"Fraser, what's this about bein' owned? I thought they dumped that slavery thing a long time ago."
"Well, Ray, it would appear that Due South and all of its characters are the sole property of Alliance Communications."
"What, you mean they can make us do whatever they want, like, they say it, we gotta do it?"
"I'm afraid so, Ray."
"That sucks."

Rating: PG for unmitigated (slashy) angst. If the concept of two men loving each other bothers you, stop reading now.

Note: All dialogue apart from the final exchange has been borrowed wholesale from the episode "Seeing Is Believing." Contains massive spoilers for "Seeing is Believing."

Thanks to WP, Lee, and Genie for generous and helpful beta-reading.

Believing (Not Seeing)

by Crysothemis (crysothemis@yahoo.com)

I gotta watch myself. No, I mean I really gotta, 'cause this is getting out of hand. It was one of those days. Yeah, I know, they happen to everyone. Except Fraser. If Fraser ever had "one of those days," you'd be hauling my jaw off the floor with a forklift.

Anyway, like I said, it was one of those days. I hate being on the spot, and there we were, the three of us: Ice Queen, Welsh, and me. Up against each other, 'cause we couldn't seem to agree on whether the sky is blue, let alone anything so obvious as what happened there in the mall in front of that big old pile of rocks.

In the middle of all of that -- crazy theories, crazier shouting at each other -- there was Fraser trying to psych us out, 'cause he didn't believe any of us. And he was doing a damn good job of it. So when he poked a hole in Thatcher's crock theory, I didn't even think about it. It just came out of my mouth, like it was the most natural thing in the universe. Like I hadn't been spending my days and nights killing myself over three little words that I'd sworn on a stack of sacred Stetsons I'd never utter to myself, much less to him.

But I said it. Three little words. Well, four, actually, because I tacked his name on the end. "I love you, Fraser." Just like that.

No, but here's the worst part about it: he didn't even blink. Didn't jump, or look at me weird, or even pause for half a second. He said, "And I, you, Ray."

I mean, he didn't get it. Didn't know I'd slipped up. He thought I was saying something normal, but then, what's normal to a Mountie? No, don't go there. I don't even want to know.

So I did the damage control, backpedaled the whole eight yards. "No, not literally. I mean, symbolically or something." Hey, I managed to get the word "symbolically" out. That was doing pretty good, if you ask me.

But Fraser still didn't blink. "No, I know. Thank you." Like it's still this perfectly normal conversation for two guys to be having in the corridor of the station, with cops and aides and everyone else all around us.

And I'm standing there thinking, "Know what?"

See, that's the worst thing about Fraser. You think you got him pegged, and he throws you for a loop. It's like when he does that "hmm" thing. Makes me nuts, 'cause I never know what he means. But trust me, this time I wasn't going to ask. There's some things I really don't want to know, and asking a person to poke holes in your fantasies is D-U-M dumb.

So I just babbled. About the case, about Cates and the thing that had made me slip up in the first place, which was the way Fraser had handled her. Asking her to re-enact the knife-thing in her pocket. It was brilliant. Made me want to kiss him, right then and there.

At least I didn't slip up that bad.

I was almost grateful when Fraser changed the subject and started talking about elephant seals. It's easier when I can be annoyed at him. A heck of a lot safer for everyone involved.

The funny thing is, I don't even know when this started. Okay, okay, I got a clue. I spent weeks studying up on being Ray Vecchio, trying to fit in, getting to know everyone in Violent Crimes at the 27th. And then the Mountie shows up, like I knew he was gonna, someday, but I just didn't know anything about him that mattered.

Didn't know he'd be so nuts. Didn't know he'd be so straight-laced. Didn't know he'd be so . . . beautiful.

Yeah, he shows up, and the first thing I gotta do is hug him. Wow. Didn't mind that, not at all. And the first case we're on, driving around in Vecchio's car, he starts poking around under the steering wheel, yanking at my leg. Hey, what's a guy supposed to think?

Not long after, there I was, ready to take a bullet for him. 'Course, I was wearing Kevlar, but it's no guarantee of anything. I ended up with a whopper of a bruise, even if it didn't crack ribs. I guess Fraser'd probably say I'd do it for anybody, and maybe I would, but for him there wasn't any question . Did it on instinct. Would do it again, in an instant, and be downright happy about it. Crazy, huh?

Because the truth is, I still feel that way, even though I came back to my senses about where he was coming from. I figured it out, after he asked me out to eat, and then didn't make anothe rmove. I got a clue when I tried asking him if he found me attractive, and he said he wasn't qualified to judge. I may be damaged, but I'm not an idiot.

So most days I got it under control. Most days I keep myself to myself, and don't slip up. But on bad days, it gets more complicated. And this day got worse. 'Cause Fraser figured out who the real murderer was, and we ended up in a shootout -- me fumbling for my glasses and Fraser, damn him for being such a stickler for rules, completely unarmed.

I hate that. Makes my heart freak out every time it happens: we get into danger and he's got nothing to protect himself but two fists and one brain. And it's a good brain -- no, make that a great brain -- but when the battle's between a brain and a bullet, forgive me if I don't start placing bets on the brain.

Which is why, when he walked into the parking lot there in back of the station, with me out of ammo and Thatcher and Welsh lying low, I almost lost my lunch. There he was, walking up to an armed man .Perfect target, big as life and bright red, just in case the guy's got bad eyes. And that wasn't enough. Oh, no. He's got to bait the guy. Make him try to shoot (out of ammo, too, thank God), and then throw his knife.

If you gotta know, that was when I really lost it. Left my cover and ran to him. Didn't even stop to think if the guy had another knife, or another clip stashed somewhere. Didn't think anything, except Fraser was an idiot, and he'd got himself a knife in the guts, and if he was bleeding all over the place I was gonna jump Bogart on the guy that did it, and it wouldn't be pretty.

But he had the nerve -- the nerve, I'm telling you -- to straighten up and look at the knife in his hand -- his uncut, undamaged hand -- and say, "That was close."

I could have popped him one, right there. For making me worry. For making my heart stop. For being so damn sure of himself, and for being right. But all I did was snarl at him and take out my frustrations on the perp.

I threatened to beat him to death with my empty gun. And you know, if he'd hurt Fraser, I think I would've done it. Lost my badge and everything else that's started to become important to me, recently. But then, if I'd lost Fraser, I wouldn't have cared about anything else.

Yeah, it's that bad. It's gone that far, even though I never meant it to. But I love him as much as I've ever loved anybody, including Stella. And it's totally hopeless.

Look, they don't come any straighter than Benton Fraser. He's a Mountie, for Pete's sake. And I've done my homework. I read Vecchio's case files. Memorized 'em, if you gotta know. So I know about his past, such as it is. I know why he runs like a rabbit when a woman looks at him.

And it's not the reason I'm hoping for.

Damn it all.

* * *

I suppose I shouldn't have done that to Ray and the Inspector .Oh, not that there is anything particularly wrong with encouraging good manners, or even in resorting to somewhat unorthodox methods to do so. No, the problem is that I keep thinking about what I could have done instead, and, well, there you are. Enough said.

In truth, post-hypnotic suggestion is a peculiar thing. You can't ask someone to do something that's completely out of character, because it simply won't work. As a matter of fact, the only suggestions that do work are those that tap into a person's natural inclinations. So the fact that my instructions to be polite had the desired effect on Ray and the Inspector simply indicates that they are both, at heart, kind and thoughtful people. Even if they don't necessarily always remember to say "please" and "if you'll excuse me."

But what I wish I could have suggested . . . ah, no. I shouldn't even be thinking such things. And it wouldn't have worked, in any case. I know better.

I have, after all, seen Ray with his ex-wife. He has a particularly transparent face; anyone could read it. As I have done, too many times to count. He is very obviously still in love with her. And even if I hadn't already been aware of that, Ray's interpretation of the events surrounding the murder by the Inukshuk would have told me all I needed to know.

You see, Ray saw it as a love triangle. A love triangle involving betrayal and pain. And out of the blue, as he was speculating about motives, he said, "Is this about kids? Is that what this is about?"

It doesn't take extraordinary powers of deduction to understand. Ray wants children. Desperately. So desperately that he projects that motivation onto others, without evidence, as if it were a basic human drive. Which, I suppose, it is; only for Ray, it is central. So central he cannot imagine a relationship without it. So central that . . .

Well. As I say, I know better.

But nevertheless, I find myself drawn to him. I suppose I was from the beginning, even when I was confused and suspicious. Even as I was going to lengths to prove that he was not Ray Vecchio, the real Ray Vecchio, I felt it. After all, he didn't know me either; he was just doing a job, and yet I could see the hunger written clearly across his face. He cared what I thought of him; he honestly wanted my friendship. And I found myself calling him Ray, even before I knew it was his real name.

I knew he was a good police officer before I ever looked up his record; the awards and commendations merely confirmed it. What I didn't know was that he could take hold of my heart so firmly and so quickly, as so precious few have. I should have resented him, I suppose, for not being the real Ray Vecchio, but I couldn't. Not when I saw his vulnerability and his essential honesty. It's ironic, actually, if you consider that he is impersonating another man, living a life not his own. But Ray Kowalski is one of the most fundamentally honest people I have ever met. Even when he is trying not to be.

Consider, for example, what he said to me in the corridor of the precinct, as we were walking between interrogation rooms. The questioning of Judy Cates had taken an interesting turn, and Ray seemed quite pleased with it. As we left Miss Cates, he turned to me, clapping his hands with exaggerated delight, and said, "I love you, Fraser."

Simple words, spoken with an utter lack of self-consciousness. I answered him in the only way possible, that I loved him as well. I suppose it was foolish of me to indulge. He clarified the statement quickly enough, explaining that he had not meant it literally. As, of course, I fully understood, whatever my treacherous heart would have liked to believe. Still, I was touched by the gesture, by the kindness of his words, meant symbolically or any other way. That is what I mean by his fundamental honesty. He is not afraid to have feelings, or to express them. A trait that I find I both envy . . . and crave.

So at the end of the day's work, when we had solved the puzzle and incarcerated the right man, I was more than happy to stay and talk with him for a few minutes. More than happy to reassure him that his errors in judgment had not led to any serious consequence. Because I knew that his intentions were honorable, and that he, too, was interested in discovering the truth, not merely in locking some convenient person away.

It was respect for his character that made me want to stay and speak with him. And if there were . . . other motivations involved, well, they are my own problem and no one else's. I will not burden him with my inappropriate feelings. My needs and my.. . . loneliness . . . are my own troubles, and if being with him as a friend, as a partner, helps to ease that, well, it's not the same as taking advantage.

I ask many things of him: time, dedication, trust, even politeness. But I could never ask him anything so selfish as what I dearly wish to ask for. He has been hurt too deeply. I never want to be a part of that pain.

So I meant nothing out of the ordinary when I turned to him, after the Inspector had so graciously (well, it was the post-hypnotic suggestion speaking, after all) granted us a few more moments to talk. I said to him what I have said any number of times before, in similar circumstances. "Would you like to get something to eat? After we've finished our respective paperwork, of course."

And he said what he often says, which is, "Sure thing, Fraser, that sounds good," then flashed me that quicksilver smile that is like no one but Ray.

Nothing was different; neither of us had changed. But standing there, watching that sweet, shy smile . . . I felt my heart turn over in my chest.

* * *

Look, I knew it wasn't a date. We hang out a lot, off duty -- doesn't mean anything. But when he asked me to have dinner with him, I felt this funny warm tingle all the way down to my toes.

"Sure thing, Fraser," I said, and my mind was going through the stacks of paperwork, wondering how fast I could do it all. "That sounds good."

For a moment he just looked at me, and I thought he was gonna say something. Something important, because his face looked kinda funny. It was like he was distracted, only he was looking right at me.

It wasn't more than a second. And then he did that thing he sometimes does, where he cracks his neck like other people crack their knuckles. "Well," he said. "I shouldn't keep the Inspector waiting."

I turned back to my desk. We'd already made the Ice Queen wait an extra five minutes and we probably could've milked it for a lot more, thanks to that voodoo stuff Fraser had worked on her. But I wasn't complaining, not me. "I'll pick you up at the Consulate," I said. "It'll probably be a couple hours."

He gave me one of those quick little smiles before he turned to go. "I'll see you then."

I watched his red back disappear down the corridor, and my head kinda went goofy. I guess it was the thing with the Bennet case, and how I'd called it all wrong. I mean, I thought I was pretty good at the body language stuff, but if I got Bennet that far wrong . . . well, you know. How do I know I haven't been reading Fraser wrong, too?

The way he was looking at me . . . staring, almost. And then he'd smiled. I love the way he smiles.

Hey, it was one of those days. The kind of day where nothing turns out like you're expecting. But, you know, if I had to have one of those days, at least I got a smile out of Fraser. A smile and a look and . . .

I sat down at my desk and pulled out the forms Welsh wanted me to fill out, but I wasn't thinking about the paperwork. I was thinking about that smile, and about dinner, and about body language. I was thinking, maybe tonight's the night I'm gonna do it.

Okay, so maybe I'm the one whose elevator stops at the collarbone, but on a day like this one, I can't help myself. I want to do it for real this time.

I want to tell him I love him, and not take it back.