Written for Pearl-o to the prompt, "What are you hiding?"
The key at the lock was my only warning, and when Ray walked in I was a little late sweeping everything off the table. I felt his lips brush my temple in a kiss of greeting, but as I jumped up I saw his eyes rake the empty countertop. He turned to me, his gaze questioning.
"Hi, Ray." Awkwardly I shoved the papers behind my back.
"Frase." He sounded casual, but his eyes narrowed.
"Did, ah, you have a good day?" My voice was slightly more highly-pitched than normal; it always sounds like that when I am tense. Or prevaricating.
"Fraser." This time there was more intent in Ray's voice. "What you got there, Fraser?"
From across the room, Dief whined. "Shush," I warned.
"Fraser." There was no mistaking Ray's tone now. He moved towards me and I countered around the. . .well, counter, until I was inside his tiny kitchen and he on the other side of the pass-through. "Fraser. What are you hiding?"
"Er -- nothing, Ray."
"What's in your hands?" He took a step to his left, and I countered to his right. "Come on. What's the big secret? You buy me a present?"
A distinctly feral expression appeared on Ray's face, which left him looking like Dief on the hunt. Which wasn't exactly surprising; when Ray's curiosity is roused, he is a wolf, indeed. He will worry a topic as thoroughly as Dief does a bone, until he has nibbled away every last bit of information. I sighed, somewhat theatrically, I fear. "It's just paperwork."
"Well, er, no, not exactly." I scratched at my eyebrow. "That is, not at all, really. Except in a larger, global sense."
"Global. It's global, now. Not work paperwork, though. But, hmmm, police paperwork? Mountie paperwork?"
"No, Ray. Well, not exactly."
"'Not exactly'. . .How big we talkin' here, Fraser? Lake Michigan paperwork? Canadian paperwork?"
"No and no, Ray." Oh dear.
"North American paperwork? US of A paperwork?" he said sarcastically. I didn’t smile back and his grin faded. "Ben?"
When I didn't answer immediately he feinted to the left and then made a grab at the papers I was now crumpling behind me. I avoided his clutches by the narrowest of margins. "Come on, Ben. What's the big deal?" He paled briefly."Are you sick? Your transfer hasn't been moved up, has it--" He stopped, swallowing noisily.
Guilt rose up in me at his obvious distress. The matter of my impending transfer back to Canada was the great elephant in the room we rarely acknowledged.
Ray took a deep breath. I could see he was clearing his mind, regrouping. "No, that's not it, you said it wasn't Mountie stuff. So, what is it, Ben, what are you hiding from me? You got this giant, global, galactic paperwork thing going on and you won't tell me what it is? That's so not buddies, Ben. And it sure as hell isn't. . .isn't. . .whatever it is we are to each other."
He screwed up his face and glowered at me, which was at once appalling and oddly appealing. I dropped my head, ashamed at my behavior, and that's when he made his move. Stepping smoothly to the left, he feinted again and this time got his arms around me, pinning my own behind my back. "Share, Fraser," Ray said softly. "I thought we were going to share."
"We are, Ray, of course we are."
"You love me, Ben?"
Absurdly my eyes began to prickle. Ray has that ability to knock me off my pins and undo my composure with the simplest of actions, the softest of phrases. "Of course I. . ." I dropped my eyes. Even now it's difficult to say these things, though he is unstinting in his generosity of words to me. How horrible it would be, how unimaginable, to lose him, to go back North and never see him again. "All right," I said, capitulating. "Here."
Ray took the papers from my sweaty hands and smoothed them out, then scanned them briefly. "These are. . .what? U.S. Department of. . .naturalization papers? Immigration? What do you—"
The coin dropped in a dramatically obvious way. His face transformed, and he looked up at me, his eyes bright. "You'd immigrate? For me?"
"Well, Ray, I. . ." I didn't want to finish the sentence, and fortunately I didn't have to, because Dief distracted him with a loud sneeze.
"Gesundheit," Ray said absently. The papers fell out of his hands because he was embracing me. "Ben," he said, his eyes moist but serious. "You can't do that. You're too. . .Canadian."
"I'm very adaptive, Ray," I protested.
He laughed -- snorted, really. "No, you're not, Fraser. You're not. Trust me. Besides, it means something to you to be, well, who you are. What you are. You're a Mountie, for chrissakes. You couldn't hack it—"
"I've hacked it rather well for three years," I said stiffly.
"Okay, yeah," he said, his voice gentling, his hand stroking my hair. "But you hate it here."
"You're here, Ray. I don't hate it."
He smiled, and slowly shook his head. "But you don't love it, either. You're homesick all the time. You're happy about the transfer."
"Well, I. . ." Some things must be admitted. "Yes, I am. In a way."
"So," Ray said. "You'll go home."
"No, I wouldn't, Ray, not without—" I stopped myself, but didn't really have to, because Ray was beaming at me.
"I'll go with you, then. Because I don't give a rat's ass about Chicago, Fraser. Not if you're not here. I'll go there. Be a Canadian. What do you say, 'Eh?'"
"Well, yes," I said, not having to think about it at all. Because I had thought of it. I'd thought about it quite a bit. In vivid, damnable detail.
Dief circled our feet. See? he barked, somewhat smugly, I told you it would work!
"Yes, you did, didn't you," I muttered with a shade of bitterness.
Ray was looking at me, with happy, guileless eyes, and I couldn't stand it, I couldn't bear deceiving him this way. I looked away, ashamed.
He tilted my face back to his. "What's wrong?"
"I can't, I can't do it," I said in Diefenbaker's direction.
"Quit talking to him and answer me," Ray said, somewhere between confusion and alarm. "What is it now? What are you hiding from me now?
"I. . .oh dear. I—" I was about to lie to him again, but my heart, or my stomach, or his eyes, wouldn't let me go through with it. "Ray, it's a ruse."
"Yes, a stratagem, contrivance, machination, device—"
"I know what ruse means, Fraser. What kind of ruse?"
"I never intended to apply for naturalization here." The words started babbling out of me, like a creek in spring thaw. "I wanted you to see them. The papers. I thought that maybe, if you thought I'd be willing to stay, you'd be willing to. . .go. It was a terrible thing to do, Ray. I don't know why I did it."
I looked down at my feet. Dief was rolling his eyes, with a scornful expression that said You idiot! It was working and you had to go and ruin it!
"I don't care if it was your idea, Diefenbaker," I admonished him. "I won't lie to Ray any more."
I felt Ray's arms drop away from me. He took a step back and was regarding me with a penetrating stare. "I'm sorry," I finished lamely.
"So. . .this was Dief's idea?"
"Uh-huh." His unvoiced "Freak" was audible, nonetheless. He shifted, turned, looked at Dief, looked at me and took a few steps away from me. "You lied to me, Fraser?
"Yes, Ray, I'm very—"
"To get me to go with you?"
"You want me that much?"
I swallowed. "More than that."
"You made up this whole ruse, this stratagem, this mecha-, macha-, device, and lied to me?"
I nodded, unable to speak in my shame and misery.
"So what," Ray said.