Palm to Palm
by cimorene with naina

It had been some years since I had been in my native country for long enough to necessitate a trip to a shopping mall, as in the smaller towns such as Moosejaw and Inuvik, there were no such places. Now, however, at Ray's insistence, I was braving the Oshawa Centre just outside Toronto with my partner in tow. It had been surprisingly pleasant to experience the American christmas season in the malls of Chicago with Ray's enthusiastic and innocent guidance. I suppose I had assumed the Canadian malls would resemble their American counterparts in all functional aspects, if not in their patrons.

However, I was disabused of that notion soon after leaving behind the dust of the crowded parking lot for the half-lit gloom of the edifice's interior, when Ray stopped me with a light hand, wire-tense, on my sleeve. "Fraser," he muttered at me, uncharacteristically still, which communicated to me an unusual nervousness, "that garbage can just talked to me."

Fraser blinked at me. "Ray, garbage cans don't talk."

I threw up my hands. "I know that. But that one," I gestured to the can by the mall entrance, "just muttered something at me. I swear."

Fraser took off the Stetson, holding it neatly at his side as he turned to the can in question. "This one?" He strode over the the metal container.

I approached the can in question with some cautiousness, as I wasn't sure what to tell Ray. While I have learned to trust Ray implicitly over the years, and indeed, that has not been an easy lesson to learn--well, I am well acquainted with the methods of communication of varied things, including, among others, canines, felines, and the deceased. I have never had a conversation, however, with an object which was never animate such as this trash can, which was clearly made of plastic as opposed to latex, and thus not derived from any flora (other than the long-fossilized ones involved in the history of petroleum).

"Ray," I said--I could sense him hovering nervously at my side--"the trashcan--"

It interrupted me. "Thank you."

I jerked in surprise, and jabbed Fraser in the side. "See? Told you." I sounded like a little kid, but damn if this wasn't one of those times where my instinct won out over his logic.

Even if it was something as weird as talking trash cans.

Fraser looked sort of pissed that the can had interrupted him, though. I started hoping he wouldn't go into a full-blown lecture at it, complete with Inuit stories.

"Were you speaking to my-" Fraser cut his eyes at me for a second - "-friend and I, just this moment?"

There was no response from the unit. Evidently it was not programmed entirely with artificial intelligence after all. Not surprising, upon reflection.

"It's not answering you, Frase," Ray cackled, "are you going to let it get away with that?" My swift sideways glance revealed his face so alight and alive that whatever response had been rising fell back. I cleared my throat: "It's probably a simple motion-detector, Ray."

I waved my hand in front of the flap, printed in slightly off-center white letters "Oshawa Centre--We Like It," and, predictably, was greeted with "Thanks for not littering," in a recorded human voice rendered curiously mechanical. The tone of the recorded voice immediately struck me as inappropriate for a waste receptacle in such a public place. Courtesy only takes an extra moment. In this case, not even that. It should have been no problem to record a more pleasant sound byte, one that didn't sound so--bored.

Only in Canada. "Even the garbage cans are polite," I snorted, and waved my hand at it like Fraser'd done, only I must've missed the motion sensor or caught it at a bad time or something, 'cause it didn't make any noise that time. Fraser blinked, only I couldn't tell if it was at me or at the trashcan.

"Actually, Ray," he said earnestly, --don't tell me Fraser's seen talking garbage cans before, and I know the Inuit don't have 'em-- "I was just thinking the courtesy of the trash can left something to be desired."

I waved in front of the trashcan again. "Fraser. Let's just get something straight here, totally on the up-and-up, pathways clear, no whatsit--wires crossed, so we understand each other."

He cocked his head and one eyebrow at once, and damned if I didn't lose the thread of what I was gonna say. "We're talking about a garbage can here." From which there was still nothing, by the way, and when I waved at it again-- hello there, little buddy, yeah, you-- it was just as stubbornly silent as before.

"A talking garbage can, Ray."

"Yes, Fraser. A talking one. But it's not like it's alive. Because garbage cans can't be alive. This garbage can, for that matter, is so ugly its Momma would kill it if it even thought about being alive--"

"Ray, I hardly think--"

I had to raise my voice a little. No problem. I'm used to dealing with Fraser. Wouldn't have it any other way. "--And this garbage can is not capable of being incourteous. For that matter, it said thank you, even if it didn't say KINDLY, which I think for a garbage can is pretty damned good." And now it was really starting to get on my nerves that it wasn't making any noise. "Yeah, hello there," I said, pushing closer to it, past Fraser, and pushing the flap open to let out a whiff of garbage smell. "Aren't you supposed to be talking like now?"

"Shop with us again," said the garbage can sullenly.

Ray blinked, disconcerted, no doubt, by the trash can's responses--which were getting less courteous. I hesitated to try again. "Perhaps this unit is defective," I decided. Dief, who had rejoined us from an errand inspecting the window of a lingerie shop, snorted in doubt.

"The, yeah, whattya call it. Motion detective."

"Motion detector."

"That's it. Yeah."

I nodded. Ray nodded, looking speculatively from me to the garbage can. I met his gaze--his blue eyes were narrowed a little, one hand on his hip, lost in thought of what I cannot imagine. His slender, sleek body, even in the bulk of sweater and a gaping leather jacket, fell into strikingly elegant lines everywhere, the drape of his bent arm, the line of his jaw, the carriage of his back and hips when he turned. I still felt the faint impression of his hand on my arm through my sleeve. "So," I coughed, glancing down and scratching my eyebrow when the intensity of his gaze became too much, "shall we--?"

Shaking himself visibly, Ray said, "Yeah, yeah, come on." And brightened even more visibly, like a shutter had been removed from a lamp inside him, and he grinned up at me and grabbed my elbow, mission remembered. "Frase," he said, "by the end of today, you are going to have uttered an insult."

"That's highly unlikely, Ray," I said, but I couldn't keep from smiling a little.

"No no, and what's more, by the end of this vacation, you are gonna curse. And Huey is gonna cough up my twenty bucks."

Besides being faintly vulgar, it was an unwise wager to have made. Ray has never heard me curse. I believe he is under the impression that I never have. "That will be quite an accomplishment, if you manage it," I said doubtfully.

Ray cackled again. "Trust me, Fraser, I am going to. I have this managed down pat. It is nailed. It is going nowhere. You know why?" He turned to grin smugly over his shoulder. I had just decided that the question was not, in fact, rhetorical and opened my mouth to produce an appropriate response when he finished triumphantly, "Because we are going to start small," and poked me in the chest.

Fraser let me drag him in and out of an electronics shop and one of those cheap little crap joints that sell clothes for about $2 that tear if you look at them. Although of course, in Canada, it's $4 Canadian, because God knows why but they buy things with their play money instead of using it for toilet paper. So anyway, I took Fraser in there, and a record shop, yeah, and mmm, I could spend hours in there, but I knew Frase was gettin' antsy after a while, so it was time for the Department Store of Doom. Even Dief turned up his nose a little at the brass letters in the floor.

"Ray," said Fraser, on the escalator. "If I may inquire...?"

I was enjoying myself too much to take his bait. Let him squirm a little first. "Yes, Fraser. Inquire ahead. Knock yourself out. I gotcha."

"Why are we here?"

"Why are we all here," said a teenager in a ratty blue and yellow uniform with neon pink hair. Which I ignored, except I thought about saying "cool hair."

"Fraser," I said, putting one of my hands on his straight red shoulder, "you have no idea how happy I am that you asked that question."

"I may have an inkling," he said, with would've looked like a straight face if you don't know Fraser, which I do. Gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, you know?

"Fraser, we are in the mall."

"Yes, Ray."

"Look around, and what do you see?"

Fraser was not going to commit too soon to any one Inuit story when he didn't know where I was going yet. "Well, many things. Immediately to your left, for instance, is a glass display case containing a number of mannequins."

"Yes," I grinned, "and if you could see right through to the other side of that glass case, you would see a little old lady at the returns desk trying to get her money back for a dirty bra she wore for five years, or a guy shoving a pregnant lady out of the way so he can have a better look at a spankin' new gas grill."

Fraser blinked confusedly, and I barrelled right on before he got a chance to fail to see anything.

"Assholes, Fraser," I said proudly. "What is the mall full of? Assholes."

He didn't even contradict that, or challenge my language. "And so…" he said cautiously. Oh yes, Fraser was floundering already, and I hadn't even brought out my secret weapon (the book). He was mine. When you're winning, why lose the lead?

"And SO, my friend," I said forcefully, "I have something that I want to show you. Did I ask you?" I said sharply to Dief, and pulled it out of my pocket. He harrumphed; I dangled the book before Fraser's nose; Fraser looked at it like he was wondering what it tasted like.

The thought of that kinda turned me on, but he didn't lick it. "Shakespeare's Insults," he read from the cover. "Educating Your Wit. This is yours, Ray?"

"Got it just for you," I said, fanning the pages in front of his face. "Ah, smell that? Insults I can't pronounce!"

After a trip through the lingerie department of Zeller's ("Huh. I guess in Canada they even stock small sizes. ...What? Stella used to complain about that.") and a time of wandering in the wilderness of the appliance and electronics departments at Sears ("Look at him, Fraser. I bet he's lying to that customer right now. See his hands behind his back like that? Salesmen!"), I appropriated the book from Ray and began leafing through it.

"I'm hungry," Ray said, "and I bet Dief here could do with a donut too." Dief whined.

"You had a perfectly good breakfast, and that's only counting what I gave you," I said sharply.

Dief refused to divulge whether Ray had given him anything else to eat, though. "Fraser, you're outvoted." He squinted across a fountain and some bedraggled greenery. "Druxy's Deli, here we come."

"At least they might not have donuts," I said hopefully, and with my attention focused on Ray, walked rather near another animated garbage can, which boomed, "Dispose of waste safely!"

I blinked at it. No words of courtesy at all. Ray seemed to share my sentiments, because he stopped and leaned around me to make a rude gesture at it. "You crusty botch of nature!" He said, with perfect pronunciation. Then, more casually, looking over his shoulder: "Okay, Frase?" I had been staring.

"Fine, Ray."

So after the Impatient Food Store Employees and The Cutting In Line Lady and the Screaming Kids, I figured it was time to vary the scenery a little. "Sears again, Ray?" Fraser said, turning a page. I looked up in time to catch him smothering a smile real fast. Oh yeah.

"Frase," I said, jabbing at him with one finger. "Are you complaining? We are on a mission, here. We are in hot pursuit of justice. We are breathing down its fuckin' neck. We are going to Sears because that's where the path of your--"

"Enlightenment?" Dief whuffed.

"--self-discovery leads you next, and YOU," with a glare at Fraser's blue-blue eyes "are not going to complain, and YOU" I looked at Dief "just had one more donut than Fraser wanted you to have, so you can stop being such a smartass for a while." Another whine.

"Feet," Fraser said with dignity, "are made for walking. Besides which, I highly doubt the groundcoverings you would encounter in the wild would be more comfortable to walk on than this tile." Which Dief's claws were click-click-clicking on, a nice pitter-patter in the background that made you want to dance after a while.

And then you walked past one of those damned trashcans, and it said, "You're helping conserve natural resources!" like maybe it didn't want you to, and you jumped a foot in the air.

Or if you were Fraser, you stopped and said to it, "A little courtesy would not go amiss."


"Try the book, Frase," I said. Myself I was thinking piss off, but we were making baby steps, here.

Fraser cracked his neck, thinking, then gave himself a little shake and took a breath and said, "I abhor this dilatory sloth." Sounded like a pronouncement and not an insult, but I was pretty sure it was Shakespeare and not real Fraser.

Dief barked.

"Yes, we'll try again," Fraser said smoothly, and looked around for a piece of trash. He probably would'a gone picking through the flowerbeds if I hadn't handed him a crumpled slip of paper. He tipped the Stetson on his head and stepped forward to neatly push the paper through the little flap.

Now the trashcan sounded better, not too enthusiastic, but not like it would rather be doing anything than holding trash and talking to us. "Thank you kindly," it said.

Fraser beamed.

Ray explained to me that he wanted to "infiltrate" the Sears customers waiting for service at the Customer Care desk, where the line was long. A toddler and a teenager loitered listlessly with a cart nearby. A little boy dropped a yo-yo; it rolled under some shelves and he scrabbled on bare cement floor to reach it. I winced. The cleanliness of the floor was, I thought, dubious at best, but his mother, a young woman with flushed cheeks and frizzy hair escaping a faded plastic clip, was in no frame of mind do say anything to him.

"I know it's not Craftsman," a man was saying at the desk. "I'm not talking about the Craftsman guarantee. But I bought it here and--"

"So," said Ray with commendable savoir faire to the middle-aged woman next to him. "How long you been waiting?"

The woman rolled her eyes and nudged a cardboard box with her toe. "Longer than it would have taken me to drive into Toronto and have the damn thing fixed there."

"Pardon me," I interjected, "but this way, you'll save money by getting a refund, won't you?"

"That was the idea," she said.

"I'm going to need to see a receipt," the manager was saying at the desk.

"She took it," the man said, indicating the desk clerk, who professed innocence.

His complaint was still unresolved when we left the line nearly fifteen minutes later, and I could breathe a sigh of relief on the way to the automotive department. "No man's pie is freed from Sears's ambitious finger," Ray said, slanting me a look that prolonged exposure to Shakespeare turned "sly and knowing" in my fever'd brain.

"Henry VIII," I said with perhaps less than total presence of mind.

The automotive department lay in another building, which necessitated a short walk across the parking lot. When we stepped outside, the trashcan by the door said in the general vicinity of my elbow, "Thank you. Every little bit helps."

Ray retorted swiftly, "More of your conversation would infect my brain," and dragged me away with a hand on my elbow that could not have been intended protectively. Ray was merely impatient, which, as I well knew, was fully in keeping with his character.

Dief was laughing, I knew. Of course, there was nothing to do but ignore that.

After my hours spent in the mall, I was barely surprised to see a thin girl wearing heavy makeup and very little clothing lounging on one of the sinister trash cans outside the door of the new building. "Hey," she said with a jerk of her chin. Ray stiffened. I nodded cautiously. Dief waved his tail, a subtle reminder of boredom.

A thin white hand lifted to brush lank and oily strands of pale blonde hair away from her thin face, and the child deliberately made eye contact with me. She could not have been more than twelve or fourteen. "Want a blowjob?" she inquired casually, in the way Elaine might make the same inquiry about coffee.

I walked past swiftly, before Ray could have a chance to explode into profanity. "My partner and I are otherwise occupied," I said without making eye contact, and dragged him through the glass door, which closed on the garbage can's interjection of "Every little bit helps!"

"So Fraser," Ray said tightly, "Now we've got the trash cans sayin' 'thank you kindly,' it's just a short step to something else, huh? Say, 'back the fuck off'?"

I opened my mouth to say, "It's possible, Ray." What came out, I'm afraid, was more a mutter along the lines of "Sell when you can; you are not for all markets."

Ray's hand on my arm, this time, was much more insistent. I stopped and gazed at him inquiringly, only to have my gaze trapped by his, wide and sparkling with delight. It was not a new expression to me; I believe I am acquainted with every one of the many faces Ray makes, or nearly. Still, when he breathed, "Fraser, I think you're an easy date," I could no more answer than if he'd said one of the things my imagination so readily supplied ("Fraser, fuck it, I'm going to kiss you").

All I could say was that I should've tried Shakespeare on Fraser a long long time ago, to loosen him up, get him off-balance a little, even if this wasn't going where I hoped it was going. We weren't thinking about that, oh no. But I couldn't help smile when Fraser dropped his Super Mountie act enough to snark at the skanky little girl, even if she couldn't hear him anymore. I couldn't believe it. "I think you're an easy date," I told him, grinning so hard it felt like my face would break, only I'm sorta used to that from being around Fraser so much anyway. And my Super Mountie didn't say anything at all. He looked more like a Super Deer In the Headlights, and I was pretty damned sure the Prostitot didn't do that to him. He hadn't even been mentally on-duty enough to try to talk her out of a life of crime.

"Gimme the book, Frase," I said. Where was the quote, where was it...? I knew it wasn't in one of the real famous plays or anything. It was probably from the back of the book.

"It's almost like that last trashcan was talking to us," I added conversationally, flipping past Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. "I mean, Miss Skank was already on it, and sure she wasn't moving, but you weren't even as close to it as I was to the one that wouldn't talk before." Odors, impolite sounds, oiliness. Ah-ha! I said with triumph, "She's the kitchen wench, and all grease, and I know not what use to put her to but to make a lamp of her, and run from her by her own light!" If I was hoping for, oh, a response, I was out of luck. Lucky for me, I am used to Fraser, who was still on what I'd said before, about the garbage cans.

"Ray," Frase started. And stopped. Which I knew even before Dief barked at me, thank you very much. His eyes were focused and you could just see the shiny little wheels turning and turning in his perfect head. Then we were off, and boy, hang on to your hat, your sunglasses and your dentures, because I didn't think we were going to be stopping anywhere to collect $240-someshit Canadian dollars until we got where Fraser was going.

Which turned out to be the first trashcan inside the door of the mall. I almost fell over skidding to a stop. Well, if it had been a cartoon I would. I raised my eyebrows at Fraser. "Are we chasing a criminal, Frase?"

"I don't know, Ray," he said calmly, "but I believe the garbage can can tell us."

Just like that, I kid you not. Fraser has a knack for this. I don't know, Ray, but I believe the garbage can can tell us. --I thought your father was dead, Frase. --He is. However, he maintains an office space in my closet. --Office space? --Strictly speaking, a cabin, Ray. With Fraser you're always waiting for the punchline, like at the end of the movie, finding out you've been dead all along, or that Dief is really possessed or something, and that's why after three years you start talking to him. If it's even Dief, the difference, I mean. Sometimes I think it's Fraser.

Fraser put his hand next to the trashcan. "Thank you for shopping with us!" It said with the most enthusiasm we'd heard all day from anything, plastic or otherwise. I did a double-take.

Fraser doffed the Stetson. "Thank you kindly." On to the next can.

After one or two more I started to get it, actually, that is if I didn't get it all along, because suddenly one of them goes "Cleanliness only takes an extra moment," like we left something really gross on the floor.

"Bite me," I said, and Fraser made a shushing motion and we turned around. Huh? Oh.

When he explained it, "Wrong way," I'd already figured that out.

At the next one it was "Thank you for not littering" and at the one after that it was "Come see us again sometime." The one after that was "Oshawa Centre--we like it." The first one that didn't talk as soon as we came in five feet of it I knew we'd hit the jackpot. Fraser tapped the lid and it said, "Thank you."

Just "thank you." That was it. Maybe not the jackpot after all then, I thought, and closed Shakespeare's Insults with a snap. But Fraser wasn't going anywhere. He waved in front of the garbage can again, and for the first time all day we got the same thing two tries in a row. Fraser didn't even have to say anything. Dief was snuffling all around the can, the sides and the floor around it and a lot closer than I'd want to get to it. Fraser crouched down too, and just thank God he didn't lick it.

I leaned over, a little, to see if I could see what Fraser was looking at. A little too close--a whiff of the clean, guy-musty smell of Fraser-hair found its way to my nose along with the slightly increased stink of garbage, and the trash can said urgently, "Please come again." I thought that was a very interesting choice of words indeed considering.

"Fraser, only you would turn a Piss-Fraser-Off-Trip into a holy quest for the sacred paper cup..." or used condom, hell, but we were SO not going there "...of Canada."

Fraser glanced up at me, with a little piece of hair falling down over his raised eyebrows. He didn't brush it away. Crouched next to him with a talking garbage can and a talking wolf in a Canadian mall, quoting Shakespeare all day. I wanted to kiss him. Our eyes were level. "I'm sorry, Ray," he said.

I grinned. "Do I sound like I'm complaining?" And that got me one of the smiles I was looking for. Twenty bucks (American), kiss my ass.

"I apologize," he said, and I rolled my eyes.

"Fraser. Do not apolog--" I said, and a weak little squeaking sound interrupted me. "Wait. What was that?"

Dief whined and scratched the bottom of the garbage can. "I believe you're right," said Fraser thoughtfully. He took the lid of the trashcan and handed it to me, and because it was Fraser, instead of wasting my time asking whether he was in his right mind, I just held it, on the floor, balanced with my knees apart and looking up at Super Mountie Ass in Levi's jeans. He peered into the trashcan for a moment, bent over a little--yeah, hello--and stood up straight with something in his hand. "That's it," he said, and knelt carefully to the floor behind me.

The kitten in his hand--if it was actually a kitten, and not a spiky gray dustball with eyes--complained loudly about the sudden movement. Her little pink mouth opened bigger than her whole head looked when it was closed.

"Yeah, well," I replied, taking her out of Fraser's hand so he could put the lid back on the garbage can. "It hasn't been the greatest day for anybody, but it sure has been interesting." Dief's head was over my shoulder now, and he was sniffing the kitten solemnly and very carefully. His nose was bigger than all four little kitten-paws put together. Weirdly enough, she didn't really seem to mind.

Now we were done with the trashcan--"Thank you kindly," it purred when Fraser put the lid back--but we weren't done if I had anything to say about it. And Fraser, joy of joys, was hunkering back down on the floor with me.

"Certainly an odd day," Fraser said, looking at the kitten. And then he looked at me. "But it seems to be looking up."

And then Ray glanced down at the kitten, his soft lips curving in a smile I fancied not entirely like any I'd ever seen. When I kissed him, he didn't seem at all surprised, didn't grab me, push me away or pull me close. His mouth curved and parted against mine with a satisfied sigh, the kitten still cupped in his hands between us. I leaned forward and our knees brushed on the tile. I could still taste powdered sugar on Ray's tongue from the donuts after lunch, and I thought I could taste a hint of the way Ray smelled. Our noses bumped a little, not painfully, and Ray gave a little hiccoughing gasp of laughter into my open mouth. I may have made a small sound--certainly not a moan, but a soft hum, perhaps--which caused Ray to whisper, "Shhhhhhh."

I could feel his cheek against my eyelashes.

When we stopped kissing, the kitten was like a talisman between us, peering over the edges of two pairs of hands, mine wrapped tightly around Ray's elegant long fingers. I could feel the rumble of her chest and the thrum of her little heart through the back of Ray's hand cradled against my palm. My thumb tracing a path over the backs of his knuckles was an uncertain glory. I flexed my fingers in minute wonder and felt skin on every inch of skin, and Ray's pulse and mine tangling with the kitten's. My grip tightened almost involuntarily. As Ray had said, an odd day from the beginning until the end--the mystery, Ray's wager and the book. Hours of Shakespeare had gone to my head, filtered back out through my fingertips in little icy kisses of flame. I could feel them sweep up my wrists and my back over my scalp, prickling in a strange kind of arousal.

"For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, and palm--"

His voice was rough, uneven. He unearthed the words as he spoke them, "Palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss," like a spell he was casting over me, or a net.

For a moment it was illogically difficult to make myself look at him. I was holding my breath. "Is this it, Frase?" He said softly. "Huh?"

"I presume we're no longer speaking of the kitten," I smiled.

"Juliet," Ray said. "No. We're not."

No, and I had known that. "I believe it may be, Ray." Though, really--and I amended what I had said. "I believe it is."

He cleared his throat, but didn't drop his gaze. "Yeah." One of his hands turned, and as our fingers tangled, Juliet swiped at our crossed thumbs with a tiny sandpaper tongue. "Yeah."

The Oshawa Centre is a real mall, although it doesn't have a slogan as cool as "We Like It." My partners Holls and Sally spend most of their time there, so you're getting some realism mixed in with the magical-. ;) Thanks to them. Naina (with help from Creatch) is my due South dealer, and Avery gave me Shakespeare's Insults. The rest is history.

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