"Oh yeah, right. Fraser, you really think she coulda made us up?"
"You do have a point, Ray. I'm afraid that if she had invented us, she might not let us --"
"Out of the bedroom?"
"Well, ah, that's not precisely what I --"
"Oh, sure, Fraser."
"Ray, I assure you, I --"
"Y'know, you're kinda cute when you blush."

Rating: PG for more unmitigated (slashy) angst. If the concept of two men being in love bothers you, stop reading now.

Notes: Takes place before and during Burning Down The House. Dialogue and some phrases in internal monologue are directly from that episode or Eclipse.

Warning:This little diddle has not been betaed (because my kind and generous beta readers are currently being taxed with a much bigger piece). Furthermore, the parts that are in character aren't original, and the parts that are original aren't really in character. So take it for what it's worth and don't expect too much.

House on Fire
(first impressions)

by Crysothemis (crysothemis@yahoo.com)


So I was weak. I was in a bad way. My life was a mess, starting with Stella and ending with the sorry state of my refrigerator, and they said it would be a chance to make a new beginning, to ditch the past and get a new life.

"What's the catch?" I said.

"Oh, your partner's Canadian."

Hey, I got nothing against Canadians. I mean, apart from them winning the World Series that time and all. What would I have against Canadians?

Course, I didn't know anything about him, then.

It started with the case files. I had to study up on being Ray Vecchio, and that meant reading his notes, which, let me tell you, were not all that well organized. Not that I'm real organized myself, but hey, I'm not going undercover with the mob and leaving my life behind for some other guy to take over.

Anyway, the case files kept mentioning the Mountie. Benton Fraser. What kind of a name is that? I mean, I'm not exactly one to talk, but the Stanley Kowalski thing is my dad's fault, and at least Mom gave me a middle name I could stand.

Like I said, I was reading through the cases, memorizing criminals and crime scenes, and I kept finding these weird bits about the Mountie. Like there's this one case where he fought off the bad guys by -- I am not making this up -- throwing eggs at them. And another where he and Vecchio got trapped in this bank vault and Fraser turned on the sprinkler and flooded them. Vecchio sounded kinda peeved about that one. But the Mountie got his man, 'cause when the perps blew the door off the vault all the water poured out and half-drowned them all.

Reading about all these cases, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. I mean, this Mountie guy was starting to sound like a serious head case. But I'd already signed on, so I was stuck. And then I found the file that had his picture.

Okay, it wasn't a very good picture. I know that now. First time I looked at it, it was just some guy in a hat. Couldn't miss him from a mile away; the uniform was that bright. But then I figured I might have to recognize him out of uniform, too, so I put my glasses on and took a better look.

The guy was gorgeous. Strong jaw, high cheekbones, too-blue eyes, sweetly curving lips. We're talking serious drop-dead, here. We're talking knock-me-out. And I was going to have to work with him. Up close and not too personal, if you know what I mean.

Hey, I didn't ask for this. But then, I didn't ask to like guys, either. It's just the way it is. It's never been about the equipment a person is carrying around in their pants. There's just certain types I jump for, male or female. And the Mountie . . . yeah, the Mountie looked like one of those types.

So I knew I was in trouble before I ever met him. Then I met him . . . and I was sunk. He came up behind me and said my name, so I turned, and right then I knew the picture hadn't done him justice, because he fills out that uniform like it's painted on.

I did my schtick, gave him a hug -- yeah, he feels as good as he looks -- gave him a little song and dance about partnership, so he'd know where I stood on the matter. But he got all suspicious and weird.

At first I thought he was funning me, 'cause he didn't like me or something. Then later I figured out no one had told him anything, and I tried to fill him in; I really did. But it was hard to do with my hormones raging like a house on fire, and when I found out he hadn't heard a word of me spilling my guts, I didn't have the nerve to spill 'em all over again.

I guess he heard it from Welsh, in the end, because when I ran into him at the station that night he was calling me Ray and not worrying about it. He was dressed casual by then, and let me tell you, he fills out jeans and a flannel shirt as well as that uniform. Better, even, because the pants were tighter.

I nearly had a heart attack when he asked me out to dinner. Not that I really thought he meant anything by it. Look, I'm not stupid. But damn, it meant he didn't hate me. That maybe he was up for this partnership thing, after all.

It's gonna work out. At least, I think it will. If I can get my mind out of the gutter and start thinking of him as just another guy, everything will be fine. Just another guy, a buddy, a pal. I can convince myself of that. Oh, yeah. No problem.

When hell freezes over.

* * *

He pronounces my name correctly.

It ought to be inconsequential. I certainly never resented Ray Vecchio -- the real Ray Vecchio -- for the way he called me Frasier. That would have been petty. He knew how it was properly spelled; there was no point in correcting him. And Ray Vecchio was, and is, my friend. Accepting the substitution of one voiced fricative for another is the least I could do for him.

But this Ray -- or whatever his real name is -- said it correctly from the start. Said, "Fraser, buddy," and hugged me.

I was unprepared for the hug. I was reeling from the sight of him, so unlike my Ray, the real Ray. I was wondering if I'd walked into the right police station, or if perhaps I was still in my bed and dreaming. But somehow I knew I couldn't possibly have dreamed this man. He was nothing like Ray. He was a perpetual motion machine with hair. Wildly golden hair.

And he pronounced my name correctly.

I got the basic outline of the story from Welsh, eventually. And I found myself relieved, deeply relieved, that I didn't have to resent this imposter. That he was in fact helping Ray, and doing so by sacrificing his own day-to-day life in order to take up Ray's. This was not the action of a selfish man, and suddenly I found myself acutely aware of how annoying I can sometimes be.

Well, I'm sure you see the inherent problem. Ray Vecchio chose me, chose to seek me out and work with me, when he could far more easily have shelved the case of my father's murder, or any number of the cases we subsequently found ourselves working on together. For all his annoyance, I can be utterly certain that Ray cares about me, even if he did have to leave while I was on vacation. I trust that our friendship goes deeper than that.

But this new Ray -- this Ray-substitute, or however I am supposed to think of him -- this Ray has no reason to want to work with me, except that it's his job. He didn't hug me because he likes me. He hugged me because Ray Vecchio likes me.

I am not used to worrying about such things. I shouldn't care. But for reasons that remain obscure even to myself, such things appear to matter to me.

We went out to dinner and talked. Oh, not about anything important -- the case, mostly, and I confess that I told a few Inuit stories. It wasn't the conversation I would have chosen to have, but I don't know how to ask the things I want to know.

I want to know everything: his real name, where he's from, his police record, what his childhood was like. I don't even know why I want to know these things, but I do, with a need that burns in my heart as well as my head.

Ah, but there are some things, at least, that I can find out. I have not worked with American law enforcement for two years without learning a few things about their system and how to retrieve information within it.

And I have his fingerprints.

I will know you, Ray -- or whatever your real name is. I will learn what I can about you. And perhaps, someday, I will understand you, and I will understand this strange feeling I get when I think of you.

It is utterly unexpected, and I don't know what to do, except carry on, as I always have. I only know that seeing you every day, working with you intimately, will be a very new sort of challenge.

I don't know how it is possible to know so little about a person, and still feel this way. Because I know nothing about you, nothing that matters. Except that you treated me like a partner, a real partner and not just make-believe, right from the start.

And you pronounced my name correctly, the first time you ever said it.