that. We'd rented some porno films the previous week, and she was determined to see her bad boyfriend be really bad. Like I was some big taboo breaking machine for her. Plus. Well, Stella and me, well, we weren't exactly strangers to the whole, 'where's the lube?' thing."

I deduce from Ray's vague hints that he and his ex-wife were anal intercourse aficionados. This is not surprising. Ray's unhappy commentary on his marriage is always followed by sighs on the stupendous sexual chemistry between the two of them.

I cup the phone to my ear and secure it with my shoulder. Yes, now the two hands can work in tandem, just like I like it. If I spread my legs a little further...

"He was built like you, Frase. Real solid, broad-shouldered. His hair was lighter than yours, but he had blue eyes just about your color."

"My color?" "Yeah, the same color after we've been for a walk, like in the wintertime and your cheeks are kind of red from the wind. That color."

I imagine the color of Ray's eyes when we've been for a walk in the wintertime and his cheeks red from the wind and his hands are gesticulating about something and all of a sudden it's like one of his hands is there and his thumb there and...

"Ray, I must go to sleep now." I do not wait for his response. I hang up and come with a grunt.

It isn't until my heartbeat has reached stasis that I realize that Ray hadn't asked his question.


"Just stop this shit."

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Ray."

My shirt is buttoned up to my neck. We are not going to have a repeat of last night's performance.

"You were all weird at work today. Not your normal weird, but really weird weird."

"I must confess I am perplexed..."

"Perplexed my ass. Just compartmentalize this stuff. You're the king of compartmentalization. It's practically a national industry where you come from. Add in the Fraser thing, and you could be nominated for a Nobel Prize in compartmentalization. So what we do on the phone stays on the phone. Understood?"

I unbuttoned just the top button.




"Figure you for a top."

This is going to stop. I am exhausted and not a little frightened the direction these late night confessional sessions are taking.

"My experience has been fairly limited. I have read a number of books on the subject, and although I know of whence you speak, I could not say."

"Really like fucking, but have to admit also really liked it when Stella rode me. I know of whence I speak."

"Ray, this is entering the realm of too much information, and, furthermore, your sarcasm is not appreciated."

"Name once when it was. You got me thinking about that threesome..."

Dear lord.

"And how I feel pretty good about myself. Actually I feel pretty shitty about myself, but you know, sexually. Am good with that. That equation is always E = mc squared kaboom. Knew that I was always a freak, but I'm a freak who really knows how to move right in bed. Even Stella can't deny that. If hot sheet action was all that mattered in a marriage, I'd still be married. So, I was thinking about what it would have been like to bottom with that guy. And it was like no big deal. Okay, it was enough of a big enough deal that I got a pretty nice hard-on out of it, but I didn't freak out about it. Was just kind of curious and really turned on. Cause I liked it when Stella topped me, and I was thinking, is it all that different?"

"I couldn't say."


"Look, why are guys like you and me always the ones left behind? I just don't get it. I mean, Stella and Vecchio? Why him? I know he's your best friend and you probably have load of nice crap to say about him, and it's not like I take it personally, okay, I take it personally because it's Stella and him and it's not me and her and I'm like freaking out here and I've already downed half a bottle of tequila and the flames are still licking at my fucking ankles and it's three a.m. and the Bulls aren't going to the title match and..."

"You are primed, Ray." I say it slowly and distinctly, with all the weight of the night and my exhaustion pounding a drumbeat in the back of my head. He says nothing. "Ray?"

"Yeah, yeah," he mumbles and laughs. "Yeah, I am. Night, Fraser.


"Truth or dare."


"Do you find me attractive?"

"We've already had this conversation. Ask a new question."

Ask a very, very different question because the answer then was yes and the answer now is a much bigger yes, and who knew there were degrees of yes?

"Nope, them's the rules."

"I shall repeat to you what I said before. Yes, Ray, I find you attractive. It would be impossible not to."

Now why did I have to embellish it?

"Um, could you, like do the thing?"

"What thing, Ray?"

"The truth or dare thing and then like ask the same question?"

"Isn't that cheating?" I grip the phone, because do I really want to know if Ray finds me attractive?


"And what if I don't?" I say, rather tartly.

Silence. Then...

"Truth or dare, Ray."

"Truth." he says in a small voice.

"Do you find me attractive?"

"I find you fucking beautiful, Fraser."

I could feel the smile across the telephone wires.


For the first time, I called him. He had dropped me off at the Consulate after dinner. I'd done a number of extremely onerous, boring tasks that were a mockery to my training and station; I swept the bottom floor of the Consulate, twice; I ironed my hat; I took Dief for a walk; and none of it sufficed. This compartmentalization business was not working out very well. At one a.m. I called him.


"Ray, I'm... I'm... primed."

"Shit, buddy. Okay, okay. Tell me about snow."


"Yep, snow. You love it to death Tell me every fucking tidbit you've got locked up in that freak show you call a brain. Tell me about it."

So I do. I talk for hours. There is quite a bit about snow that the layman is shockingly ignorant of. Ray keeps hmmming at appropriate points, which makes me believe he is really listening and not just napping with the phone to his ear. Finally, I can't think of one more fact about snow.

"I am done."

"Greatness. I'm starving. Pick you up in thirty."

"It's dawn." I say, shocked. The sun is sitting on the lip of the horizon. Dief is doing his morning stretch. "I apologize, Ray. I talked all night."

What in the hell is the matter with me? I only hope that the criminals are on holiday today because Ray and I will be utterly useless in the event of a crime.

"No problemo. Thirty minutes, Frase. Feel like pancakes this morning."

"Ray, Ray!" I shout, hoping he hasn't hung up.


"I am no longer primed. Thank you."

"Then we're good to go."


"You know what I figured out, Frase?"

"What, Ray?"

We have returned to lying in each other's respective bedrooms (I use that term loosely as Ray has an actual bedroom and I have an office where I sleep) not wearing any clothes. Ray was correct. Confession is much easier when you're naked. I have checked out a number of psychology books from the library in an endeavor to understand why.

I have now learned that Ray's experience with the fraternity brother was not his sole sexual liaison with a male. Apparently, he masturbated with a high-school companion named, improbably, Buster. He attributes this to being sexually attracted to Stella and desperately afraid of approaching her. I do not push the issue. His attraction to Stella is not in question; it is his attraction to Buster that I wonder about.

And since Ray was so forthcoming about his tete a tetes with Buster behind the Kowalski's garage, I have now admitted that while my experience up until this time has only been with women (a woman actually; not that Ray needs to know that), I have no idea whether a sexual relationship with a man is out of the question. I don't even know if it is a question. The fall I was fifteen, I was sexually attracted to another boy who had recently moved into the Territories. People don't tend to stay if they're not born there, and he was gone by summer. Like all fundamentally shy people, I was partially attracted to him because he was what I was not. Boisterous, impetuous, spontaneous. He also had a very beautiful body.

"He was just moving into his body the summer he left," I said wistfully. I'd never know the sort of man he became, but I thought he might have become something like Ray: slender and wirey, but strong.

"You ever make a move on him?"

"Good heavens, no!"

"What if you had the chance now? Truth or dare?"

"I don't want to play tonight, Ray. Don't make me play."

Even to my own ears I sound like a coward.


"Had an epiphany tonight, Fraser."


"You know how I was going off on Stella using me as a way to fuck her parents over? Like my big bad boyfriend persona was something she could wrap herself up in because she didn't like that Gold Coast shit. Course, when she found that she did like that Gold Coast shit, I was really and truly fucked."

My grandmother's voice echoed in my ear. "If you don't have anything nice to say about someone..." It follows that I have nothing to say on the subject of Stella Vecchio nee Kowalski nee I-have-no-idea.

"But you know, I was thinking the other night, like I did the same thing. I was some freak show who needed her Gold Coast persona to make me feel less like a freak. And it wasn't really her fault that she didn't need that anymore."

I keep my voice calm, but really. That woman.

"You are not a freak, Ray. You say that one more time and I'll, I'll punch you in the head."

That earned a laugh.

"I say that to you all the time. You don't punch me then."

"I see it as a term of endearment, Ray."

This is God's truth.

"You know, Frase. It really is. I'm glad you see it that way, cause we're buddies, aren't we?"



"Yes, Ray?"

"You know when I was going off the other night about us being the guys left behind?"

"Yes. I remember."

"Not about to go half-cocked on you again, but I was thinking, why can't we like choose for once? Not get chosen, but choose. Never felt I had much choice with Stella. Like I loved her before I even had a chance to get a second breath. Did you feel that way about Victoria?"

"Yes." That was an excellent way to put it. I breathed in her scent once and I was done for.

"We're almost forty years old. Time to choose."


I have reached the end of my rope. I did the unthinkable. I fell asleep on sentry duty. The high voice of a child yelling, "Look, Mommy, that Mountie's asleep," woke me up. This business with Ray has to stop.


It is only eight o'clock. I refused dinner with Ray, pleading exhaustion, but that wasn't all of it. I can feel it in the back of my throat. Primed. And Ray was right again. For someone like me, it's not keeping it in that works. It's letting it go, and if I let go, god knows what will happen.

"Frase?" Ray is surprised. Well, small wonder. It isn't the middle of the night.

"We have to stop this, Ray. I can't continue. I fell asleep today. On duty! And I'm not doing very well in the compartmentalization department either. I am primed, Ray. Primed to the eyeballs and I'm afraid. Really afraid. Because I'm not sure of so much, and I am afraid of the next question. I can't answer any more questions."

I sound hysterical to my ears and shut my mouth. Dief butts his head against me, worried.

I hear the intake of a deep breath.

"Okay then. Showtime. Truth or dare?"


"Take off your clothes, Fraser."

I don't make the usual protests. I put down the phone and remove my undershirt, pants, briefs, socks, and boots. I cradle the phone between my ear and shoulder.

"All right."

"Lie down. You there?" I nod. Although he can't see me, I assume he assumes that I am doing as he says. "Spread your legs a little, just a little. I dare you, Fraser, to think of me. I dare you to pretend that it's my thumb scraping back and forth across your nipples."

I hiss as my thumb traces over one nipple then the other. My body jerks involuntarily, my groin is searching.


"Yes, good." I repeat.

"Yeah, okay, okay. I dare you to touch yourself. You're uncut, right?" I nod. "That's me touching you, Fraser. Me. My hand, with the scar on the left thumb where I broke it scaling that fence last year. That's my thumb rolling the top of your dick. Under the foreskin. Checking you out because I've never felt a dick that wasn't cut."

"Your thumb, Ray. Your thumb. Oh. Oh."

"Going to jack you now, Fraser. Jack you the way I like it. If you don't like it that way, let me know. A little rough..."

"No, no, I like it," and I arch into the rhythm. "Faster, faster, Ray."

"No, buddy, hang on. Hang on. Just a few more minutes. Take it slow. Driving as fast as I can."

"Slow, fast, Ray? I'm confused..."

"Put a hand on your balls, Frase. Just cup them a little. Take some of the heat off your dick."

"Okay, okay," I pant.

"Now, long slow stokes. Just crossed Holland. Be there soon."

"Crossed Holland."

"Put a finger in your mouth. Is it nice and wet? Now pull your knees up, and just run your finger back and forth over your hole. Don't touch your dick, you'll come. You sound so fucking close, and I want to see you."

See me? But I do as he asks and, dear god, it is wonderful. I pull up on the back of one knee in the vee of my elbow and bring my leg way up so I can stroke there back and forth.

"Ray, Ray," I moan. "Doing it, doing it like you said."

"Okay. Here. Fucking stupid Mounties. Need to work on your security. Oh fuck, Frase. Fuck! Dare you. Dare you to spit in your palm. Spit like it's the last spit of your entire fucking life and start jacking yourself off. Pretend it's my mouth on your dick. My wet hot tongue... Christ, Fraser, you're so beautiful, so beautiful. Love you..."

With that I'm over, shouting, "Ray!"

I white out. Which is infinitely more pleasant than blacking out. When the world starts to color back in, I pat around for the phone, loathe to open my eyes. Ah, it has fallen under the cot.

"Ray, are you there?"

"My fucking knees. I think I broke my knees."

Ray begins crawling into my office, his pants are loose, his penis half hard and wet! "Lost it in the hallway," he murmurs. "Couldn't even make it in here."

"You saw me?"

Dear god, it all began to make sense. He was on the phone while we were talking, driving, broke in here. Saw me! I have blushed plenty in my life, but it was nothing to the flush on my cheeks that night. I had totally exposed myself, with my... my... up in the air and my finger doing that.

Ray reaches the cot; I try not to flinch.

"Beautiful," he whispers. "So beautiful. My Fraser." He winces as he shifts on his knees, and then leans his head against my thigh and kisses it.

"Truth or dare."


"I want to go back to my apartment and sleep with you and if I wake up at three in the morning, will you be there and rub my back until I fall asleep and maybe kiss me, because the truth is that I've wanted to kiss you for a very long time now. And I'm not primed or drunk or anything like that. Just want you, Frase. Really want you. Choosing you. Hope like fuck you're choosing me here."


Fa la la la la, la la la la

"Ready to blow this popsicle stand?"

"That's a curious one, Ray. I wonder where the origin of that comes from..."

"Fra. Sure. Are you ready to go home? Got you lots of prezzies. See you got me lots of prezzies, too. Let's go home and open our gifts and then fuck each other senseless as a way of saying thank you, Merry Christmas, and love that Mountie ass of yours."

"Greatness, Ray."

Naturally, it takes forever to leave. Ray believes that he is a loner. That he has few friends. I suppose, considering what it means to be Ray's friend, that he is right. He lets few people in: me, perhaps the lieutenant. But everyone likes him. He doesn't see it. The claps on the back, the "What's Santa putting in your stocking?" He doesn't see the true affection. Everyone wants to wish Ray a "Merry Christmas," give him a hug, a goodbye before our vacation. We are going north to spend a couple of weeks at the cabin. I can't wait.

Just as we are about to leave, I see Stella Vecchio in the corner, alone, nursing a drink. Life in Florida suits her. Now the color of finely tanned leather, she is a beautiful woman. I can see why Ray was attracted to her. I wonder why she's back in Chicago and then remember; the rumors of that court case she will have to testify in must be true.

I tug on Ray's sleeve and point in her direction. "Stel," he shouts and makes for her. When she is nervous, she pulls on her earrings. Any decent defense attorney would pick that tell up fairly quickly. I mentioned it to Ray some time ago, and he told her about it, but it's a bad habit she can't break. He hugs her, tells her she looks great, and then apologizes that they can't talk because he's on his way out the door and then he's on vacation and if she's still here when he gets back after the New Year, give him a call.

"Come on, Frase, pitter patter. Presents awaiting." He slings his arm over my shoulder and hustles me out the door.

I look back. There is a pensive crunch to her face. Like she's wondering. Like she thinks she knows. Ray has always admired her intelligence. I smile. It's not a particularly nice smile; my grandmother would not approve. And the truth be told is that I'll probably regret it later, but at that moment, polite be damned.


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