Title: Number Systems
Fandom: Due South
Rating: PG-13 for lots of swearing and vague sex.
Word count: 5,355
Summary: See, before this 'Fraser is sexy' had just been one of those facts that everyone knows, just harmless facts like 'two and three is five' and 'the capital of Canada is Ottawa no wait Montreal no hang on Vancouver' and really it’s fucking ridiculous that nobody knows.
So many italics! So many! Ray just rambles on and on and on in them, and my HTML-fu hates him for it. But mostly this was enormous fun to write and I'm quite pleased with it. Enjoy :)
(Also: I have a previously undiscovered talent for bullshitting American crime plots! Fear me.)
I know that everything’s screwed up as soon as I realise that Fraser can count all the way to three.
“What the fuck are you doing?” I scream, and I’d be yelling over my shoulder but I kind of need to keep my eyes front because ah, there, yes – bam-bam-bam – we’re backed up in an alley and I’m dashing for cover because all we have to do is hold out until the cars get here and Fraser is crouched behind a bin being no fucking help. “You fucking idiot! I –” bam-bam-bam “I said we were going to run to cover!”
“You said, Ray,” Fraser says across the space between us, as I'm leaning up slightly to fire at the surprisingly persistent goons advancing down the alley towards us. One of them howls something in Italian and goes down clutching his elbow. Good clean shot. “You said we would run on a count of three.”
“You went on one.”
“What?” I stare at him, kneeling there in the dirt and looking totally unfazed. Looking unfazed, but there’s something in his voice that tells me he’s irritated and that’s a bad bad sign where Benton Fraser, King Of Courtesy is concerned. “Are you off your nut? We never go on three! We just don’t! We push ahead, we break the rules, that’s how we work!”
Sirens, suddenly, getting closer and closer. I fire off another round and the goons try to run, but luckily whoever’s driving had enough sense to leave the sirens until the last minute so that by the time the men reach the open end of the alley there are three cars and a whole lot of cops with guns waiting for them.
I slump down, breathing hard, my finger slipping on the grip of my gun, and glare half-heartedly at Fraser, waiting for an apology. But he’s giving me one of his serious looks, and when he speaks the irritation is still there.
“Maybe we should consider keeping to the rules more often, Ray.”
Oh, shit. Suddenly I realise what this is about, and I really should have picked up on this sooner because it’s not like the girl is far from anyone’s mind these days.
“We’ve talked about this, Fraser.” I let my head fall back against the wall, thump. “It was the only chance we had at trapping –”
“I’m just saying, Ray, that if you had kept to orders –”
“Oh, fuck you.” Nothing half-hearted about this one. Glare, glare, glare. “How many lives have we saved by bending the rules, by not doing what we were told? Huh?” And I hate myself immediately for saying this, I sound so cold, because it’s not just a matter of one mistake possibly costing a life, it was her, the little girl, and I can tell by the way Fraser’s face cools and the way he adjusts his hat, looking away, that I’ve taken my Yankee insensitivity a bit too far this time.
“Are you two all right?” Welsh, trotting down the street and wondering why we’re sitting here in a dirty alley looking depressed when there’s so much fun paperwork to be done. Fucking yay.
“We’re fine, sir,” Fraser says, standing up and brushing himself down.
“Yeah. Peachy.” I lever myself upright, not looking at him.
There’s a certain feeling you get in your gut when you come across a little case that’s gonna explode into something bigger, something downright nasty.
Tina Evans, thirteen years of age, disappeared after school one day. No word or sign until a few days later when the family started getting these envelopes with photos in them, really sick stuff, stuff no parent should have to look at. So suddenly we had a pedophile kidnapper on our hands and nothing we can do until someone got a lead from one of the photography stores, because no way did this guy just send these happy snaps in to the local pharmacy to be developed, he had to buy the chemicals and the special paper and all that jazz. We had an address and a plan and we were there staking out, waiting for some serious backup, when the guy smells a rat and bails out the back stairs.
Our orders said: wait. But I’d seen some of this photographs and fuck that, I was taking this guy down, if we waited he’d be long gone by the time anyone else got here.
He killed her. Panicked, and strangled the girl with a piece of cord and left her there on the stairs.
That was three days ago, and of course they couldn’t tell for certain if she’d died before or after my rash disobedience, as it was labeled, so I was in semi-disgrace and stuck answering phones until today’s little brush with the damn Italians. Good work but not good enough to redeem me completely, so here I am wading through paper and trying not to meet Fraser’s eyes as he wanders around, a big red aimless shape, making coffee and filling out reports in triplicate.
There’s a buzz on the other side of the office; it turns out the same thing happened to a handful of girls in New York a couple of weeks back, and this puts a whole new spin on the thing because we might have a traveling serial rapist and murderer on our hands. And of course yours truly, the dogsbody of the day, gets stuck arguing with some stodgy case officer from the NYPD, who are obviously pissed as hell they didn’t get the guy when he was on their turf and still want to run the thing themselves.
“Come on,” I bark into the phone, because I’m already in a fucking bad mood and the last thing I need now is to be spoonfed administrative crap from someone who thinks that their department’s pride is more important than the lives of Chicago’s little kids. “You should be happy he’s skipped town, unless you like having nutcases like this one wandering around where you are –”
Pause for some slow, laborious bullshit about god knows what because it isn’t about how fast they’re going to send me the case details and that’s all I care about. My patience is about to snap.
“It’s not my fault you didn’t catch the asshole! It’s not my fault he’s didn’t want to take his sweet time taking in the sights of New York, hell, I’d have gotten out of there as fast as I could, too.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” the guy demands, prodded into something resembling emotion. “Like Chicago’s an attractive city.”
“Less tourists,” I shoot at him childishly, demolishing the top page of the notepad in front of me with Frannie’s discarded nail scissors.
“Well, your buildings are too fucking tall,” I snap, and slam the phone down.
“And they say Americans are incapable of tact.”
I look up and there’s Fraser, smiling kind of awkwardly, holding out a mug of coffee. I wrap my fingers around it with a sigh.
“Was that sarcasm, Fraser?”
“Indeed.” He sits on the edge of my desk. “I’ve been trying to teach Constable Turnbull how it works.”
I snort and take a sip. Blissful, blissful caffeinated syrup. “Good luck with that.”
“She was so small, Ray,” he says suddenly.
“Yeah, Frase. I know.” I rub at my forehead, because I’m still trying to forget how she looked lying there with her dirty blonde hair and her mussed clothes. And small, yeah. She was tiny for thirteen and looked even tinier in death, like a doll. That always happens. Everyone seems to shrink down when they’re dead, as though whatever it was that made them alive was taking up more space than the mass of cells ever could.
“Do I need to ring New York?” Fraser asks, and I can’t help but smile because fuck, yes, Canadian charm might well be the only thing that will wheedle information out of them now.
“Yeah.” I shove the phone across the desk. “Tell them…I don’t know, tell them I have anger management issues, tell them I have fucking PMS, I don’t care.”
He gives a faint smile and presses redial and suddenly I feel a lot better.
“Hey, Ray.” Frannie shoves a book under my nose and I almost spill my precious coffee on it. “Did you know that there are numbers, actual numbers, called e and i?”
First psychology, now math. Jesus. Someone needs to find the girl a boyfriend, and fake-brotherly responsibilities be damned because it sure as hell isn’t going to be me.
“What’s wrong with, I don’t know, eight and twenty-seven?”
She launches into a halting explanation but my brain tunes out in self-defense after a few seconds. The day the numbers started being replaced by letters was the day I stopped doing math, because why? Why bother with letters? It’s not like they ran out of numbers, you can’t run out of numbers, that’s the whole point, that’s the great thing about them; they just keep going and going.
I tune in again in time to catch something about “ – represented by i because it’s not a real one, but, um, an imaginary number.”
“Imaginary numbers?” I stare at her. Fuck, that’s even worse. “The real ones are bad enough.”
Fraser’s magic does the trick and yep, it’s the same guy, and so of course the Feds prick up their ears and decide that this is big enough for them to give a fuck about, and if there’s anything worse than unhelpful New Yorkers on the other end of a phone line it’s unhelpful Feds bossing you around in your own fucking office.
Actually, the FBI case officer, Betty Mayland, turns out to be a really stunning redhead, about mid-thirties, sharp smile kinda like Stella’s and a really generous habit of wearing short skirts that show off her legs damn well, so I’m thinking that maybe this won’t be so bad after all. But no dice; she’s pure bitchy Fed, one of those superior fascists with their heads so far up their own arses you can’t brownnose without giving them a hickey. Not that it stops some of the fuckwits here from trying, of course.
But yeah, this woman has a foul temper and a tongue like steel and by the second day Frannie is hiding in cupboards to avoid passing her in the corridor and Welsh is supposedly buried in paperwork but really hiding as well, all but barricaded in his office.
And then of course there’s the day that the Ice Queen shows up to enquire politely why her pet Mountie has destroyed two uniforms in as many days because of the weird stakeouts we’ve been put on. I guess all that red material must be pretty damn expensive, because her mouth is in that dead horizontal line that says danger, Will Robinson! to anyone who’s hung around the Consulate at all.
“Fuck,” I whisper, “do you think we could sell tickets?”
“I don’t think that’s quite appropriate, Ray,” Fraser chides, but his mouth curves a bit.
And oh, man, it’s fantastic, it’s fucking insane, watching Betty Ballbreaker go up against the Ice Queen, both of them snapping and waving their arms around, two hot chicks in uniform all but yelling in each other’s faces, and the whole office is trying to watch without looking like they’re watching and you could draw one of those cartoon thought-bubbles above the head of every man here and it would contain the sincere opinion that all the scene needs is a bit of mud, after the uniforms come off, and some popcorn, and it’d be better than late-night TV.
In the end the Ballbreaker apologises, with bad grace, party because I think she’s embarrassed to be making such a scene in front of her men but largely because she likes Fraser, she actually gives him the time of day and that heart-pounding knife of a smile. No big surprise there. Everyone likes Fraser.
After that it’s hard work as usual, juggling the tension of this case (Will he strike again here in Chicago? Has he moved on?) with the normal day-to-day shit. We finally catch the bastard on Christmas Day, which means that every cop in our unit and half of the rest of the city units spend this day of peace and joy pounding up and down stairs waving firearms and scaring the shit out of civilians, closing the net on the son of a bitch.
It turns out to be easy but also fucking terrifying, everyone’s nerves stripped down like bare wires, because we have to set a trap. And the awful thing about pedophiles – well, one among a long list of awful things, I guess you could say – is that to lure them in, you have to use their bait of choice. And while we’ve got a lot of pretty faces in Chicago law enforcement, we haven’t got anyone that could pull off impersonating a child at close range. And this guy goes for girl who are young, really young, the kind of age when you shouldn’t know what a pedophile is, which just makes it all the more fucked up. You can’t explain a situation like this to a child and expect them to play bait.
But that’s what we end up doing.
It’s Tina’s sister who steps forward, a fifteen-year old who’s just as tiny as her sister and who has obviously seen too many cop shows when she declares fiercely, after we’ve broken the news to the family, that she wants to help catch the bastard. Nobody gives it a second thought but obviously someone does, thank Christ for that particular twisted individual, because we end up taking her seriously. Her parents are dead against it, of course, but it’s the girl herself – Jill, her name is – who talks them round. So there’s this ballsy kid decked out like a nine-year-old, wired for sound and with a tracking device built into the soles of her shiny new Mary Janes.
It’s not as bad as it sounds, because the guy’s modus operandi is pretty set and he never hurts them for the first two days. He buys them shit and talks to them, going through some kind of fucked up ritual like the real whacko nutcases always do, and we expect to have him in custody no more than a couple of hours after he picks up Jill.
Say what you will about Betty, she runs a mission so tightly you couldn’t slip a dollar bill between the cracks. There’s a minor fear for the girl’s safety when we first break down the door, but I charge across the room and tackle the guy down and slam his head against the carpet, and that feels fucking good, I can tell you. I’m buzzed for the next half hour, completely buzzed – hell, everyone is, everyone’s smiling for the first time in days and clapping each other on the back and talking about going out for Christmas drinks if there’s anywhere still open, and I catch sight of Betty standing very still and hugging a shaky Jill, tears running down her face, and it hits me that I never thought to wonder if she has kids of her own, what she’s been feeling through all this, what she’s not been letting herself feel.
“Ray.” Fraser comes over and offers me a hand up from where I’m sitting against the wall, and he’s smiling and I laugh and grab his hand but something happens, something twists itself into the jubilation and relief and it’s just the tip of his thumb brushing across the back of my hand but somehow it’s more than that and it punches us both in the gut at the exact same time. I can feel it. The synchronism of our shock.
We’re standing there, close, so fucking close because he’s pulled me up and forward and I forgot to compensate for the momentum, and I make what could be the biggest fucking mistake of my life and look straight at his eyes.
And maybe there’s something in that imaginary numbers shit after all because this – this, the way his fingers suddenly press into my palm and the way I am abruptly aware of how he smells and the way his lashes curl irregularly onto his cheek and the way it feels when he breathes out and I breathe in and I nearly go nuts with the warm, intimate feel of his secondhand oxygen in my mouth – this can’t be described, can’t be quantified by any normal system of measurement.
“What – ” And I pause because really, I haven’t a fucking clue what I’m going to say next, but with the way my body is behaving it could be what brand of condom do you prefer, Fraser, or what do you think I’d look like handcuffed to your bed or what do you say to coming home with me so I can lick brandy custard off your bare stomach?
But something shifts and goes horribly wrong because Fraser’s saying “I don’t know, Ray. I don’t know,” and this look comes crashing into his eyes that’s like a bucket of ice water, so much agony and guilt and instability, and he could drop to his knees and wrap his mouth around me right here and now and I don’t think I could get it up again because that look would still be there, blazing its way across my retina.
I let go of his hand and step back, really abruptly, my stomach feeling like I’ve just been pushed out of a plane window, and suddenly I need a fucking cigarette so badly my knees start shaking.
Fraser steps backwards as well, putting as much space between us as he can, and his hat was in his other hand but now it’s on his head and he’s nodding uneasily. “Merry Christmas, Ray,” he gets out before he turns and leaves, because yeah of course it would be fucking impolite to run away without wishing your buddy a merry Christmas, no matter how you feel about…about…whatever the fuck that was.
I get out of there, I get out, I go home and I have that cigarette and open the bottle of expensive whiskey that was Stella’s Christmas present and I drink until the burning in my throat is stronger than the burning of the look, and then I drink until I’ve forgotten both of them.
I sleep through Boxing Day and through what would no doubt have been a motherfucker of a hangover if I had been awake to enjoy it. I spend the day after that guzzling coffee and watching very bad reruns and then it’s fun times over, folks, back to the daily grind.
What’s surprising is how easy it is to slip back into work with Fraser; we have about five minutes of um, er, right and then Frannie comes by with some new case notes and tries to get Fraser interested in Pythagorus – I think she’s hoping that if women can’t resist musicians, something similar is going to happen with mathematicians and men, or rather man, or rather: Fraser. He nods and smiles and makes insightful comments but as soon as she looks down to check something in the index he glances at me over her head and he has dancing pull me out, Ray? eyes.
“Hey, Frannie, that’s real fascinating, but we’ve got to go check a lead,” I say smoothly, already pulling on my jacket.
We’re quiet in the car, we don’t talk, and I dunno if I like this as much as the usual deal because it leaves this great aching silence to think in and I’ve been thinking too damn much lately, the thoughts managing to batter past the coffee haze and over the buzz of the television. I’d even reached a kind of tentative resolution that it had been a strange stress reaction, a shared hallucination, a disturbance in the Force, anything, but as soon as I saw him again I almost choked on the swearwords fighting to get out of my throat because it was like a fucking switch had been flipped and now I was noticing all that crap all the time.
See, before this Fraser is sexy had just been one of those facts that everyone knows, just harmless facts like two and three is five and the capital of Canada is Ottawa no wait Montreal no hang on Vancouver and really it’s fucking ridiculous that nobody knows, Fraser said once that on slow days half the calls they get at the Consulate are from atlas-deprived trivia buffs trying to settle an argument on the subject. And I have no fucking idea what one can do with two and three but I’m sure you can twist them and end up in unknown realms of e and i and somehow that’s what’s happened here, this whole fucking alphabet of problems has just opened up in front of me because Fraser is sexy and I can not only see this but feel it with every nerve and scrap of libido I have.
Fuck. Anyway. I manage and we manage and we get by all fine and dandy except for my weird new flares of jealousy, but being jealous of someone flirting with Fraser is like being jealous of someone who eats ninety cheeseburgers and then dies of food poisoning, because Fraser is a big red smiling rock, so I learn to ignore those pretty damn fast.
And then there’s the party. The department decides to have a New Year’s party because what with the Tina-and-Jill thing we never got around to having a Christmas one. Fine by me. New Year’s means no buying ugly presents for someone whose name you pulled out of a hat, and more free alcohol. An inspector whose wife is a corporate lawyer volunteers his house and it’s huge, it’s really nice and spacious and I spend the first ten minutes gaping at the ceiling and wondering if I’d be living somewhere like this if Stella and I had stayed together. Probably not. The state doesn’t pay you like big business will.
Fraser’s there, wearing what is probably his only neat-casual outfit, very dark blue jeans and a red shirt, both spotless and ironed to within an inch of their lives. I indulge in some staring for a while before I wave at him over the canapés and we admire the water feature in the atrium, but something’s just a little bit off, a bit tense, something about the informal setting and the lack of a professional context to keep us gliding in the same direction, so I’m not surprised when he excuses himself to find the bathroom and then I don’t lay on eyes on him for hours.
It’s one of those bring-a-significant-other things, but Stella is most likely working or at a party of her own and I’m not quite so sunk in my own self-pity that I’ll drag my ex-wife to a party just so that I have someone to talk to. I work my way through a few glasses of wine and people-watch instead, and by the number of wives scolding drunken husbands and the number of minor tiffs breaking out it’s probably a very good thing Stella isn’t here because one of us would have tried to drown the other in the water feature by now.
Midnight approaches and the atmosphere changes, though, the music mellowing out and people standing with arms around each other and waiting for the countdown so they can kiss on the stroke of the new year. Suddenly I feel worse than ever; I’ve always professed scorn for that tradition but really I think it’s not bad as these things go, no blatant commercialism like Valentine’s Day; just a sense of hope, forgiveness, absolution, and a shiny clean slate. That’s what the new year is. Beginning again, together.
Ten, nine –
Which doesn’t sound half bad to the couple of glasses of wine swirling around and colliding with my sullen loneliness, so without really thinking about it I push away from my seat and start scanning the house for a red shirt. I’m prowling around the room and suddenly I see Frannie, off to my left, looking about as depressed and disgusted as I feel.
Six, five –
Oh no you don’t, sweetheart. If anyone’s tongue is going to be saying hello to Benton Fraser’s tonsils tonight, it’s mine. I scowl at her and she sends me back an uncertain smile, as though she’s too drunk to trust the evidence of her own eyes. Or as though she reckons I might be drunk enough to have somehow switched the brain signals going to my face muscles. Bullshit. Maybe if it were my little toe or something, yeah, there’s probably enough alcohol in my system to fuck that up, but you know, the mouth is not far from the brain, as these things go.
Two, one –
Happy new year!
Ground zero. Suddenly the room is full of stumbling, enthusiastic couples, mouths moving against each other wherever you look, wallflowers eyeing each other with wary sympathy and a few looks of alcohol-infused suicidal desperation.
Negative one, I think, numbly.
And I’m not all that drunk, anyway, not really. I’ve been ten times as drunk as this on a New Year’s and this isn’t bad at all, and when I push my way past a swaying couple and through a small door I feel like I’ve just been hit with a Sober-Me-Up board because it’s a tiny balcony overlooking the garden and God, that’s cold, that’s really ball-cracking freezing. And trust Benton Fraser to want to go outside for a breath of fresh air in temperatures like this. He probably thinks it’s bracing. Probably reminds him of home, actually, and as I think that I let out a long breath and the tight sour anger in my chest releases a little.
I go and stand next to him, leaning on the balcony rail and looking out into the murky darkness. The chill starts to really seep into my fingertips and it’s quiet, the music and giggles from inside muffled by the closed door. And it’s not until I lift my hands to my mouth to blow on them that Fraser turns to me and says “Ray,” and he’s got a look on his face that I’ve never seen before but it sends night air rushing down my throat like a Colorado gale and suddenly my mouth is almost unbearably dry.
“Negative fifteen,” I croak. “Negative fucking sixteen, Fras –”
And maybe I was wrong about the mouth being close to the brain, because I don’t feel anything for a full seven seconds and I know that because I’m still counting, how stupid is that, and then just as I hit negative twenty-three there is a big fucking explosion in the back of my head, kind of like my own personal New Year’s fireworks show, and it’s also kind of like being hit with a blunt object but just at that part where I’d normally pass out Fraser’s hand slips into the back pocket of my jeans, keeping me upright, and Fraser is warm and tastes like champagne all fizzing and crackling in my mouth and I’m damn well not passing out now because I wouldn’t miss this for the world.
I take inventory with a small part of my mind that wasn’t demolished in the explosion – five fingers on this hand, two and three is five, one two three four five, and I slip them into my mouth one by one.
I count the breathy little sounds he makes and I fucking love the way his breath hitches with my tongue against his nipple and the way he kisses me, like all that agony I was so afraid of can be washed away by the simple act of this and that, by my fingertips skimming down each limb and up his neck and brushing over his lips.
He notices and laughs and pulls me close so he can whisper item, two lips, indifferent red, and after I’ve finished kissing those lips – indifferent? oh no, I don’t think so, not today – I remember to ask him what the hell that was supposed to mean.
“It’s Shakespeare, Ray.”
Fuck, what, Shakespeare? I don’t know any Shakespeare except for a speech I learnt once years ago and I don’t think that friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears is exactly appropriate bedtalk, even for a Canadian. But it gives me a fucking good idea and I stretch out and start nibbling on his ear lobe and that produces some pretty damn impressive expressions on his face, I can tell you.
And at some stage I’m beating time with my feet on the sheets, faster and faster until I can’t remember which number comes next and which way is up and which is south and which is his body and which is mine and there’s another explosion of muscles and nerves and spacetime and my mind just lets go and in flood all these words and letters and feelings and hell yes numbers that I have no name for but that exist in a system parallel to our own.
Any cop will tell you that big things are good but it’s the little things that add up; a license plate can get you all sorts of places, but it’s only when one of my sources remembers that Joey Madison once had a thing for Tom Galliano’s daughter and someone else finds a tiny contradiction in interview transcripts that blows someone’s alibi out of the water and a suspect catches a thrown pen with his left hand…they’re what solve a case, really, in the end.
So it’s good that Fraser sleeps at my place five nights out of seven, and that the department as a whole is shaken and unsure but not unfriendly when they find out, and that we’re working better and smarter than ever.
But it’s better that we find a tiny Thai place that will do curry puffs the way I like them and satay chicken the way he likes it, and that my occasional insomnia seems to pack its bags and leave town for good, and that he takes me to see Twelfth Night and patiently explains the plot beforehand so I can just sit back and laugh at the crossdressing jokes. Lots and lots of little things that hit me hard in a place I wasn’t even sure existed, building up to something, like every piece of the puzzle is another number crossed off in a neat square somewhere on my soul.
I know the exact moment when the pattern is complete. It’s little, it’s fucking tiny, it’s the straw on the camel or the last cherry on the cake, I don’t know, pick your metaphor. Coffee break at work on one of those rare days when there’s little enough going on that we can afford a coffee break, all of us sitting around the table that’s a bit too small and a bit too low, arguing about whose instincts to trust on some matter or other and whose turn it is to buy cookies and why baseball is better than hockey.
“ – and what the fuck, man, one tiny puck which you can’t even see half the time because it’s surrounded by suicidal men in colourful body armour – ” and I’m thumping my fist down and people are scrambling for their mugs.
And Fraser takes my other hand under the table and turns to smile at me with those dark blue eyes and I can see the words hovering at the corner of his mouth and that’s it, wham, bingo, and my whole life just falls into place.