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Fic: Black Ice

Fandom: due South

Summary: Soon after the events of Eclipse, Fraser has a bad day.

Rating: Teen for mild language. Could be read as gen or pre-slash.

Thanks to: My dedicated beta readers, Steven and raine_wynd.

Disclaimers: The concepts and characters herein are the property of Alliance. No money is changing hands.

Author’s Notes: My first due South story. Feedback of all kinds will be welcomed with warm cookies and milk.

ETA: Now also available to download as a 6MB podfic.


I woke gasping from a dream that faded too quickly for me to recall. It left me disoriented, tangled up in sweat-soaked blankets on my cot. There were no other signs of illness, but something was wrong. The tiny office, which I had recently adopted as my domicile, seemed even more oppressive than it had the night before. I reminded myself that here in the Consulate I had no neighbors to endanger, and full authority to pursue any offense against place or person. It was possible that these feelings were simply an aftereffect of the bewildering variety of pizza toppings Ray Kowalski had insisted that I sample last night.

Diefenbaker voiced his concern with a whine. I assured him that I was fine, and prepared for our morning run. I found myself distracted, unable to concentrate on the simplest of tasks.

Upon exiting the Consulate, Diefenbaker's urgent yelp was all that prevented me from stepping on a man sleeping on the Consulate steps. In the Territories, to deny a man shelter was to be complicit in his death. Cultural norms as immutable as gravity required we leave structures unlocked, in case any should require refuge from the elements. Not so in Chicago. I woke the homeless man gently, offered the address of a nearby human services organization, and then turned to lock the Consulate doors behind me.

The run went by in an exhausted blur. I found myself resting by a newly transplanted Quercus alba tree. The white oak was held in place with a series of ropes, positioned in the exact center of its square meter of bare earth. The air temperature hovered just above freezing, and the edges of the oak's leaves curled brown. Apparently this early cold snap had caught the landscape developers by surprise. Unless it acclimatized soon, the young tree would not survive the week.

Diefenbaker sniffed the oak, and then cocked his leg to mark it. He gave me a knowing look, mock lunged at my hamstring and raced off. I was reassured by his playfulness. Surely Diefenbaker would show more apprehension, were I truly unwell. I completed the run through pure determination.

I have often speculated that I would be able to adequately perform my Consular duties in my sleep. Apparently it is true. While I cannot recall a single event that occurred that morning, neither Turnbull nor Inspector Thatcher appeared to have noticed anything amiss. I feared what long-term effect my inattention might have on the filing system.

I was scheduled to liaise with "Detective Ray Vecchio" of the Chicago Police Department in the afternoon. I wished that I could simply walk to the station and speak to Ray. The real Ray Vecchio. He had followed the siren call of justice. I was proud of him for it. And yet today I found myself wishing that Ray's sense of duty had led him somewhere other than a dangerous and incommunicado undercover assignment in a distant city.

Ray Kowalski had already proven himself a brave and determined officer. I was certain that he would ably fulfill Ray Vecchio's public role as my partner, but expecting him to play the private part of my friend would be juvenile and rather insulting. As I had told my father, people are not interchangeable like snowmobile parts.

In point of fact, the two Rays were extremely different. I wondered what had possessed his superior officers to substitute a blond detective for a brown-haired one. Even the most unreliable of eyewitnesses tend to recall hair color. The only descriptors more likely to be remembered are race and uniform.

As Lieutenant Welsh had explained it, my regular presence in red serge at Ray's side was considered sufficient confirmation of his identity. I could distract observers from noticing that elegant suits had been replaced by jeans, cool sarcasm by flashing emotions, an Italian family man by a Pole living alone. I was the misdirection in the magic trick, a brightly plumed bird pretending a broken wing to draw predators away from the nest.

I organized a loud and public birthday party for Ray. "Bobbing for Trout" and "Kick the Cabbage" would have been considered odd and gossip-worthy amusements even in the Territories. In Chicago, they guaranteed that word of the funny Mountie's party for Ray Vecchio would spread well beyond the confines of the station house. I had claimed Ray as my partner in front of dozens of witnesses that day. Diefenbaker had been amused. He suggested that urinating on Ray would be a simpler way of marking my territory.

Ray Vecchio would have hated that party. My new partner accepted it. He complained, but that seemed to be Ray's natural response to most situations, and not indicative of any particular rancor. Ray had joined me for dinner on several occasions, confided in me, and accepted the gift that I had cautiously offered him outside the view of any third party. I had planned the dream catcher for Ray Vecchio, true. While weaving it, however, I had been entirely focused on the image of Ray Kowalski, lithe and fierce, throwing himself between me and Greta Garbo's bullet.

Ray Kowalski had hugged me and called us a duet on the day we met. Those actions would seem to have implications beyond the merely professional, but I was well aware that my manner did not invite easy familiarity from my peers. I felt unsure of both his motivations and my own responses. I couldn't discount the possibility that Ray Kowalksi considered these personal overtures to be a part of his undercover duties. If so, was I free to answer in kind, or should I consider him to be under a form of duress?

The room swam around me. I placed my head in my hands, rubbing my temples. I contemplated calling the precinct to cancel for the afternoon, not wishing to put officers of the law at risk with my atypical malaise. However, the new Ray's presence was certainly invigorating, and I hoped that the challenge of police work would help me regain my focus.

The walk to the station was rather nightmarish. The polluted air burned my lungs. Cars honked and tires squealed. Voices were raised in anger. My ability to move courteously through a crowd had deserted me, and I was constantly jostled by others on the sidewalk, like a salmon attempting to swim upstream.

The sound of a siren briefly attracted my attention, like a sparkling object might a raven's eye. Once it would have been my duty to investigate and assist. Not in Chicago. I was outside the boundaries of the 27th district, and officers did not typically welcome a representative of the RCMP at their crime scenes.

The world seemed unreliable, menacing. It was like the reflections on the surface of a still body of water, hiding the reality underneath. I had not felt this displaced since the first months of my exile to Chicago. At least then I had Ray Vecchio, a place of my own, a community of neighbors. I looked away for a moment, took a vacation back in Canada, and returned to find it all gone. Even the Consulate had been relocated in my absence. I was left yearning for the wide-open silences of home.

The 2-7 was its usual swirling chaos of victims, perpetrators, and police. A few sounds pierced the din. A young boy on the edge of hysteria was crying in the women's restroom down the hall. Once I knew every child within my patrol area, by face if not by name. I would have stopped to inquire as to what was wrong, but not here. In Chicago, an unknown male speaking to a child would be highly suspect. I hastened past the restroom. Francesca Vecchio had replaced Elaine as our Civilian Aide, and now held a personal phone conversation in a tone of voice that could carry through a howling blizzard. Lieutenant Welsh bellowed like a rutting walrus in his office.

I remonstrated myself for such unkind thoughts towards my colleagues. Ray was not at his desk, but his coat hung on the back of his chair, a testament to his imminent return. I sat down next to his desk. An aroma of stale cigarette smoke clung to the jacket. Ray must have visited a bar or club last night after our trip to the pizzeria. My Ray wouldn't have done such a thing.

I breathed shallowly through my mouth, queasy. I thought longingly of the austere, echoing halls of the Consulate, which smelled of nothing but floor wax. I could not face walking back through the city streets to get there. Perhaps Ray would be willing to drive me. Diefenbaker trotted off to the break room, turning his hunting instincts to the pursuit of unattended junk food.

The Lieutenant's door opened. Ray came bouncing out, oddly cheerful considering his proximity to the wal … Lieutenant Welsh.

"Hey, buddy!" he said, beaming at me as he approached. "New case, burglary and assault with a deadly weapon." Detective Dewey slunk out the door behind Ray, clarifying the cause of Ray's good mood. He had taken an instant and vociferous dislike to Detective Huey's new partner when they were first introduced.

Ray slapped down a case file on the desk. "We got a witness to interview down at Cook County Hospital. She don't speak much English, but you got the Chinese covered, right?"

I refrained from mentioning that residents of Mainland China speak in six distinct language families, with dozens of dialects. My Mandarin and Cantonese would likely suffice. I nodded.

Ray continued in a much louder voice, "'Cause we wouldn't wanna cause any kinda INCIDENT, right, might make folks think the CPD ain't sensitive to the needs of our IMMIGRANT POPULATION, huh, Dewey?" Detective Dewey collapsed into his chair and pretended not to hear, which was clearly impossible given the decibel level of Ray's commentary. I winced.

Ray squinted at me. "You OK there, Fraser? Kinda quiet."

I felt a weak wave of gratitude that Ray Kowalski already knew me well enough to recognize my distress. "Actually, Ray, I'm not feeling very well today."

Ray rocketed around the desk to place his palm on my forehead. The hand felt warm. A metallic tang and a hint of gun oil were layered over his unique scent. Ray must have visited the firing range this morning. The harrowing clamor of the squad room diminished to a distant buzz. Ray spoke quietly. "Must be the plague or something, for you to actually admit it. Want me to drop you back at the Consulate?"

A few moments ago I wanted nothing more, but Ray clearly needed my assistance in interviewing this witness. "No, translation duties should be sufficiently restful, Ray."

He moved his hand to my shoulder and bent over to look me in the eye. His breath was scented with coffee. I did my best to appear both alert and competent. "Huh, OK then," Ray replied with a skeptical twist to his lips. "But you let me know if you start feelin' worse," he commanded.

I murmured my acquiescence.

Ray grabbed his jacket and strode off. A few meters away he paused and looked back at me, still sitting in the chair. "Pitter patter, Fraser! Cook County, remember?" I pushed myself up to a standing position and followed him out to the silver Intrepid.

I stood holding the rear passenger door open, allowing myself a moment to mourn the passing of Ray's Buick Riviera. That last remnant of Ray Vecchio had been destroyed, fire and flood, on the day I returned to Chicago. Ray eyed me. "Dief's still in the station house, Fraser. Do you want him to come with?"

"Ah … no." Hospital personnel are notoriously reluctant to allow half-wolves in their facility. We got into the car and Ray began to drive. The car was a sanctuary, shutting out some of the noise and smell of the city around us. Ray rattled through the details of the case as the city's many streets and faces flickered by outside the car window. I was unable to focus on the meaning of his words, but Ray's voice washed over me, helping me relax.

I was thrown sideways into the suddenly tight seatbelt as the car skidded wildly across two lanes of a bridge. Ray was an excellent driver, and immediately turned into the skid to control it. The antilock brakes deployed, and the car came to a stop near the guardrail. I breathed deeply to accommodate the adrenaline surging through my system. Ray, of course, had his own way of dealing with the sensation.

"Fucking black ice!" he screeched, slamming both hands onto the steering wheel. "Union fucks shoulda salted this bridge by now!" He unbuckled his seatbelt and turned on the flashers with a grand gesture before grabbing for the radio. "Dispatch? You will not believe this shit!" Ray's furious voice expanded to fill the car. I opened the door and slid out, closing it behind me.

I stood outside the car for a moment, breathing. A faintly visible puff appeared as water vapor condensed in the air. I was surrounded by the sounds of cars whizzing by on the nearby motorway, creeping past us on the bridge. Our vehicle, with its warning flashers on, was already ensuring the safety of other motorists.

Black ice.

I knew a great deal about ice. It was necessary to survival in the Northwest Territories. We named its many forms, useful and treacherous, constantly changing with variations in temperature, wind, pressure, and salinity. I was even familiar with what my mentor Quinn had called its moods.

I had heard of black ice before, but never had an opportunity to examine it myself. It was endemic to locations with paved roads and moderate temperatures, existing at the boundary between autumn and winter. I was raised in a land of extremes. But I could learn about a new type of ice.

I moved to the guardrail and closed my eyes, turning slowly into the wind. There. It held the normal smells of the city, but this wind had come across the lake, from the North. The wind pushed past me, impatient as the other denizens of Chicago.

I plucked a hair from my head and turned my back on the wind. I released the hair and observed its flight path. Once past the bridge it jittered in a turbulent airflow. The wind's rush was matched by another air stream under the bridge, lowering the temperature the requisite two degrees to the freezing point.

Next I walked to the patch of ice. It was transparent and non-reflective, a nearly invisible hazard. I squatted down, sheltered from the traffic by Ray's car, and ran a finger along the surface of the ice. It was smooth and unusually slick, probably as a result of sublimation during the freezing process. I laid my hand flat on the ice and leaned down to apply approximately twenty-five kilograms of pressure. The ice bore my weight without crazing.

Finally I knelt by the roadway and lowered my face to the ice, eyes closed. I felt its cold, damp presence within a few centimeters of the surface. I extended my tongue for a quick swipe. Minute traces of both summer and winter-weight motor oil, but this ice was strangely pure. It must have formed from a low-lying fog. I licked again, learning the flavor of black ice.

The sound of a car door opening interrupted my reverie. I glanced up to see Ray peering at me over the hood of the car. He displayed a theatrical look of horror.

"Gah! Fraser," he exclaimed while stabbing his fingers at the ice patch, "this - this is not a crime scene! There are no clues to be licked!"

I was about explain that taste can be used to classify different types of ice when I noticed the faint laugh lines around Ray's mouth, and the matching glint in his eye. I had become accustomed to Ray Vecchio teasing me about my investigative use of the sense of taste, but somehow had not expected the familiar game from my new partner.

Luckily, my role in this game was not terribly demanding. I nodded seriously. "Understood, Ray." He grinned, placed a police "cherry" on top of the car, and retreated to the warm interior.

I stood up and returned to the guardrail overlooking the city. Ray Vecchio had once compared the sound of passing cars to that of a river. He claimed that it helped him sleep. With a shudder, the ugly alien reflection that Chicago had shown me all day disappeared, revealing the truth beneath. Wind and ice. Flowing rivers of cars. Tall cliffs of office buildings. A landscape built entirely by people, for people, with beauty and dangers all its own. Chicago tasted like motor oil and black ice, wildly bizarre pizza toppings and Ray.

A billboard faced the bridge, advertising a new condominium. "If you lived here," it claimed, "you'd already be home." Patently obvious, and yet it echoed in my mind with the force of revelation. I walked back to the car, to my duties, to my partner. I live here. And I am home.

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Comments

mickeymvt
Sep. 4th, 2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
Very nice. Fraser was very Fraser throughout- detailed and observant and with his formal style of speaking/thinking. His loneliness really shone through, but his acceptance of Chicago at the end was breathtaking.
keerawa
Sep. 4th, 2006 06:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Mickey!

Fraser can't even admit to himself that he's lonely, so it starts showing up as culture shock. I moved from a town too small to have any stoplights to a major city 9 years ago, and tried to use that to understand what Fraser's going through here.

Here, have a gingerbread man with a stetson.
mickeymvt
Sep. 5th, 2006 01:30 pm (UTC)
Mmmm, gingerbread. *munches away*... Thanks!