The Dating Game

by

Bast


We fumble with each others clothing, and then tumble to his rumpled, unmade bed, our mouths fused together, our hands sliding across each others skin… his hand moves between our bodies, fastens around my penis and –

I wake with a groan, my boxers sticky. As I stare up at the ceiling, Diefenbaker snuffles in his sleep and the sound is loud in my quiet office.

I sigh and lever myself off of my cot and step over Dief, grabbing a clean pair of boxers. I head to the bathroom to clean myself up.

It's never easy.

+++++

"What do you mean?" My partner, Ray Kowalski, shoots me an amused glance as he stops for the traffic light.

"Just that people's tastes differ, Ray. For instance, I do not like strawberry ice cream. You, however do. I'm just saying we can compromise."

"It's just a double date, Fraser."

"Precisely," I feel the flush on my face. "However, I do not… date."

"You don't date?" Ray looks over at me as he manoeuvres through the afternoon traffic on the way to the Consulate.

"No. I do not date," I tell him firmly, trying to ignore our more than likely imminent demise as a traffic fatality as cars and trucks dart through the Chicago city streets at a high rate of speed which is no doubt illegal. "So I was thinking that perhaps one night you could take out Melissa –"

"Melody."

"– and the next night Tricia."

"Tammy."

"Yes."

He scratches his head. "I wanted to go out with you."

I stare at him, wondering if he really would.

He stares back, looking puzzled. "What?"

Impulsively, I ask, "So why don't you?" Judging by the look of anger on his face, that was a bad thing to ask.

"We're here," he growls, jerking his head towards the Consulate.

"Yes. Indeed." I step out of the car, let Diefenbaker out and shut the door. Ray peels out, leaving me standing on the sidewalk. I wasn't even aware that we had arrived. Well. I just 'blew it' as Ray would say.

I head up the stairs to the Consulate and go inside, greeting Constable Turnbull who smiles at me as he stamps forms.

As I start to walk away, he calls out, "Sir, you have several messages. I put them on your office door."

"Thank you kindly."

I pluck them off of the door before going inside. Diefenbaker goes to his spot and curls up into a ball to sleep. I hang up my Stetson and begin to brew a cup of tea before I sit down to deal with the messages, all of which are, no doubt, unimportant.

+++++

It's late and I'm almost asleep when the phone rings. I reach for it to silence the loud ring more than anything else.

"Canadian Consulate, Constable Benton Fraser –"

"I know who you are," Ray says.

"Yes. Well." I clear my throat and say, "Ray. I'm terribly sorry if I offend –"

"Was it a joke? 'cause it wasn't too funny if it was." He sounds… tired.

I sigh. "No Ray. It wasn't a joke. Again, I'm –"

He interrupts me again, something that I find extremely irritating. "So you like guys."

"Well. That is to say –"

"Spit it out!"

I snap, "Quit interrupting me!"

"Oh. Sorry, Frase."

I take a deep breath. "Apology accepted, Ray. As I was trying to say, I do like 'guys' as you say, but more specifically, one male in particular. I find I'm not much of one for casual relationships and most people are, so therefore I don't… date."

"One male? Who? Vecchio?"

I shake my head – as if he can see me. Foolishness. "No Ray. Well, I guess in a manner of speaking, yes."

"Which is it, Fraser?"

Knowing Ray like I do, I can tell he's angry. I quietly say, "The man playing Ray Vecchio, not Ray Vecchio himself."

"Me. You like me. In particular." Now he doesn't sound angry, or upset, merely thoughtful.

"Yes."

"You wait right there." Ray slams the phone down and I wince, hanging up the phone. Where would I go? For God's sake, I live in my office.

Rubbing my ear, I yawn. I should get dressed if Ray is coming over. Instead I shrug, stand up, go to the bathroom and then brew some tea. Nothing with caffeine in it, however – I do need to get some rest tonight.

Going to the door just in time, I hear him on the steps so I open the door to admit him. Ray pauses, staring at my tank top and boxer shorts for a second before he steps inside. Shutting the door carefully behind him, I lock it and then walk back towards my office with him following. "Would you like a cup of tea, Ray?"

"Yeah, sure, Fraser, that'd be great." Ray sits down in my office chair as Dief comes over to greet him and he watches as I prepare two mugs of tea. I put sugar in his, stir until it's dissolved and then hand it to him. Taking my mug, I sit on my cot and sip the hot liquid as he seemingly struggles to speak, petting Diefenbaker on the head.

"I never knew," he finally says.

"I didn't intend for you to know."

Ray looks surprised. "Why?"

I sigh. "Ray. You are my dearest friend here in America."

He looks around my office and grins. "In Canada too?"

I smile back. "In Canada too." Dief whines then. "Besides you of course, Diefenbaker." Dief barks and goes back to his spot.

Ray looks at me, trying to prompt me to speak. "So?"

"So what, Ray?"

"So why not tell me? I mean, I'm your dearest friend, you said." He stares down into his mug and I set mine on my desk. It makes a 'clunk' noise and Ray looks up, startled.

"Ray, I care about you a great deal and would never want to hurt you. Most straight men are not comfortable with their peers that are homosexual. I would not – I did not – want to lose your friendship over my sexual preference."

"Oh." He looks down then back up at me. "But you wanted to be my friend even though I like women. So I don't get it."

"True. But –" that's different, I start to say when I realise he's right. "You're right. I was in the wrong. I apologise, Ray."

"We good?" He stretches and scratches his stomach.

I nod. "We're good."

"Good. I accept."

"Accept what?" I finish my tea.

"You asked me out, I'm accepting."

Dumbfounded, I stare at him. He winks.

"But Ray –"

He frowns and looks belligerent, a look I have found on many occasions to be totally endearing. "Are you taking it back?"

"No. No. Not at all. Of course not," I babble.

He relaxes then and smiles a little. "Okay. When and where?"

"Ah…" I rack my brains. "Friday night. Seven p.m. Ray. And as for where, well, would you like to attend the cinema with me and perhaps go out to dinner?"

"Sure, Fraser. That'll be good." He rises, stretching again. "I'll pick you up since you don't have a car."

"Thank you kindly, Ray." My heart sings with joy as I let him out of the Consulate, telling him to be careful on the way home.

Friday Night, 6:45 p.m.

Good God, you'd think I'd never been on a date. Well, I haven't, not many. But regardless, it's with Ray. He's seen every piece of clothing I have, so why the indecision? Why am I a nervous wreck? Why not just pick out a shirt and be done with it?

Diefenbaker whuffs from behind me, and I reply, crossly, "Yes, I know. If I were a wolf none of this would matter. Sadly enough I'm not. So please let me be." Next my father will be out here, complaining about my sexual orientation again, or to make some cutting remark about the 'Yank', so I grab a blue t-shirt and pull it over my head, tucking it into my jeans. Glancing at my watch, I look in the mirror one last time and exit my office, asking Dief to behave while I'm gone. He reluctantly agrees, and I step outside the Consulate, locking the door behind me as Ray drives up.

He looks as much as usual, non-shaven, spiky hair, a toothpick dangling from his mouth – in other words, sexy as hell.

As I slide into the car, he looks bemused. "Where's Fuzz Face?"

"Why, inside."

Ray blinks. "Thought he was going with us."

"No, Ray, the cinema would not permit him to enter because he's not a service animal."

"He's been there with us before!" Ray removes the toothpick from his mouth and frowns.

With surprise, I realise he believes we're going to do the usual – go see an art or independent film at the Art House. The proprietor, Sally Lei, graciously allows Diefenbaker to attend the show there as long as he behaves. Which, of course, he does, so that he may have all the hot dogs that Sally would throw away at the end of the night. "Ah, no Ray, I thought we would go to the new Mega-Plex you've been talking about."

"Yeah?" He grins then. "Cool."

"Indeed."

We arrive at the monstrosity well before the show begins, so we take our time and peruse the posters showing the attractions. When I ask him which one he prefers, he points to one showing exploding cars and a grim-looking gentleman in black with a large gun. Without a word, I go to the ticket booth and purchase two tickets for "To Hell and Back".

I offer popcorn and soda and he nods. After standing for a while in line, I finally make myself understood to the vapid young woman behind the register. She doesn't seem to have a long attention span, but since she's eyeing Ray like he's lunch, I can understand her preoccupation even if I don't approve of it.

After our tickets are ripped in half and we're directed to 'number forty-nine', Ray leads the way to the dimly lit room. He brought his glasses, thank God, so we don't have to sit right up front in what is undoubtedly one of the furthest reaches of hell with the large group of teenagers congregating in that area. He sits down and smiles up at me, and once again, I fall in love all over again. I hand him the popcorn and sit down next to him.

He flips up the armrest and stretches out a bit. As his arm brushes mine, my heart pounds. "This is supposed to be an ass-kicking movie, Fraser. Don't worry if you haven't seen the other six, okay? You should be able to follow the plot."

"I'm sure I will, Ray. If I have questions, I'll ask you."

"Good. Can I have a drink?" He leans towards me, poking some greasy popcorn in my mouth. I hand him the soft drink and we sit quietly, waiting for the show to begin.

Three hours later, we leave the cinema, my ears ringing from the final gun battle, Ray talking a mile a minute about the movie. He enjoyed it a great deal, and I? Well, I enjoyed being with him. That's sufficient.

After a nice dinner at Big Al's Steakhouse – again, Ray's choice – he takes me back to the Consulate and we say our goodbyes. This time, as he drives away, he doesn't peel rubber.

I collect Diefenbaker to walk him, and as we walk the streets of Chicago, I think about my first date with Ray Kowalski. I believe it was a success. It certainly feels like it. I will definitely ask him out again.

But Ray surprises me.

Saturday Morning, 10 a.m.

I'm lying on my cot, daydreaming about Ray – as I am very wont to do – and there is a knock at the door. Rising, I go to the door in time to see a young man walking away.

"Yes?" I call. He turns around with a smile.

"Oh hey! I'm looking for Constable Fraser." I try not to wince at the mispronunciation of my name and I nod.

"I'm Constable Fraser."

"Sign here, please?" He thrusts a clipboard at me before turning to go back down to his small van and I sign, reading the florist's logo at the top of the page, wondering what is going on. He brings back a large vase of flowers and I take them, digging in my pocket for a tip.

"No Sir, no tip. Already paid."

"Thank you kindly."

Going back inside, I lock the door, taking the arrangement into my office and putting it on my desk.

Diefenbaker comes over to investigate. He mutters something and I nod. "Quite. I'm not sure, myself."

A small card is attached, so I pull it off and open it. Ray's handwriting.

Okay so don't laugh.
Besides you said you liked lilies so…
anyway, I enjoyed last night. A lot. Thanks.
Would you go out with me tonight? Call me.
Ray

"It's from Ray. He's asked me to go out with him this evening." Diefenbaker grumbles and plops down on the floor, flattening himself like some dead animal. "Now Diefenbaker, that's really not fair. We usually take you with us, you know that." He sighs and rolls his eyes. "Well, I'm sorry you're disappointed. Perhaps we could take you to Mister McHenry's for the evening." Diefenbaker perks up. Mister McHenry is an old neighbour of mine who has a particular fondness for Diefenbaker – perhaps because he cannot hear Dief being a smart aleck. Regardless, there is nothing worse than a sulky wolf, and I do not want Diefenbaker upset. He is my friend, after all.

I pick up the phone and dial Ray's number.

"Yeah?"

"Hello, Ray."

"Hey, Fraser."

"Thank you kindly for the lovely arrangement. It was very thoughtful of you."

"Yeah, that's me, ever thoughtful." Silence for a second, then, "So. You wanna go out with me?"

"Yes, I'd like that very much. When and where?" I smile, wondering where he's going to take me.

"Surprise. I'll be there in ten to pick you up."

"Wait. I thought you said tonight?" I look down at Dief worriedly. Mister McHenry is not home during the day on the weekends, he spends it with friends.

"Are you busy now?" Ray sighs.

"No, not as such, but Diefenbaker –"

"Dief's busy?"

I laugh. "No, he's just upset that we're going out and he can't come along. I offered to let him go visit Mister McHenry, but he's not home right now."

"Hm. Got an idea. Be there in fifteen."

"Yes, Ray."

The connection is broken and as I explain what Ray said to Diefenbaker, I put his harness and snap the lead onto the 'D' ring. We're waiting outside for Ray when he drives up.

"Hey, Dief, Fraser." He smiles at me and says, "Frase, mind waiting out there while I talk to Dief a sec?"

"Not at all." I pull the seat back forward to allow Diefenbaker to get in the back seat and I politely step away from the vehicle to allow them time to discuss whatever plans Ray has in mind.

"Okay, Fraser…" Ray looks out at me and grins. "We got it taken care of. Dief's gonna go visit Frannie."

I slide into the car. "Are you sure Francesca would like visitors?"

"Yes."

He takes off and I close my eyes as he comes perilously close to another vehicle.

When we arrive at the Vecchio residence, Ray takes Dief in and I wait in the car. He comes out, looking happy, and gets in the car. He looks at me for a moment and I wait for him to speak.

Finally, he can't stand it any longer. "So, don't you wanna to know where we're going?"

Hiding my smile I nod. "Yes, Ray. But I thought you'd tell me when you were ready."

Ray rolls his eyes. "Freak. You're supposed to pester me."

"Understood." I smile then.

We sit in silence a moment more and then he jabs me with his finger in my side and I jump.

He grins, looking astonished. "Are you ticklish?"

"I… I'm not sure. No one's ever tickled me."

Ray blinks and then looks away. Finally, his voice rough, he asks, "So you gonna ask or not?"

"Yes, Ray. Might I inquire as to our destination?"

"We're going to an amusement park!" He laughs and starts the car, pulling out in traffic. He turns on the radio, looking for something that I can tolerate, I suppose. "Here. How's this?" Folk music comes from the speakers, and I nod, a scratchy feeling in my throat at his inherent kindness beneath his gruff exterior.

"Thank you, Ray."

He doesn't care for this type of music, usually, and is wiggling all over the seat after an hour, moving to an internal rhythm that only he can hear. Then a song that he knows comes on. Puff, The Magic Dragon. His face splits in a wide grin and we sing together, our voices blending nicely. Before long we're at our destination, and the place looks… busy.

There's a man directing traffic into the large lot that sits to the side of the amusement park and I look around, interested. There's so much activity for a relatively small place. This is not what I was expecting, and I'm pleased. I like people, but I've seen shows of the large amusement parks… they seem to be 'too much', so to speak.

"So what do you think?"

"I've never seen…" I look up at the Ferris Wheel. "Oh my."

"Yeah. C'mon, Fraser." Ray slides out of the car, seemingly still jittery, and we walk, shoulder to shoulder, to the entrance. Ray pays the admittance fee for us, and the pleasant cashier stamps our hands, and we go in. I've never been to an amusement park before, and I stare in wonder at the many rides.

"Wanna ride some rides?" Ray asks casually, looking at me with a slight smile.

"Yes, please."

"All right. Tilt-o-Whirl first." He chuckles and heads towards what I presume is that particular ride. The line is not unduly long and before long we're in the ride and going around and around a great speed. It almost feels like flying. Almost. It's absolutely wonderful.

"Whoa. I must be getting old," Ray chuckles as we leave the ride and head to the next ride.

Two hours later, we're sitting in the shade, drinking sodas and eating corndogs.

"So. You notice anything about the people here?" Ray asks, his eyes on the lake in the middle of the park, taking a bite of his corndog.

"They seem remarkably pleasant."

He laughs a little, finishing up his corndog. "Yeah. They seem to be." He shoots me an amused glance.

"What?" I wonder what he finds amusing.

"Nothing. You ready?"

"Certainly." We dispose of our trash in the appropriate receptacles and he gestures over to a garishly painted building. With a sinking heart, I see "Lake of Love" emblazoned on it, and I wonder if he is teasing me.

But no… Ray's not like that. Yes, he teases me, but not to wound. We get in a boat and head through the swinging doors into the dim, cool interior.

Part of me is relieved. This must be why he wanted to ride this ride – to get cool. Part of me is disappointed. I ignore those feelings, and try to maintain normal conversation with Ray. The old boat creaks along the waterway and I say quietly, "I hope this craft is seaworthy."

"I don't think we're going to go out to sea in it, Fraser," Ray laughs. "Watch out, scary vampire dude." A decidedly fake looking vampire flaps down near us and I shake my head. Ray pokes me with his elbow. "Didn't that scare you?"

"Not hardly, Ray!" I laugh.

He says in a low, intense voice, "You're supposed to say, 'Yeah, Ray, I'm scared… protect me'."

I turn and look at him. "What?" What is he talking about? I don't even see anything else in that ride but him, my eyes fastened on him in the dim light, the way the shadows caress him…

"And then," he says smoothly, "I'd slide my arm around you like this and say, 'I'll protect you. Always.' And I will." His arm is around my waist and I don't know what to do. I shiver at the unexpected touch – the touch I both crave and fear – and I want to run, but I can't. I'm in this damned boat and he's messing with my head. Both of them.

"Ray…" The ride is over; the boat pushes through the doors and Ray smiles at me, removes his arm and climbs out of the boat as an employee holds the bow with a hook. I swallow hard, looking out across the park, trying to regain my composure. When I look up at him, he's holding out his hand to me, purportedly to help me out of the small craft. I take it, and step up onto the 'dock', I guess it would be called, and before I can release his hand, Ray laces our fingers together and heads towards another ride.

Even though the sun is beating down on me, I'm ice cold. I'm afraid.

"Ray. Stop. Please." I pull my hand free, and he looks startled.

"What?" He frowns at me.

I walk over to a mostly deserted spot and he follows, his hands in his pockets. "What?" he repeats, sounding irritated.

"You cannot… you are…"

"What? I can't what? I am what? Straight? Stupid? In love with you?" he gives a derisive laugh. "Bingo! Give the man a cigar."

I look at him and say quietly, "Please, Ray. Don't… don't mock me."

"Mock you?" Ray runs his hand through his hair. "What's that mean?"

"You cannot hold my hand in public," I say calmly, trying to maintain control of the situation. "You are a law enforcement official."

"And you're not?"

"I am not worried about my colleagues' reactions to seeing me holding another man's hand –"

"You damn well better not be holding anyone's hand but mine!" Ray scowls.

I gape at him. Finally, I realise I'm standing there with my mouth hanging open like a moron. "W-wha- what?"

"And so the fuck what if I'm holding your hand? I'll hold your damn hand if I want," Ray says belligerently.

"But Ray –"

"Fraser. Stop. Stop gawking at the rides, and the stuff to do, and look the fuck around!"

I look. And there are several same-sex couples in the general vicinity of where we're standing. "Oh."

"Today is Gay and Lesbian Day, Fraser," Ray says tiredly. "I called up that… that…" he gestures with his hand, looking at the ground, "whatever it's called, that Resource Centre, and asked if there was something fun we could do. Together. Me and you. Without having to worry about freaking you out. They suggested I bring you here. I thought I was doing something you'd like. And I guess you did like it, until I screwed up. I always screw up." He kicks at the soil and then looks up at me, his eyes bleak. "I'm sorry. I didn't… I don't… I thought… it was just all some kind of dating game thing to you, wasn't it? A game." He turns and stomps off and I stand there, staring after him.

Finally my brain engages. "Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray," I call, hurrying after him. Oh dear. Damn it.

"What?" He turns and glares at me. "Okay, you can laugh now, Fraser. Just laugh. Everyone else always has. You… you… God, I'm pissed." He's trembling and I pull him into my arms, hugging him tight.

"Ray. Ray. Not a game, never a game, not with you especially," I murmur in his ear. Slowly, his arms come up and he hugs me back. "I love you, Ray, and could never be cruel to you. Not deliberately." I hear him sniffle a little and he nods, pressing his face against my neck. "I am very obtuse when it comes to relationships, Ray. I've… I've never really had one. I didn't mean to hurt you." Two children run by, shrieking in laughter, two women following behind, holding hands, and I am shaken to my core that he would look for someplace he could be free to touch me as he likes. "I love you, however, and I'm really very tired of the dating game, as you called it."

"You are?" Ray asks, his voice muffled by his face against my skin.

"Yes," I tell him firmly. "I am. I would like something a great deal more permanent."

"With… me?" He pulls away from me then, looking uncertain and my heart aches for him. He has such low self-esteem.

"With you and only you," I whisper, staring at his mouth.

He nods jerkily, staring at my mouth. "Me too. With you. No dating game." Then he leans closer to me.

Our mouths meet awkwardly in our first kiss, but it's still sweet and precious and as long as I live, I'll never forget it. This is what forever is.

He pulls back from me slightly and smiles. "Wow."

"Indeed." I smile back, squeezing him tightly.

"I do, you know," Ray says then, stepping back from me and looking shy. "I do love you."

"I love you too."

"Let's go ride the Ferris Wheel." He takes my hand again and leads me towards the huge circular contraption.

We go up, and over and around several times before Ray speaks again. "I was… um… wondering…" he clears his throat.

"Yes?" I prompt him.

"Would you… move in with me? I'd… be real… I'd like that a lot. I'd like us to… you know, to have a home together." Ray won't look at me, he's staring out over the lake.

"Yes." I don't even hesitate.

He flashes me a quick, grateful look and mutters, "Fuzz Face too. I asked my landlady this morning if it was okay, and she said yeah."

I realise how hard it is for Ray to trust again after he was crushed by his ex-wife's rejection of him, and that makes his asking me to be with him even that much more special. I smile reassuringly at him. "I'm sure that Diefenbaker will be on his best behaviour." I lean closer to him. "And I, too."

He laughs then, and we kiss, his fingers threading through my hair and then, as we break the kiss, I lean my forehead against his and whisper, "You're it for me, Ray Kowalski. I'm going to spend the rest of my life loving you. Don't you ever doubt that."

Ray nods, his eyes fastened on me, and he whispers back, "Me too."

That night, as we lay in each other's arms after making love in his – our – bed, I reflect on the dating game. Despite how pleasant it was, I'm glad it's over.

I'm much happier now.

I trust that he is too.

No more dating game for either of us.


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