New DS fic, not for any of the huge number of fics I've promised to people, nor is it for the ds_flashfiction challenge, even though it was supposed to be. What we have here is Stella taking a closer look at Ray and Fraser.
As ever, enormous thanks to my betas, Estrella and Lynnmonster, for repeatedly looking this over for me, and not complaining, even though there isn't any sex whatsoever. *smooches*
It wasn’t all at once that she noticed. And maybe it wasn't even noticing, maybe it was just a sort of an awareness way in the back of her head, and she wasn't even conscious of it, until one day, she was. When she thought of it, a whole bunch of things swam to the surface. And it wasn't even an oh! sort of a feeling, more of a huh kind of thing. Huh, like adding a column of numbers a few times, and never getting it to add up the same way twice.
It was just a feeling, and she couldn't shake it.
It had probably been happening for a while, but the first time she really noticed and thought about it was last week. She couldn’t even remember why she'd been looking for Ray, something she was trying to decipher from his case notes. She got tired of trying to figure out the scribble and looked up, blowing her hair out of her eyes, and scanned the room for him.
Scanned the room for red, actually, since somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that where Benton Fraser was, there Ray would be.
No red this time, though, and she got up, took a couple of steps, peered around a filing cabinet, and there they were. Constable Fraser was dressed in the brown uniform that made him look a lot less foolish and noticeable than the red one. His hat was off, balanced carefully on the "Out" box on Ray's desk. He was leaning on the desk, his weight on one hand, while he pointed to something on a piece of paper. Ray, who, as ever, couldn’t see worth a damn - whether close up or far away - was standing next to him, peering at the paper. He leaned closer, one hand on Fraser's back for balance, and Stella could see the moment when whatever they were discussing came together in his brain. Ray twisted his head abruptly, staring at Fraser with that look of sheer delight he had, the one that lit up his whole face. He was grinning widely, and she watched his hand on Fraser's back, watched their faces so close together, watched that glow in Ray's face that she knew so well, and for a moment, just for a moment, it seemed…
Well, whatever it was, it was gone - the two of them were heading out the door, taking those long strides, men on a mission. She found herself staring vacantly at the spot where they'd been, wondering just what it was that she had thought she'd seen. She shook her head, turned, took two steps, then cursed under her breath, pivoting to see if they were still in sight, because she still needed a translation of her ex-husband's messy scrawl. But too late. He'd already disappeared with the Mountie.
Stella didn't think about it again till the next time she was chasing down her ex-husband.
If he could ever remember to actually fucking sign his paperwork, it would make her job a whole lot easier. Or Francesca, whose job it actually was to make sure the paperwork was complete, she could get Ray to sign it. The thing was, Francesca didn't seem to like Stella very much, and getting her to do anything at all in a timely manner was like pulling teeth.
She blew out her breath in exasperation and thought, not for the first time, that Ray probably did this for the sheer persistent perversity of getting to interact with her. No matter how unpleasant she was, he seemed to almost enjoy it, kept coming back for more. It was that very doggedness that got her to go out with him in the first place, and that caused her to file for divorce, finally, when it became obvious that he just wasn't going to stop trying, stop pushing, even when there was nothing left to strive for.
Even when what they'd once had was so far gone, it wasn't even funny.
Not at his desk (not that she'd really expected him to be). Not in with Welsh. Not in the squad room. There he was, in the break room - with Fraser, of course. She strode up to the table.
"Ray." She shoved the papers at him. "If you signed these in the first place, we wouldn't have to keep doing this." She cast a glance at Fraser. "Hello, Constable."
He stood up immediately. "Assistant State's Attorney Kowalski."
She sighed inwardly, swearing that somehow, even though it sounded every inch respectful, he did that to get at her. That there had to be an edge there, some sort of dig at her. The thing was, there was no tone, none at all, just measured politeness, and a sincere look on his face that time had taught her was no put-on.
Ray was still hunched forward over the table, the way he had been when she walked in. The Mountie was now standing, of course, politely (so damn polite, he was), so Ray was leaning towards no one now, but he still only turned his head slightly towards where she was standing there. Waiting. She found herself tapping her foot impatiently and made a concerted effort to stop.
Ray glanced at Fraser, then back at her. Gave a little half-smile, a tiny headshake, and, just as she finally said, in exasperation, "Ray, will you just…" he interrupted with a pleasant, "Got a pen?"
And she did, of course, and handed it to him. Detective Dewey, who was loitering by the snack machines, called over, "You know how to write, Vecchio? Man, they can teach monkeys anything these days."
"You know how to fuck off, Dewey?" Ray responded, not even looking up. He scrawled his illegible signature across the bottom of the forms, initialed in the two places she pointed to, and then unfolded himself slowly from the chair. "That all you need?" he asked, giving her an easy smile and a wink.
She rolled her eyes. "Yes, Ray." She tugged the paperwork out of his hands. "Could you please try to remember to sign these next time?"
A slight pause, then, "Sure, Stella," and he shouldn't sound so damn amused when she was pissed off. He reached over and she flinched away. He raised his eyebrows and picked up the Stetson he had been reaching for on the table, and flipped it over in his hands before handing it to Fraser.
"See ya, Stell," said Ray, and "Ma'am," said Fraser, inclining his head slightly. They turned to go and Stella stifled a yelp as something furry brushed against her leg. That damn wolf, who had been under the table for the boys' little confab and now trotted after them as they headed out.
She shook her head, just as Detective Dewey drifted up to her. He smirked sideways at her, his eyes following Ray and Fraser out of the break room. "Look at 'em. It's like they're attached at the hip. You'd think they were married - or something - " And here he raised his eyebrows, leering as though he thought she'd snort along with him like one of his beer buddies, "the way they spend all their time together."
Stella gave him her best "back the fuck off, buddy, I had a husband who was a cop, I can put you in the ground" look, and he took a step back, his hands in the air. "Hey, sorry, just sayin'."
"Perhaps if you did less talking and more work, detective, your solve rate might be higher."
Dewey frowned and walked away, mumbling something under his breath that wasn't very original and that she pretended not to hear. God, he was an ass. Stella walked slowly out of the break room, carefully checking the papers, making sure everything was in order. A flash of red caught her eye, and she looked up in time to see Ray walking down the corridor with Fraser. She watched, paperwork forgotten in her hand, as they walked down the corridor, close enough that their shoulders brushed together. They stopped at the end, and again, Ray's head inclined towards Fraser's as he spoke intently for a moment. Then he grinned and put his hands on Fraser's shoulders, and Fraser smiled, and they turned, disappeared out of sight.
Stella shook herself, glanced around, smoothed down her suit jacket, and went back to work.
She put it out of her head for the rest of the afternoon, she really did. She'd been tired and frustrated, out of sorts and seeing things that weren't there. Ray and Fraser were partners, they were just partners. She'd been a cop's wife long enough to know that there was always that bond between partners that was closer than anything at all. Closer than man and wife. She'd seen this before, when Ray had been partnered with that older cop, the one who he really hit it off with: how they could connect, instantly, a glance telling them more than any heart-to-heart talk ever would.
She knew that, she did. She wasn't even going to think about it any more; it's not like it mattered anyway, not like what Ray did was anything to her. She was the one who was always pushing him away; that was how it worked, and it got tiresome. Hanging out with the Mountie seemed to help with that: the Canadian, god help her, seemed to be rather the voice of reason at times.
Which didn't explain why, when she saw Ray leaving alone, she followed him out to the parking lot as he left for the day.
"Ray," she called, letting the door to the station swing shut behind her as she walked swiftly to catch up to him as he headed to his car.
He swung around, smiling when he saw her. "Hey, Stell, what's up?" There was none of that guarded look that she had grown used to, the one that irritated her, that made her accuse him of demonizing her. When she caught up to him, he just looked at her patiently, tossing his keys from hand to hand. "You need me for something?'
"Yes," she said, "Or, well, I mean, no, I just…" She pushed her hair behind her ear and tried to get her thoughts straight. "I wanted to apologize for earlier," she said, making her voice soft. "I was in a bad mood, and I shouldn't have taken it out on you."
"That's okay," he said, looking slightly surprised. "No big deal, you were right; if I did 'em right the first time, you wouldn't have to chase me."
"Right," she said vaguely, looking at him, and realizing she couldn't remember the last time she had seen him without Fraser at his side.
He nodded, turning and walking slowly towards his car, still with his head half-bent towards her. "You okay? There something else you need to talk about?"
"No," she said, laughing a little, only it didn't sound easy the way it was supposed to. "No, it's just - I wondered -" She stopped, took a breath. "Ray, you and Fraser… The two of you…" Faltering, she realized she didn't even know how to phrase the question, and couldn't remember the last time that had happened, either.
Only, it turned out she didn't have to come up with the question. They'd reached Ray's car, and his head was ducked so she couldn't see his face. Then he turned around, and slouched against the side of the car. She'd thought he'd be angry, maybe, or confused, or possibly embarrassed. But when he finally tilted his head to look up at her, he was smiling ruefully. "I figured. If anyone was gonna notice something, it was gonna be you."
She took an inadvertent step backwards, but she didn't think he noticed.
"I know, it's weird, right?" he continued. "I mean, I keep telling myself that. But I don't know." He scratched the back of his head, looking right at her, though she was pretty sure he wasn't seeing her. "We just sorta fit together, you know?"
She blinked, before realizing he was talking metaphorically. She cleared her throat. "When did you and he, um." Start dating? Start fucking? Get gay?
Ray was shrugging. "I don't know. For a while there, we were everything but, you
know? And then, it was just..." He paused, took a deep breath. "More than that."
She blinked, and she didn't think her expression showed what she was thinking, but it must have, a little, at least, because his face went very still, and his tone, when he spoke, was careful. "Stella, this is serious stuff, him and me. I was pretty sure you'd figure it out, but I was also pretty sure that you wouldn't have a problem with it." He looked at her. "I hope I wasn’t wrong."
"No, it's not that, it's not what you're doing, that you're…" She faltered as Ray's chin went up. "It's just that you didn't tell me. That you were…"
He laughed wryly. "What makes you think I knew, Stell? Fraser - he was an eye-opener." He rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably, and she watched his familiar movements with a sense of detachment. They had been married, he loved her, there was no mistaking that. And sex. Sex had never been the problem with them; sex had always been tremendous with him, even when it shouldn’t have been, even when she was leaving him. Even after the divorce, long after, when he'd still want it, when he shouldn't, when he couldn't have it. Leaving it up to her to say no. When really? She still wanted it too. Still wanted him, still loved him, just - couldn't stay up on a pedestal the way he wanted. They'd do it, and regret it - both of them would regret it, though she was, admittedly, usually the first to drive the message home - but only after, never during.
During was good. During was always very, very good.
He looked up at her, finally, his eyes softer than they had been before. "I never thought about it too close, then, Stella. It was about you and me, when we were together. That was it: you, and me."
He leveled his eyes at her and she believed him.
"Does it even matter now?" he asked softly. "It doesn't change anything."
And she took opened her mouth, meaning to say, wait, only it does, it changes everything. But between one breath and the next, something clicked, and the air went out of her. Because, "No. It doesn't."
His eyes were dark and a little amused as he looked at her. "Still love you, you know." He leaned forward, his hand falling naturally to the curve of her hip. She looked at him, surprisingly startled and speechless, because that, just that, sent a tingle through her, and she was so used to him wanting her, that she couldn't understand that he didn't. She had a sudden, crazy urge to kiss him, to really kiss him, press her tongue into his mouth and press herself against him and somehow prove -
But he kissed her cheek, his lips soft against her skin, and pulled back even as the thought crossed her mind.
"Thanks, Stell, for understanding," he said, giving her a small smile.
"Of course," she managed.
He nodded, ducking his head a little. "Talk to you soon."
She stood there as he drove away, and for several minutes afterwards, absentmindedly biting her thumbnail, till the door to the precinct opened, spilling out several loudly-arguing detectives. She blinked, and smoothed down the front of her jacket, glancing at her watch. She had work to do, and a meeting to get to. Some things in life never changed. Turning, she strode back to the station.
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