I think this one is Manna's fault, for posting a challenge on the Two Axes list several years ago about finding something in a drawer. R-rated, only because it's slash; this is a non-graphic m/m romance.

Land That Man!
by Laura Mason

It began when he opened a drawer. Ray forgot the receipt he was looking for as soon as he saw the screaming headline: "Land That Man, Ace Your Job, and Look Your Sexiest Ever!"

Ray wasn't going to look "sexy," no matter what. He took showers and kept his hair trimmed; that's what guys did. Still, he opened the magazine and spent several minutes getting past pages of ads to find the table of contents.

Ray's job was fine, too. Sure, there were still open cases on his desk, but everyone knew he had a good record. They probably gave the credit to Benny, but Ray knew he was doing his job as good as the other detectives he worked with. Page 83, he noted, and started flipping through the pages.

He found the story page at last, and Ray started reading the list right there in the hallway. Land That Man! He felt a little silly, but surely Cosmopolitan knew about wooing men -- at least, they knew more than Ray did. He looked at the article, full of exclamation points and silly photos, and cringed. But he kept reading.

Ray was in trouble, because he was desperately in love -- with a guy.

He was reading because he had no idea how to proceed. There was no one to ask, nowhere to turn. His imagination immediately gave him a technicolor movie of Frannie's face as he asked, "So, if you were me and you wanted to date Fraser, what would you do?" He cringed away from the imaginary Frannie's fist, wondering if her own efforts at seducing the Mountie had ever succeeded. He didn't think so -- and Ray was immediately aware that he'd thought about his sister showing up nearly naked in Benny's bed far too often. Fortunately, Frannie had the terrible Vecchio timing. Benny had been badly beaten that day and couldn't have been in any shape to...

Ray's memories took a sharp right to that horrible night, the night when he heard a gunshot and Fraser was dead. Then he turned back to the magazine determinedly, shaking himself out of the fury and despair that night still wrenched from him. Zuko was in Florida now, evidently retired from the family business. Fraser was here with him, safe as ever. Not really safe at all, not with Benny's penchant for heroism. Ray sighed and read number one on the list.

"Sexy new look!" Nah, Benny didn't pay attention to fashion, unless it was in the finer details of his Mountie uniform. Fraser had never commented when Ray stopped wearing his loud print shirts and moved into suits more appropriate for a detective first grade. Besides, what was a sexy look on a guy, anyway? A memory flashed of the first time he'd seen Benny out of uniform, in jeans and a dark flannel shirt, and Ray sighed. OK, he knew what was sexy on the Mountie. But Ray looked like a geek in those lumberjack shirts. And he couldn't carry off any of the hot looks from his high school days anymore -- skin tight jeans and mesh tank tops weren't even sold now, were they? Ray felt about a hundred years old just thinking about it. With a woman he just concentrated on smelling good and let her be the sexy one. Hell, that would work with Benny, too. The Canadian was the most beautiful person in the room whenever they ate together at a restaurant.

Number two, "update your style: hair and makeup." Boy, they'd do anything to make a buck at Cosmo. Ray knew for a fact that he'd never looked at a woman and thought "gee, her makeup is old fashioned." Not unless you were watching one of those 1920's silent movies. As for updating his hair, Ray had done that last year when he changed his haircut. Benny hadn't commented on that, either. This list was garbage -- what did your haircut have to do with showing a guy you loved him? But he kept reading.

"Call him; be interested in his interests." Well, that made more sense. But you can't call a Mountie who doesn't have a phone, and he couldn't be much more interested in Fraser's life -- he'd followed Benny into all kids of trouble, over fences and through back alleys and smack into the lives of dozens of troubled Chicagoans. And even some Canadians, too. So Ray figured he'd been doing number three all along, all by himself. Heck, he'd even been taking an interest in Diefenbaker, too, taking care of the wolf sometimes. But that was just what friends do, not anything special. That wouldn't help him tell Benny he loved him.

Number four was just damn impossible. "As him to dance." Ray couldn't imagine any social situation where he could ask Fraser to dance, period. But the thought led to a memory of the Consulate ball, before Miss Burns arrived, when Ray had been talking to Benny as he stood near the front door. There he'd been, in a tux, looking sharp as he could manage, with Fraser in his full dress uniform looking like someone who fell to earth from a stray dream. Ray tried to imagine holding out his hand and asking Fraser to dance. Would the Mountie have left his duty for Ray, as he'd done a few minutes later for her?

More likely he'd have punched Ray in the face. Nah, not Benny. But his face going blank with that expression of discomfort and embarrassment, that would be tough to see. And if Benny started avoiding him, stopped being his friend...

Ray felt a wave of hopelessness. He was in love, and that was his hard luck. Fraser didn't love him, couldn't love him, and no stupid tips would change that fact. Ray closed the magazine and was about to return it to the drawer -- but instead he carried it with him to the car and to his office.

Where it sat, forgotten, while Ray found a runaway girl with Fraser's help, and the entire 7th precinct received very public accolades for foiling a militia group's plans to hijack a subway train on Labor Day weekend. Only Ray noted that the anonymous letter to Lt. Welsh revealing the plot used Canadian spelling, much like Fraser's writing.

***

Benton Fraser sat in the guest chair at Ray's desk, trying to wait patiently for his friend to be released from the lieutenant's office. He was fairly sure Ray wasn't being reprimanded, not after yesterday's averted robbery at the neighborhood grocery store. Ray's prompt assistance and ready weapon had allowed Fraser to keep Mr. Ash alive and his till intact.

Then again, Ray probably wasn't being commended, Fraser realized. Although they'd confiscated the young perpetrator's gun, he'd persuaded Mr. Ash not to press charges and to give Ramon a job in the store as well. Such an outcome was always preferable to incarceration in the Territories, but Chicago police officers seemed to prefer an arrest. They were judged on numbers, despite the overcrowded jail system in Illinois and prestigious research showing early jail time rarely rehabilitated young offenders. Fraser sighed a little as he set down his Stetson, wondering if he'd ever understand Americans.

There was a stack of case files on Ray's desktop, and Fraser took the opportunity to glance through them. He was at liberty all day and found assisting Ray on a case, or even with his paperwork, to be preferable to most other leisure activities. Oh, Fraser could be ironing, or even volunteering at the Senior Center with Diefenbaker. But time with Ray was always special.

Fraser supposed he should be able to admit it to himself -- he loved Ray, plain and simple. Of course, it was far from simple, really. He had no idea how Ray would react to any declaration of affection. Despite Ray's easy way with words and touch, he'd only shown comradeship to Fraser. He might even be homophobic; many police officers exhibited prejudice against homosexuals and bisexuals.

Fraser replaced the five-year-old robbery case file and picked up another, intending to glance at the pertinent facts, but his attention was drawn instead to a magazine underneath the manila folder. Cosmopolitan. He wasn't familiar with the publication, but it certainly didn't appear to belong to Ray. Perhaps he had picked it up in the break room, mingled in with his files.

"Land That Man." Fraser had risen to return the publication to Elaine when he saw the headline and sat back down, startling Diefenbaker into a soft woof. Surely this publication was intended for women, not men. But any ideas would be helpful to a novice who'd never managed a seduction of any kind.

Fraser passed over the first two suggestions immediately. He felt he'd be ridiculous if he attempted to be 'sexy' and he knew that his hair did whatever it wished. Besides, Ray was far more aware of fashion than Fraser. In fact, Ray might even feel hurt if Fraser didn't consult with him before making sartorial changes.

Item number three suggested sharing of interests, and Fraser found that problematic as well. While he did take an interest in Ray's family and his work, Ray had other interests -- such as pool -- where Fraser had no experience. He wondered if Ray could enjoy the role of teacher, instructing him in the activity. Perhaps not. Ray didn't have much patience and he'd even criticized Fraser's backwoods upbringing and lack of social skills. Warm visions of Ray's arms around him, showing him how to line up a shot correctly while they both held the cue, vanished.

Such thoughts were discouraging, and Fraser almost put the magazine down. But a glance around the squad room showed no one watching and still no sign of Ray, so he turned the page for the next item. Dancing? Fraser remembered dancing with Ray at St. Fortunata school while undercover. Fast dancing, disco style. Not the kind of dancing he'd really like to do with Ray. Fraser wanted to slow dance, holding Ray's graceful slenderness in his arms, pressed to his body.

Fraser was lost in that image when Lt. Welsh's office door opened and Ray sauntered out, looking only slightly abashed. With a final "yes, sir" the door was closed and Ray glanced toward his desk, then smiled at Fraser with his loopy grin. Fraser felt himself smiling back as he closed the magazine and covered it with one of Ray's case files.

And there it stayed, forgotten, while Fraser assisted Ray in closing out an assault case involving a deadbeat father, his abandoned family of five, and his ex-wife's brother. After taking a holiday basket to the unfortunate family later that week, Fraser assisted two young men who'd been headed for a life of crime and petty thievery to see the error of their ways and return to school -- with Ray's assistance and back-up weapon. And later that month, Fraser and Ray were sent to Peoria, escorting a prisoner, an uneventful trip except for the unseasonable snow on the road and the unfortunate young lady Fraser met at the hotel and convinced to leave her young man (pimp in Ray's terminology) to seek a more fulfilling job. If it hadn't been for the drug involvement, Fraser was certain Ray's gun wouldn't have been needed.

***

Ray collapsed in his desk chair, exhausted and depressed. Everyone hated missing kid cases. Kelly Vander had left school yesterday and never arrived home. Ray had been at the station for 20 hours straight, contacting informants and working his networks, and he'd only turned up one lead when word came in that Kelly's body was found. Eight years old.

Elaine woke him when she arrived at 9 and found him face down over his desk. Ray just sat for a minute in that same position, eyes open, listening to the sounds of the precinct coming back to full speed for the day ahead. His back was stiff as he raised his head off his arms, which in turn rested on a pile of case folders. As he slowly stretched, his arm knocked the files to the floor, along with something else -- a magazine?

When he picked it up along with the rest of his papers, Ray saw the splashy cover and remembered that day, months before, when he'd found Frannie's mail. "Land That Man!" still taunted him from the cover, and he flushed, remembering his confusion as he'd read and discarded ideas for seducing Fraser. It hadn't happened, and it would never happen.

But somehow the magazine found its way home with Ray. Later, after he'd finally slept in his bed, Ray sat at the kitchen table, picking at a sandwich and drinking coffee, staring at the article again.

Number five, cook a romantic meal. Ray pondered what seemed to him the only good suggestion on this silly list. He and Fraser shared meals all the time, but they weren't anything special. Ray thought about all the things he'd have done to impress a woman, to show her she mattered to him. They would have been eating at higher quality restaurants, first of all, but there would also be flowers, and sentimental little gifts. Ray couldn't do that in public with Fraser. But maybe in private, in his own home, Ray could find a way to show Benny how special he was, and how Ray felt for him.

Over the next few months, while they tracked the school employee who'd kidnapped and murdered Kelly Vander, Ray found himself paying attention to Fraser's restaurant ordering habits and planning a menu for him. It continued while they saved a marriage, arrested a blue collar crook, and both got arrested leaving the massage parlor where Fraser's new neighbor worked. Ray used his suspension time to read his Ma's cookbooks.

***

Fraser and Diefenbaker arrived at the Vecchio home promptly at 7 p.m., as instructed. They'd walked from Racine Street, a pleasure in the cool Spring air. Ray was making dinner, a dinner just for them, as Mrs. Vecchio and the family were once again making their annual visit to Florida. Fraser shivered with the memory of his destruction of this house two years ago during the same visit, searching for the evidence planted against Ray.

Then Ray opened the door, covered in gore, and the memory was swamped with instant concern.

"Ray!" Diefenbaker bounded inside even as he reached for his friend.

"Benny, come on in." Ray, still holding the door, gestured impatiently. A whiff of the warm air pouring out the door reassured Fraser that Ray was covered in pasta sauce, not his own blood, so he entered as Ray continued speaking. "It's been a long time since I did my own cooking. Give me your hat and have a seat anywhere."

Ray bustled back to the kitchen and banging and cursing came drifting back to Fraser's ears as he settled on the sofa. Diefenbaker settled at his feet. After a particularly loud crash, he ventured to call out to Ray.

"May I assist you, Ray?"

"Just relax, Benny. Everything is fine here."

The Vecchio living room looked particularly nice this evening, no doubt as a result of Maria's many children being out of town. Soft music played, a singer Fraser couldn't identify crooning in Italian. The lighting in the room was dim, one lamp and many votive candles providing all the illumination. Fresh flowers were on the end table. The candles, Fraser realized, smelled of pine -- something he enjoyed very much.

As he tried to relax he realized the noises from the kitchen had stopped. His concern for Ray brought him to his feet and he was headed for the kitchen before Diefenbaker could even whuff his disapproval. But as he walked past the dining room, Fraser stopped in his tracks.

The table was set with a gold lace cloth, crystal glasses, and what had to be the Vecchio's best china. Flowers sat at either end of the table, candles in the center waited to be lit, and two place settings faced each other across the center. A crystal bowl filled with his favorite spinach salad was already in place on the table.

He was still staring when Ray walked in with a covered plate, free of sauce and in clean clothing. Ray froze when he saw Fraser and stared at him with what looked like dismay.

"Ray, this is..." But Ray cut him off.

"It's just pasta with clams, nothing fancy." He set the plate on the table with a thud. "Guess we don't need all this stuff." Ray moved the flowers to the side table, then did the same with the candelabra, his face twisted by a mocking grin. "Ma's fancy junk, it's not even silver plate." He practically hurled the candles beside the flowers and raced out of the room.

Fraser was even more confused than he'd felt when he first saw the room. Had someone else prepared the room for Ray? One of his sisters, perhaps? Ray almost seemed upset, though Fraser didn't understand the reason.

Ray re-entered the room a moment later, carrying a pitcher of water and a bottle of wine.

"Sit, Fraser, let's eat before it gets cold." He quickly poured beverages for both of them, then said "Bread." and was gone again. Definitely uncomfortable, Fraser realized. It forced him to speak as soon as Ray returned with a napkin-swathed plate of warm rolls.

"This is quite lovely, Ray. Such an elegant setting, and the meal must have been a great deal of work. Thank you."

"It's nothing, Benny," Ray replied, but he seemed slightly happier. "Just wanted to show you I can cook."

Fraser smiled and took a healthy serving of pasta as Ray began discussing his day at the precinct. The conversation took off from there, turning to many subjects as they ate. There were rarely awkward silences between them, and tonight was no exception. Ray seemed to shed his odd mood and enjoy the meal. Eventually Diefenbaker was given a bowl of pasta, too, and Ray laughed at the red sauce marking his fur when he finished.

Hours later, after he'd helped Ray clear the table and wash the dishes, Fraser prepared to leave. Ray had insisted on driving them home, despite the mild weather, and he'd run upstairs to get his keys and a jacket. Fraser, waiting with Diefenbaker in the vestibule, noticed a familiar magazine cover atop the stack of mail on the hall table.

"Land That Man!" -- the issue was almost a year old now. Without a real reason, the magazine wound up tucked inside Fraser's shirt, out of sight when Ray came down the stairs. It stayed there, hidden, until Fraser had served his friend a cup of coffee, said goodbye to Ray, and opened his window for the night.

Once he was alone, however, Fraser couldn't bring himself to open the magazine. Tonight, for a fleeting moment, he'd wondered if Ray was offering more than dinner and friendship. He'd seen the flowers and candles, and wondered if they could possibly be there for him. Then Ray had cleared the romantic items off the table, dashing all his hopes.

Fraser knew how to do his duty, and how to be calm under fire. Some people thought that equaled bravery. But he knew himself, and he knew he would never be courageous enough to make the first move with Ray. Not when he'd be risking Ray's friendship and his own happiness in the process. He threw the magazine into his kitchen drawer, disgusted with himself.

There it stayed, out of sight, while the days lengthened and Fraser continued his inventory of forms at the Consulate, and helped Ray to shut down a carjacking ring. He started revising the Policy and Procedures manual while Ray re-certified with his firearm and helped solve the arson fire which destroyed the local food pantry.

It wasn't until a Sunday in July, after a day spent with Ray volunteering at the new food pantry site, that Fraser started tidying his kitchen and found the magazine again. This time he determined to recycle it, but he did sit at the table with a cup of tea for a moment. Idly paging through the magazine, remembering the day he'd found it on Ray's desk, Fraser came across the article again. And noticed a familiar handwriting in the margins beside suggestion number five, "cook him a romantic dinner." There was a note reading "he orders spinach salad," and a note about making warm rolls. There were other menu ideas, scrawled and scratched out.

Fraser closed his eyes for a moment, overwhelmed by the memory of that beautiful table, the pine candles, the flowers. He'd been exactly correct in his initial conclusion that night. But his bewildered silence had led Ray to an erroneous conclusion of his own, and Ray's actions to remove the romantic trappings were from embarrassment, not anger.

Now he needed to find a way to show Ray his own feelings. Emboldened by Ray's actions, he found a clean sheet of paper and began his own list. When he was ready for bed, his notes were tucked inside Francesca's magazine and it was returned to the drawer.

Where it remained except for those times it was pulled out to be worked upon over the next week and a half. Fraser spoke to Mrs. Vecchio and took notes on all of Ray's favorite foods. He visited the library for a book on the language of flowers and made more notes. He "accidentally" wandered into a bath shop with Ray and tested his friend's reactions to various scents, then made notes that evening and checked the yellow pages for shops that sold scented candles. Finally, he attempted to discover what colors Ray preferred, not for his wardrobe, but for relaxing in a room.

Fraser enlisted Elaine's assistance for the next phase of his work, trusting her to find curtains and sheets with the color samples he'd chosen from the paint store. While he didn't inform Elaine of the identity of his paramour, he did make it clear that she'd be assisting in his seduction of the mysterious beloved. Fortunately their friendship had grown to the point where he was not uncomfortable seeking her aide -- unlike his relationship with Francesca, which was still filled with innuendo and outright flirting. He wished he knew how to address that situation, but decided it could be safely left in Ray's hands.

And in the meantime he was busy with paint and Mrs. Vashel, the seamstress in his building who made beautiful covers for his shabby furniture from flat sheets. Elaine even helped him hang the curtains and the shades he'd purchased with her guidance.

Everything was ready. He helped Ray with paperwork on his day off, and when they parted that evening he casually invited Ray for dinner on Friday evening.

***

When Ray cracked open the door to Fraser's apartment, only three years of regularly climbing all those stairs kept him from turning to find the correct place instead. No, the correct *building*.

The one room apartment had been transformed since Ray's last visit -- only two weeks ago. The walls were no longer plain white, which itself had been an improvement on the rat-splattered beige before Fraser moved in. Now there was color, and soft folk music, guitars and sweet singing. And the air smelled like lemons and some kind of flower. The walls matched the curtains, which matched the bedspread, Ray noted before he blushed and immediately stopped staring and started complaining.

"Jeeze, Benny, I thought I was in the wrong place."

"Hello, Ray." Fraser was there in worn jeans, a henly shirt with the sleeves pushed up and a beautiful, warm smile. "How do you like it?"

"It's great. It really looks like someone lives here now. But when did you do all this? And why didn't you call me to help? I can paint, you know."

"It was all done rather quickly, Ray, and I assume you have many similar duties at your own house." Fraser smiled again. "Then I wanted to surprise you." While Ray was still thinking about that the Mountie was moving into his kitchen area, calling back "Wine, Ray, or a soda?"

"Whatever." He was stunned, really. Suddenly suspicious, too. "You did all this by yourself?"

"Actually, Elaine assisted with fabric selection, and Mrs. Vashel did the tailoring." He handed Ray a balloon glass filled with red wine and moved back to the stove before Ray finished his double-take of the new glassware.

He sipped and watched Fraser stir a pot, then stoop to check the oven. Ray's brain was racing and he finally put it together. Fraser had someone. Not Elaine -- surely he'd have noticed that. But there was a woman, a girlfriend, someone who warranted the expense and trouble of redecorating. Someone Fraser was willing to pamper, since Ray knew he never indulged himself or Dief with luxuries.

Ray gulped more wine to halt the panic rising in his throat at the thought. Too late, his inner voice told him, and it sickened him.

Ray had never been confident enough to make his move with Fraser, and now he'd lost him. The part of Ray that still heard his father telling him he was a loser told him it was just as well, that Fraser wouldn't have returned his feelings. But another part of Ray wailed anguish at adding another might-have-been to the sum of his life.

"Dinner's ready, Ray." Fraser looked so warm, so happy, as he carried a platter of sliced roast to the tiny table. He was in love, it was obvious now. Ray resolved to be a good friend when Fraser finally confided in him, and never to let Fraser see his own despair.

The meal was wonderful and Ray complimented his friend throughout. There was much lively conversation, most initiated by Fraser and his ebullient mood. Dief joined them in time for a plate of table scraps as they cleaned up.

"It's remarkable how nice this place looks, Benny," Ray commented as he dried dishes and scanned the room again. "You should have done this years ago. If I'd known you were staying here so long, I ..."

"But I didn't do it for myself, Ray," Fraser interrupted. Fraser *never* interrupted! Here it comes, Ray thought. He's finally ready to tell me about her.

"Do you know anything about flowers, Ray?" Fraser asked instead, confusing him.

"Just that you keep 'em in a vase."

"Every flower has a meaning, Ray. When combined in an arrangement, flowers speak a language." Fraser moved to the overflowing vase next to his bed, and Ray followed, still confused and wondering what his friend was trying to say.

"Iris translates as 'your friendship means so much to me,' Ray."

"OK, so iris means friendship." So? He thought.

"Red roses mean love. Passionate love." Fraser pulled a rose and another blossom from the vase. "Jonquils indicate a desire for affection to be returned, Ray. And primrose means 'I cannot live without you.'" Fraser stood there, holding his four-flower bouquet, his eyes locked with Ray's. Then Fraser reached out, offering the blooms to him. "These might be interpreted as: 'I am your friend, Ray, and I have yearned for your love."

Ray felt himself shaking before he registered the concern in Fraser's eyes. He was still holding the flowers toward Ray, his face serious and his eyes full of longing. But Ray had to ask.

"Don't joke about this, Benny."

"I wouldn't, Ray."

Ray reached out and too the blossoms from Fraser's hand, his own still trembling with emotion. He was breathing harshly, too. "Is there a flower that says 'me, too'?" he asked, and watched Fraser's face glow.

"Actually, Ray, both red chrysanthemums and ambrosia stand for reciprocated love."

And then he was in Fraser's arms, and they were both shaking and laughing as Dief circled them, barking excitedly.

 

Feedback?

Return to the Due South page