Return Policy
by lamardeuse

Rated:  PG-13

Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski

Warnings (highlight to view):  nothing to warn for

due South Flashfiction challenge: keys

Fraser didn't exactly know why he'd held onto it for so long. It wasn't as though he was going to need it, for either practical purposes or for a sentimental reminder of their time together. No, the memories of his partnership with Ray Kowalski were etched on his brain, unlikely to be erased by time or distance.

But when he held the small object out to Ray as they stood together at the Yellowknife airport, the other man looked at it as though Fraser were offering him a decomposing lemming carcass.

"It's your apartment key, Ray," Fraser said helpfully.

Ray stared at his palm for another few seconds, then looked away. His eyes scanned left and right, surveying the tarmac through the expanse of floor to ceiling plate glass. "Keep it."

"But I'll hardly have an occasion to use it--"

"Yeah, well, what the fuck am I going to do with two apartment keys?" Ray snapped, his tone uncharacteristically harsh.

Now it was Fraser's turn to stare. Since Ray's back was half-turned, he settled on the patch of Ray's skin where his neck joined his left shoulder. It occurred to him that he hadn't seen that particular part of him in over two months, buried as it had been under long underwear and parkas. "I--suppose you could give it to your next partner," he ventured, cautious in the face of Ray's unexpected outburst.

There was a tense moment, and then Ray's long-fingered hand went up to massage that exact juncture, as though he'd felt Fraser's gaze there. "No."

Fraser frowned, confused. "No?"

"Never gave it to anyone before, why should I--" He blew out a breath, then hoisted his duffel bag onto his shoulder. "Look, throw it in the garbage, throw it in a snowbank, okay? I don't need it." His voice dropped to a near-whisper. "I don't need any of it."

"Ray--" he began, but was cut off by an unseen woman announcing Ray's flight over the intercom.

Their goodbyes after that were strained, and fifteen minutes later, Fraser was left standing in the near-empty airport terminal with a strange pain in his hand, which was clenched into a fist at his side. Opening it, he saw that the key had cut into his palm, and the blood was beginning to spread, following the lines studied by fortune tellers.

Head. Heart.


Fraser reached into his pocket and absently stanched the flow with a handkerchief before he started to drip on the linoleum, while he thought about Ray's skin, milk-pale and vulnerable.


Fuck. Shit. Damn. Piss. Hell.

Ray fumbled for the key to his apartment as he let his duffel bag slide off his shoulder. Okay, okay, so heading straight to Phoenix instead of giving himself a few days' decompression time in Chi-town had been a major tactical error. He'd needed solar energy, dammit, and Chicago in March wasn't on speaking terms with the sun, so he'd thought, perfect, right?

Wrong. His mother read him like a cheap Harlequin the second he stepped off the plane, and at the end of the week screwed up her courage and her face and came right out and asked him if he was gay, because if he was it would be all right, she'd talk to Dad, and--

"Mom," he said, "I don't take it up the ass."

Not yet, he thought about adding, but considering she burst into tears at that last crack, he figured it wasn't too smart to keep talking.

Smooth move, Stanley.

Vecchio's voice. Now that was perfect.

One expensive dinner and two dozen guilty roses later, his mother started speaking to him again, and even hugged him at the airport, but he still felt like forty pounds of shit in a five-pound bag, and he was looking forward to going back to work about as much as he would look forward to having his nuts crushed by a sledgehammer.

Work without Fraser.

Life without Fraser.

Sucked. Barked. Blew chunks.

"Fuck!" he yelled, not caring whether old lady Sullivan next door heard him or not. He'd tried every pocket, every nook, every cranny, no key. The only possibility now was his duffel bag. He picked it up, getting ready to upend it--

--when the door opened by itself.

Ray's heart, which had already been going sixty in a forty zone, zoomed over the red line. Had somebody broken in? And here he was without his piece; he'd left it at the station for safekeeping when he and Fraser decided to go on their adventure.

"Anybody there?" he called out, while his eyes raked over the darkened interior and his ears strained, trying to pick up any signs of movement.

He took a step forward, and then he was almost blinded when the hall light came on suddenly, right in his face. Ray shaded his smarting eyes with his hand, blinking rapidly, trying to get them to adjust.

"Hello, Ray."

Ray blinked one more time, and suddenly everything came into focus, like he was holding one of those cheap telescopes kids used to look at the Man In the Moon.

"Welcome home," Fraser said softly.


Fraser held up a hand, and something metal flashed in the light. "It occurred to me that you might need your key."

Ray frowned. "I told you to keep it."

"Yes, that's right. You told me to keep this one." Another hand, another flash of metal.

Ray blinked.

"But this one--" he wagged the first hand "--was left on the dresser of Room 308 at the airport hotel in Yellowknife. Since they knew we had checked in at the same time, they called me to let me know it had been found by the maid." He brought the two keys together and held them up so Ray could see them pressed against one another, teeth lined up nicer than an Osmond's. "As this one matched my copy perfectly, I deduced you had accidentally left behind your own apartment key."

"Let me get this straight," Ray said. He felt like he'd just fallen into a tub of molasses, and all his reflexes were working at half speed. But somewhere, down near the bottom, there was something buried under all that junk. "You flew in from Yellowknife to give me back my key?"

Fraser cleared his throat. "Well, in a manner of speaking...yes."

Ray closed the door behind him, then turned back to Fraser. He cocked his head, then took a step forward. "My landlady could have let me in."

Fraser nodded, quick and jerky. Obviously he was not in the molasses tub. "Yes, that's quite true."

Ray raised an eyebrow, took another step. "You could have mailed me the key."

"Also correct," Fraser admitted. His hands dropped to his sides, and Ray heard the clink of metal hitting the hardwood floor. Fraser looked down, made a move for the dropped key, then stopped and looked back up at Ray.

His face was getting red.

Ray's mouth twitched as he fought back a smile. Another step. He could smell him now, clean and fresh like the tundra after a crisp, cold night. "Couriered it, even. They got FedEx in Yellowknife, right?"

"Yes, but, ah--" He cut himself off when Ray closed the final distance and brushed up against him, then stayed. Pressed.


He cocked his head toward the hand that still held a key. "That one mine?" he asked.

Fraser stared at him. Blinked.

Then pushed him backward until Ray's back slammed into the wall and his whole body was plastered up against every corresponding inch of Fraser's.


"No," Fraser whispered, so close the breath tickled Ray's lips. "It's mine."


September 2003

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