Disclaimers: The due South characters belong to Alliance Atlantis. Written for pleasure, not profit. For adult readers only, please.

Many thanks to Crysothemis, Dawn P, and Aristide for beta-reading and encouragement.

Comments are welcomed at JBonetoo@yahoo.com.

Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski

Rating: NC-17 for language and sexual content. There's also a wee bit o' angst.

Spoilers: The Ladies' Man

Summary: Ray's all shook up.

Layers, Part Seven

by Bone

I'm losing it.

Kept myself together okay for her, in there. Seemed to me she was the one needed some comforting, so how come I was the one getting the hug? Makes me wonder if women are born knowing how to do that; maybe they can't help themselves. She's so strong, such a good cop's wife. I'd like to beat the crap out of Jake Botrelle for screwing her over, for being so greedy. Selfish; that's what he was. He couldn't face the music -- guess he never thought about who might have to do it for him. Or else he didn't care.



I squeezed her tight, tried to say it again, say how sorry I was, so, so sorry, but she just patted me one last time and let me go. I couldn't look her in the eye. I could hardly do it when I was talking to her in prison, and I couldn't do it at all right then. Couldn't look at her, or at Fraser when I came outside, or at my face looking back at me in the car window.

I didn't want to see.

Didn't want to see me.

I kept it together for her, but I can't do it anymore. Feels like I'm coming apart at the seams, like I'm bleeding somewhere. Like I'm naked. I can feel that awful hot rush coming up in my eyes, filling up my nose, and I hear the first sniff, the first sound I can't keep in, and then I'm just losing it. Can't even get the car started, can't get away and do this like any self-respecting man would, in the can, in the dark, where nobody'd see me, nobody'd know.

No, I've got to lose it right there in front of her house, right there in the car, with Fraser and Dief looking on.

And Fraser, you know Fraser, he doesn't try to talk me out of it, doesn't tell me everything's fine. It's not fine. It's not. He just puts his hand on my shoulder, and then, when I start to shake, he moves it to the back of my neck, rubbing his thumb there, back and forth, back and forth.

Maybe if I wasn't so miserable, I'd be embarrassed, doing this, but I can't seem to stop, can't make myself stop. My throat's sore, feels scraped. My eyes are raw, and I'm shaking, shaking hard, cold like I'll never get warm again. The only good thing in my whole world right now is his hand on my neck. He's strong. He's warm. He's here.

He keeps hearing all this bad shit about me, and he keeps just taking it, adding it to the pile he carries around with him. Doesn't look at me like I'm scum, doesn't tell me what a stupid fuck I am. I am. I'm a stupid fuck. It took me eight years to figure this Botrelle thing out? Why not four? Why not six? Why'd it take me eight years to figure it out? Maybe because I didn't have Fraser before. Mr. Stubborn. Mr. Logical. Nobody better to have around when you're onto something impossible. His brain just doesn't quit.

You know what he's really good at? I've got to say this about Fraser. He doesn't waste a lot of time talking about how things went wrong. He's much more interested in figuring out how to fix whatever it is. Could have learned a lesson from him with Stella, I think.

Maybe if I'd spent more time fixing and less time talking about things going wrong...

Yeah, that's good, that's right, Kowalski, let's add Stella to the misery mix, here. Shit, shit, shit. Piles of shit, everywhere.

Everywhere but his thumb on my neck, rubbing back and forth. Okay, okay. I've got to pull myself together here. Got to stop the snot, mop up, get a hold of myself. Something white floats in front of my eyes. Fraser's handkerchief. Who carries a handkerchief these Kleenex days? Just Fraser. It's warm from his pocket, smells like him, and I feel like I'm dirtying up something sacred blowing my nose in it. I wipe my eyes, my cheeks. Even my collar's wet. I guess I cried me a river there, and he let me.

I'm not even real sure what popped my cork. Bunch of different stuff, I guess. Her, for making the effort not just once, but twice, to make me feel better about fucking up her life. Sam, for turning out to be as bad as Bedford; worse, even, because he played me. Me, for being such a stupid fuck. Such a stupid fuck. God, I went right to him, gave it all to him, like a present. I liked Sam. Thought he was okay, an okay guy. Thought he protected me, liked me back then. Thought he was helping us out now. Nope, that wasn't it. Not at all. He just covered up the stupid fuck's mistake and made out like a bandit.

So much for me being Mr. Instinct. So much for knowing who to trust.

I feel Fraser's thumb brushing my neck, steady, like a metronome, counting out the beats to something he's hearing in his head. I think he's it for me; the guy I can trust. Just him. Oh, well. If I've gotta pick just one person to trust, might as well be him. They don't come much better than that. I finally get up the cojones to look at him. He's still looking out the windshield like there's something fascinating on the hood. I look back over my shoulder. Dief's stretched out on the backseat, patient as can be. I've got good friends here. The best. Thinking that chokes me right up again, a big teary rush. Fuck. When I lose it, I lose it good, don't I?

I just feel so bad for her, for how old she got in those eight years, for how empty her house is. I feel bad for having someone so good, when she's got nothing, nobody.

I'm lucky.


I don't think it's got anything to do with me, really. He could have anybody he wants, and for some reason, he wants me.

Messy, screwed-up, fucked-over me. God knows why.

He wants me.

I want him.

Maybe I cried something loose, or maybe it's just everything catching up with me, but all I want to do is climb in his lap, open him up, push up his sweater, pull down his jeans, and have him, skin on skin. I want that thumb feeling he gave me all over.

I'm reaching for him before I even know it, just flat out going for it, hand right down into his lap, batting his sweater out of the way so I can get to him. I don't know where he'd gone off to, but I startle him, and he jumps, knocking his hat over the seat back with one hand while he grabs my wrist with the other.

"Ray. Ray. RAY." He yelps that last one, cuz I've got him, soft through his jeans, oh, not so soft, not soft at all now, oh, yeah, there we go, hard as a rock. I love feeling him get hard, love how it takes no time. Soft one minute, hard the next. I'm trying to pull away from his hold, trying to find the zipper, but he goes strong on me, forces me back in my seat.

Don't, Fraser, don't. Let me, come on, let me. Don't say no, don't say no.

I think I'm talking out loud, I don't know. I'm as lost as I was before, shaking just as hard, hot and uptight and miserable.

"Yes, but not here," he says.

Guess I look a little crazy, because he eases up some on my wrist.

"Yes, but not here," he says again, slower, softer, and this time I hear him.

Yes. We can do this.

But we can't do it here.

Not here in front of her house. Not here in the car. Not with me a basket case, nose running, eyes swollen all up, shaking like a leaf.

Yes. He said yes.

Just not here.

"How about if I make some tea while you wash your face?" he says as soon as we walk in the door to my place.

I don't know if he's trying to stop me from just tripping him and beating him to the floor, or if he genuinely thinks I need tea, but one thing's for sure -- the face could use some washing, so I go do what he tells me. It's easier than arguing, which I don't feel like doing anyway.

Funny how at home he's gotten. From the bathroom, I can hear him puttering around out there. One cabinet opens -- he's getting out the tea bags. A drawer slides -- that's the spoons. I hear the teacups rattle in their saucers -- no mugs for Fraser. Those are homey sounds, somebody else in your kitchen. Good sounds.

I think Canadians are convinced they could cure cancer if they just had the right tea. The apple didn't fall far from that English tree, did it?

I make myself look in the mirror. Ouch. Fluorescent lights are not my friend. I look like something out of one of those disease-of-the-week Lifetime movies Stella used to make me sit through. Can't tell if I'm the diseased or the diseased's grieving loved one, but whatever it is, it's bad. Two eyes about swollen shut, one dripping, red nose, pale everything else.

That's a face only Fraser could love. Lucky me.

I scrub myself down, then put a cold washcloth on my eyes, which don't feel any better than they look, and they look bad.

Tea's ready by the time I can open both eyes wide enough to see the whites around the blue. And I'm ready to be back in Fraser's company, which beats tea with a stick when it comes to making me feel better. Can't think of a way of saying that without it sounding like maple syrup on a pancake, though, so I just thank him for the tea and go stand in his personal space in the kitchen. I figure he'll know what I mean.

He leans back on the counter, crosses his legs at the ankle. Not a very Fraserish way to stand, but hey, he's out of uniform, he can bend if he wants.

"You look better," he says, propping his hands behind him.

"Better than what? Frankenstein?" I mutter, breathing in the steam and pretending to sip. Don't know how he drinks this stuff.

"Better than before," he says.

"Yeah, I feel a little better," I tell him, taking a sip for real, just to be polite.

He's hovering, like he thinks I might break down on him again, but I think I got all that out of my system. Like one of those thunderstorms that comes up real fast over the lake, sweeps in, knocks down some branches, floods the gutters, then just disappears.

It's quiet for a minute, then I say, "Sorry for falling apart on you."

He ducks his head, looks down at his boots.

"You did a courageous thing tonight, Ray," he says. "I was proud of you."

Damn you, Fraser, do not make me cry again.

To cover up the latest tempest in a teacup, I head out into the living room, plop myself down on the couch, take a look around. My place looks like somebody else's place. Smells like Murphy's Oil Soap instead of day-old pizza. The floors are so slippery we could curl on them. No, don't tell Fraser I said that -- I'd never hear the end of it.

On a night like tonight, when I feel like somebody reached inside my skin and beat me up with a baseball bat, I'm glad we took the time to clean up the mess Bedford's goons left. Depressing as it is to be a stupid fuck with rotten instincts, it'd be worse if all my shit was still dumped everywhere.

At the time, I didn't want to; thought we had better things to do with our time. But Fraser pushed, and I fell right over for once. He was right, though. Dead right. That night, when it all went down in the warehouse, when Beth took her last trip to the dying room, we came back to my place and crashed, and then spent the whole next day putting my apartment back together.

You haven't had a clean apartment until Fraser's cleaned your apartment.

He's a sneaky one, that Fraser. The creeps really only wrecked the living room, but when I got back from taking the garbage out, he had the refrigerator pulled out and was sweeping behind it.

"Didn't know they trashed behind my refrigerator, Fraser," I said, grinning at him.

"I just wanted to be thorough," he said, and yeah, he sounded a little defensive.

Hey, look, if the man wanted to clean my kitchen, who was I to say no?

"That's good, Fraser, that's good," I told him. "I think they might've tossed the bathroom, too."

He knew what I was doing, could probably tell by the grin, but all he said was, "I'll have a look."

So that's why I can get from the kitchen to the living room (stagger, really, my eyes still aren't that good), and not trip over something. Because when Fraser does a job, he does a job right, and he wanted everything to be not just like it was, but better.

He's always doing that. Like tonight: it's not good enough just to go with me to Beth's house. (Why do I think of her like that? Why not Mrs. Botrelle? It's not like we're friends). Not good enough to sit beside me and let me slobber all over myself in front of him, get rid of some of that awful feeling inside. No, he's got to make me tea, tell me he's proud of me, be here with me when I know he could probably use a few hours away from his blubbering partner.

He makes things better than they were.

I'm still thinking about that, which is a whole lot better than most of the other stuff running around in my head right now, when he comes to sit beside me on the couch. He's just in his sweater -- left all his outer layers at the door. He looks like something out of an L.L. Bean catalog. Full-price, not the sale page.

We sit there for a little bit, me and the Mountie, in my spanking clean living room, drinking tree-bark tea.

Did you notice? My life's changed a lot in the last couple of months.

All right, there's no more putting it off. I've got one more apology to make. No way to make it sound good, either.

"Um, Fraser?" I say. My voice is still scratchy. "I'm sorry about the other thing, too."

He turns to look at me, with that little crease between his eyebrows. "What thing, Ray?"

"Grabbing at you like that. In the car," I say. "I got no excuse."

"Ray --" he starts to say.

"Wrong place, wrong time, wrong everything," I tell him. "I'm...sorry."

He doesn't say anything right away. First he looks at me, then looks over at the TV, which isn't on, so I'm not sure what he's seeing, then back at me.

"Ray, there's nothing wrong with celebrating life," he says.

Hang on a minute. How'd he get from me grabbing his crotch to celebrating life? Where's that turn signal, buddy?

"What are you talking about?" I ask him.

"When confronted with the reminder of our mortality, as we both have been through Mrs. Botrelle's experience, it's perfectly natural to seek ways of reaffirming the wonders life has given us. To celebrate, as it were," he says.

Think he really believes that? Or you think he's just finding an excuse that sounds good enough I'll buy it?

He's still talking: "A sexual response isn't at all uncommon in times of stress. There's a theory that suggests it's one way we guarantee the continuation of the species. Birth rates often jump the requisite period of time after hurricanes, for example; the idea being, I suppose, that if mating occurs in times of great upheaval, the race will most likely continue. Of course, that doesn't really apply in this particular instance."

I think Fraser's talking himself right into a corner. Kind of fun to watch, actually, and a shitload better than thinking about eight years' worth of mistakes.

"Wait a sec, Fraser," I say. "You're saying me playing your pipes in the car was really just me thinking about not dying?"

I can see him sifting through what I said. "That's the essential message, yes."

"So what was all that about continuing the species?" I ask him. I can't resist teasing him. He's so cute when he blushes.

"Oh. Well, that was a bit of a non sequitur," he admits.

"Non who?" I ask him.

He smiles this sweet little smile at me.

"Good effort, though," I say, stretching out so I can put my head in his lap. "Nice try."

He rubs his fingers across my forehead, down my cheeks to my chin. Feels nice. Then he presses hard on my cheekbones, and that feels fucking fantastic. Clears my sinuses right up. He presses here, presses there, and pretty soon my stuffed-up nose is gone and my eyes don't hurt any more. The man's got some kind of touch to him. Some kind of magic.

I'm starting to fade out, drifting on the comfort of his thighs and the touch of his fingers on my face, but he's not done talking.

"Don't apologize for following your instincts," he says softly.

I don't think he's talking about that half-assed crazy-boy seduction attempt in the car anymore. He's talking about everything else, all the other shit I'm trying not to think about.

I feel two leftover tears leaking out. Damn. Thought we were done with all that. He doesn't say anything, just wipes them away and starts doing the cheekbone-pressing thing again. I'd like to be ashamed of myself, but mostly I'm just glad I'm not stretched out here all alone.

Yeah, yeah, everything's better when he's here.

I can't ever remember feeling quite like this. When my dad cut me off cuz I went the cop route instead of the college route, I went all attitude, all cocky whatever, got in touch with my inner hellcat. When me and Stella called it quits, I got jittery -- couldn't sit still, couldn't sleep, couldn't eat. Lived on one nerve and instant coffee for awhile.

I don't think I've ever done this... dissolving thing. Never just laid back and let it all hang out like this. Didn't know I had it in me. I'm just lying here with my head in his lap, letting him do that quiet thing he does, helping me quiet down, too. I don't even care that he's seeing pretty much all there is to me.

But I still feel like he's comforting the wrong person. Beth ought to be the one getting the TLC, and I'm the one should be getting his ass whupped for being so stupid.

But I'll take it anyway. The comfort, not the ass whupping.

I'm not just stupid.

I'm selfish.

Maybe not selfish like Jake Botrelle, but selfish just the same.

I don't know how long we stay like that. Time's just something else passing by. I can feel his fingers move from my face down my neck, stroking up underneath my chin, then down under the collar of my shirt.

Warm fingers, skin a little rough, calluses on the tips. They don't feel so much like comfort anymore. I can feel my heartbeat speed up, hear that I'm starting to breathe harder. I've got to shift around on the couch to make room in my jeans for my dick, which doesn't care whether I'm a wreck or not -- just wants some of that fingertip action down in his neighborhood.

I turn my face into Fraser's lap. I can feel him now, too, hard against my cheek. Don't know when that happened -- I wasn't paying attention. Too caught up in my own sorry self, I guess. But when I feel that against my face, and feel his fingers on my collarbone, it's like licking a battery. My whole body's getting a wake-up call.

I think I'm ready to reaffirm the wonder that is Fraser without his clothes on.

I open my eyes, look up at him. He's watching me, still looks a little worried, but when I rub my cheek on him, he lifts his hips up, nudges harder against me.

I reach up one hand, cup it behind his head and pull his mouth down, meet him halfway, wide open and ready. It's like that was a signal he was waiting for, because he pulls me hard against his chest, holds me there, and takes over.

It's like words aren't enough; he's got to show me. He's skimming off my shirt, tossing his sweater off, and now I've got the skin on skin I wanted in the car, but it's better because we're on the familiar terrain of the couch, and I'm not as out of my head as I was then. I'm in my head now, everything's sharpening up.

He's got one hand holding my head up to his, and the other's getting my jeans undone, pushing down my shorts. I boing right up into his hand, and now he's sliding those soft rough fingers up and down, smooth and steady, and it's just like his thumb on my neck, before; it's just like that. I feel hot and cold, both at once, feel goosebumps raise up on my arms when he rubs me.

I'm trying to do something for him, but whenever I try to pull away, he just holds on tighter, kisses harder, squeezes me and pretty soon, I just decide to lie back and take this, too.

That hand on my dick knows just what it's doing. We're way past the fumbling around part, where we try to figure out if what works for one of us works for both of us. He knows just how to touch me, how to get me wiggling around, begging him for more. He saves that spot under my balls until I'm panting into his mouth, not even able to kiss him anymore because I'm all into what he's doing a couple of feet down.

He lets go of my mouth and eases me down, until I've got my head back in his lumpy lap, and he's leaning over, sliding down the couch until his mouth's lined up with my dick. Oh, yeah, oh yeah, do that. Do that. My hands are on him before I know it, one stroking his cheek, the other on his head, urging him down. I'm shameless. I've got no shame.

He looks at me, eyes hot, cheeks hot, and flashes me this little smile. God, he looks good down there. Then he closes his eyes, licks his lips, and tugs me into his mouth, where it's hot, and wet, and totally, totally perfect.

There's nothing left in me to feel bad about how good this feels. I'm pretty much stripped down to the essentials, here. Living, breathing, heart-beating. Exposed skin and bone, peeled right down. Somehow he can even make this feel like comfort food, like it's something for him, not just something more for me.

Comforting. Celebrating. Coming. Not sure there's any difference right now; it's all tangled up together with the zing of feeling his mouth's giving me. I can feel it all coming together, feel myself start to shiver all over, and I try to pull his head up so he won't get a mouthful, but he won't have it. Won't move. Sucks harder, if anything, and then it's too late -- I'm coming hard, stroking up over and over into him, and he's just taking it all.

He's still swallowing when I pull him off me, flip onto my stomach and dive down into his lap, yank open the button, tear down the zipper, and suck him down in a big gulp. He about jumps off the couch, but I hold him down by the hips, close my eyes and go for the whole enchilada. My throat's still gunked up and raw from the meltdown, but somehow that just makes it feel more... well, just more.

I love feeling that extra skin he's got sliding around, love the little licks I get in of the stuff he's leaking. I feel him put his hands on my head and I hum around him, telling him that's cool, go ahead, push me.

So he lifts up when I go down, and when I don't cough him up right away, I know I can do it. I can take him all the way, I can handle him, even when he thrusts harder, even then. And I can swallow, too, when the time comes, when he grunts above me and clenches his hands in my hair. I can swallow, too.

He pats my head when I'm done, and I lay my cheek on him, where he's still half-hard and wet with spit. I can feel him breathing hard under me, lifting me up a little with each breath while he pulls himself together. I put my tongue out and lick him, and he twitches under me.

I think he was right, maybe, about the whole reminder of mortality thing. I mean, I pretty much always want to do him, and it's almost always more than just getting our rocks off, but tonight feels... different.

Like being with him like this is a big picture thing, cosmic. It's Life, with a capital "L" and all.

I feel better than I have in days.

Fraser says we've got to clean up the tea stuff before we hit the hay. He's downright pushy about keeping the place ship-shape now that he's finally got it how he probably wanted it all along. Makes me wonder if him swallowing wasn't just a way to keep the couch clean.

"We" means "he" tonight, so I go lean on the counter next to the sink and watch him wash and dry.

He's got something on his mind. Him putting the clean cups in the refrigerator was my first clue that his mind wasn't on his work. We got that sorted out, but now we're just standing there in the kitchen looking at each other. I figure he'll hem and haw, clear his throat a couple of times, maybe, but once he gets going, he just spits it right out.

"Ray, I'm not sure how to ask this, but... were you aware of the interest Sam Franklin had in you?"

Whoa, a pop fly to left field. That's not at all what I expected.

"Well, yeah, he was always helping me out, putting in a good word for me, that kind of thing," I tell him. "I think he's the one who pushed for that promotion I got."

He gives his head a little shake. "That's not the kind of interest I meant."

Not the kind of interest... what the hell does that...? What other kind of interest... Oh shit. No way.

"You're shitting me," I say, which gets me a shocked look from Fraser. He's probably imagining all kinds of awful literal things, so I cover it up quick with, "You mean Sam's... He's...like that?"

He lifts his hands, like he's apologizing. "I believe so," he says.

"How do you know?" I ask.

"The way he watched you, how close he stood to you, the ease with which he touched you," he ticks off, real matter-of-fact, like he's reading his grocery list.

"Damn. No, I didn't have a clue. Jesus. I mean, it's not like it's a bad thing, God, look at us, but I... I'm just surprised."

Try dumb-founded. Sam Franklin had an... interest... in me? Like that? And Fraser knew it? Man, the hits just keep on coming.

"So, what, you got radar or something?" I ask him.

"Not at all," he says. "It wasn't something I consciously chose to take note of, Ray. But you don't let many people get as close to you as you let Franklin, and I... noticed."

I can read between those lines; yes, I can.

"Got your fur up, huh?" I ask him, grinning. Nice to know little green jealousy men come in Mountie-sized versions, too.

"A bit, yes," he says, and it does me good to hear him say it.

I wander back into the living room and go over to the window, looking out on the wet street below. I'm thinking it over, trying to put all the pieces together.

"You think that maybe had something to do with it?" I say over my shoulder. "The cover-up, all that? Think he wanted me to...and I just, I don't know... missed it?"

I hear him come into the room, hear him shift from one foot to the other. "I don't know," he says, after a minute.

Yeah, nobody knows. Never will, either, if I have anything to say about it.

"I screwed up just about every way I could, didn't I? I didn't get any of it right."

He joins me at the window.

"You got it right, Ray. It just took longer than you might have expected, and there were...factors involved that you couldn't have known."

"Should have tried harder," I say, under my breath.

He taps on the window with one finger. "It did turn out all right."

I snort at that. "Tell that to Beth Botrelle."

"I believe she knows," he says, and here comes his hand on my shoulder again --strong, warm, here.

God, it was a near thing. Five trips she made to that room. Five times they strapped her down. She lost everything because it took me eight years to figure out the whole thing stank more than the Chicago River in August.

Fraser backed me up on this the whole way. Stood beside me, behind me, in front of me, wherever I needed him to be, no questions asked. Standing up for the guy who blew it six ways from Sunday.

"Why would you want to be with a stupid fuck like me?" I ask him.

"What kind of a question is that?" he says, and he actually sounds a little annoyed. I think that's good. Not sure how much more of the TLC Fraser I could take without just melting right into the floorboards.

"I just think you could do better," I tell him. I'm not looking at him, but I hear the sigh he makes.

"Ray. Ray. Look at me," he says. "Look at me."

I hear the echo of him saying that in the alley when I lost it with that guy, had him pinned on the hood, trigger-happy and a little wild. I lift my chin, turn to face him.

"Do you know the saying, 'There's a lid for every kettle'?" he asks me.

I nod. I can hear my mom's voice saying that, usually when she passed by a couple of freaks on the street.

"Means there's someone for everyone, no matter how weird, right?" I say.

He nods back at me but doesn't say anything more, lets me work it out on my own. Doesn't take me long.

He's my lid. Keeps me from boiling over, keeps me warm.

"You saying we're a couple of freaks?" I ask him, nudging closer to him until he wraps both arms around me.

"No, Ray, that wasn't --" he stops short when he catches my eye, then drags me closer. "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying," he says, rubbing his mouth on my forehead.

That's cool. Whatever. Just so long as we're freaks together.

I've gotten to the point where I can't imagine it any other way.

The end.