Feedback: Please do send feedback! Journeyds@yahoo.com
Acknowledgements: Thanks must go out to Denise Raymond, Kellie Matthews and AuKestrel for beta. I’m the luckiest writer around to have such a talented arsenal of betas. Many, many thanks, ladies.
Also particular thanks to Kellie who was a delightful companion while I wrote this and spent hours with me on AIM sharing bits of our stories back and forth. Not only was this sharing enjoyable, it was also extremely encouraging and inspirational. The fact that she wrote and finished five stories in the same amount of time it took me to finish this one story simply meant that I had lots of bits of pieces to read while she just kept getting pieces of this one. Thanks, Kellie, for coming back to the ‘same old, same old’ and still being interested.
He stood silently in the crowd, waiting for the passengers to disembark. Automatically, he had assumed parade rest, legs apart, hands behind his back. He had received some second glances but the absence of his Stetson seemed to have made it easier for those who looked twice to then dismiss him from their thoughts. So he waited, alone, for Ray to arrive.
No one in the airport would have guessed it, but his stomach was tied in knots composed of anticipation, fear and some other emotion he would not name. None of that showed in his outward demeanor. He’d made quite sure. He’d had a lifetime of practice concealing his inner self, and in the past year he’d gotten so good at it there were times when even he was unable to tell what he was feeling.
Since their adventure had ended and Ray had returned home, Fraser had resettled himself at a new detachment in a small town in the Northwest Territories. He had missed Ray dreadfully, and, while he enjoyed their letters and occasional e-mail, the past year had grown very long and tedious waiting until a visit could be arranged. The construction of Fraser’s new home provided Fraser with a welcome opportunity. Upon hearing that Fraser planned to build it himself, Ray immediately offered to come up and help.
Although the adventure had used up all of Ray’s accumulated leave, Ray had steadily earned two days a month for another vacation over the past year of work. With Lieutenant Welsh’s approval, Ray had taken three weeks to come to Canada and help Fraser.
Thankfully, Labor Day did not count against Ray, nor did the weekends, so Ray needed to use only fourteen of his accumulated twenty-four days.
Fraser could only hope some of the remaining ten would also be used to visit Canada.
The waiting crowd began to shift: the first few passengers were entering the airport. To a man, their faces were ashy, gray and drawn. Ah. A difficult trip, then. That was unfortunate. As Fraser had cause to remember, Ray was not a particularly good flyer under the best of circumstances. The fact that Fraser had had to practically push a parachute-less Ray out of the last plane they’d been on together probably had not escaped Ray’s memory either.
Fraser bit his lip. Anxiety made his stomach churn. Where was he?
Finally, Ray appeared. His face was as haggard as any of the faces that had preceded him. His eyes appeared glassy. Oh dear, thought Fraser as he hurried forward.
Ray turned to meet him. “Fraser! Thank God.” Stumbling forward on wobbly legs he clutched at Fraser’s shoulders. “Fraser. Get me off this plane. You’ve got to get me on the ground, buddy.”
“You’re on the ground, Ray.” Despite Ray’s condition, Fraser couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face. “It’s all right. Really.”
Ray looked around at the jetway behind him. “Yeah, okay, but we’re too close. Get me out of here. That plane could attack at anytime, I’m telling you.” He slid one arm around Fraser’s shoulder and leaned on him heavily.
“I seriously doubt that Ray.” Fraser was conscious of an unfamiliar emotion flooding through him. It made him wrap his arm around Ray’s waist to steer him away from the gate. “But as you say, we’ll be on our way immediately. Do you have any bags?”
“Yeah, if they got this far,” Ray muttered fatalistically.
“Very well, baggage claim is this way. Is this yours?” Fraser pointed at the knapsack at Ray’s feet. At Ray’s nod, he slung it up onto his free shoulder and escorted his partner away from the sky and back to solid ground. “Was it a difficult trip, then?” he ventured as they made their way down the concourse.
Ray turned and attempted to look Fraser in the eye. He appeared to be having some difficulty focusing. “Oh, yeah. We hit some...what do you call it...turbulence as soon as we took off. We never got past it. It was like driving for two hours on a road with speed bumps. Bang, bang, bang!” He faced forward again. “They ran out of barf bags.”
“I’m extremely sorry to hear that.”
“So were the flight attendants.”
They passed a restroom. “Do you need to...” Fraser tilted his head meaningfully toward the men’s room.
“What?” Ray just looked at him then moved enough to see what Fraser might be referring to. “Oh. No, I’m good.”
“It’s a long drive...”Fraser hinted.
“No, Dad, I don’t hafta go potty. Geez, Fraser.” Ray went to slide his arm off Fraser’s shoulder, but Fraser refused to let go of his hold on Ray’s waist and simply turned them back down the concourse toward baggage claim and started walking again. Ray hesitated a moment, but then put his arm back.
By baggage claim, Ray was leaning heavily on Fraser and his feet were dragging.
Fraser deposited Ray into a seat and squatted in front of him, “Are you all right?”
“I’m just peachy, Fraser. I think it’s just the Dramamine kicking in...”
“When did you take it?”
Ray glanced at his watch. “About thirty minutes ago.” He kept his eyes on Fraser’s, though his face reddened. “I didn’t know how close we were...” His voice trailed off.
“Well, then. That’s probably it.” Fraser patted Ray’s leg reassuringly then turned to the baggage carousels. “If you’ll give me your claim tickets, I’ll retrieve your luggage.” Ray fished out his ticket from the inside pocket of his jacket and handed it over.
Fraser straightened and went over to the proper carousel, conscious of a definite sense of disappointment. He’d so looked forward to Ray’s arrival, an event that they had been planning for several months, but now it appeared that the actual reunion would have to wait while the sedative worked its way through Ray’s system.
He spotted what he believed was Ray’s bag and snagged the handle for closer inspection. The numbers on the tickets matched, so he swung the bag off the carousel and continued looking for the other. Spotting it, he confirmed the number, and pulled it off. Picking up both bags, he rejoined Ray who was already dozing. “Ready to go?” He was proud that his voice sounded perfectly normal.
“Uh, yeah.” Ray started up, clearly already half-asleep. “Thanks, Fraser.”
“You’re welcome, Ray.”
Four hours later, Fraser put the Jeep in park and turned off the engine. Ray had spent most of the drive from Yellowknife pressed uncomfortably against the passenger side window glass, sound asleep. Even the Jeep’s jouncing passage across the uneven terrain that passed for a front yard here in St. Christophe failed to rouse him.
Despite the fact that he was tired and somewhat stiff from the long drive, Fraser did not get out right away. Instead he sat--embarrassingly still and intent—and stared at Ray who slept on, unaware.
Ray’s hands were lax in his lap, a pose Fraser was not familiar with. He remembered better how they’d often appeared to be in perpetual motion, expressing Ray’s moods as clearly as his face.
Ray’s face, too, was relaxed. He’d shaved recently, closer than Fraser could ever remember seeing him shave before. Ray normally seemed to carry an oddly consistent amount of stubble, but today his cheeks were clean-shaven. This had the effect of making Ray’s mouth, his lips, seem somehow more prominent. When had he found time to shave? Fraser wondered as his eyes lingered and his tongue wet his own suddenly dry lips. In sleep, Ray’s lips were full and slightly pursed, as if he was waiting for a kiss from a passing princess.
Ray shifted then and mumbled, seeming to awaken. “We’re here!” Fraser said heartily and leaped out of the Jeep. He started toward the house and then spun around again abruptly, remembering Ray’s bags. He retrieved them from the back and carried them across the yard and up the steps with considerable dispatch.
He put the bags down, turned to say something of welcome to Ray and only then realized that Ray wasn’t with him on the front step of the house. He stopped searching for his keys and turned to stare back at the Jeep. Yes, there was Ray--slumped back against the window glass, eyes closed again, mouth open this time...
Fraser shook himself and turned back to the door. He opened it, set Ray’s bags inside and left it open, then went back to the car. Carefully, he eased the passenger door open, sliding his left arm in to grab hold of Ray in order to prevent him from falling onto the gravel below. He swung the door open all the way, then used his other arm to push Ray more firmly into the seat.
“Ray,” he said insistently.
No response, save a mumble.
“Ray.” Fraser said it a little more firmly.
This time Ray turned his head restlessly.
“What? Fraser!” Ray’s voice was wide awake and irritated.
“Ah, good. You’re awake.” Fraser clapped his hands together and stood briskly. “Up you go, then.”
Ray groaned and let his head drop back against the seat. Under Fraser’s very eyes, he fell asleep again. Fraser sighed and leaned in again.
“Ray,” he said.
Ray didn’t even mumble.
Fraser dropped his head to his hand. Well, Ray couldn’t sleep out here all night. He leaned across Ray’s lap to unbuckle his seat belt. A puff of air, like a silent laugh, caressed his cheekbone and he turned his head in shock. Ray’s eyes fluttered and a smile ghosted across his lips. “Hey...” Ray’s voice was breathy, filled with a warmth that was decidedly tangible on his face. “You’re pretty friendly....”
Fraser froze. Stretched half across Ray, his fingers suddenly went numb on the seat belt release button. “Well...we’re friends, Ray. I should think I’d be...friendly.” He tried to make his voice hearty and matter-of-fact, but succeeded in making it only slightly louder than a whisper.
“Mmmmm...yeah...” Ray’s voice trailed off and his hands moved restlessly again, the right one landing on Fraser somewhere in the vicinity of his left hip. “...missed you...”
Shock rang in Fraser’s ears. He stared at Ray. Searched and found a scrap of voice. “I ...missed you, too.”
No response. Ray was asleep again.
Fraser laughed shortly at his own arrogance and set about the task of releasing Ray from his seatbelt with grim determination. Ray seemed to be totally asleep now and didn’t even murmur when Fraser pushed a shoulder into Ray’s stomach, draped his upper body over his back and eased them both out of the car. With gritted teeth, Fraser carried Ray to the front door, over the threshold and deposited him, none too gently he noted guiltily when Ray’s head and shoulders bounced up again, on the cabin’s only bed. Then, before he could forget, he went back out to the car, closed the doors and returned inside.
Ray slept on. Fraser rolled his eyes, made a mental note to remind Ray to consider his sedative dosage somewhat more carefully on the return trip to Chicago, and took off his jacket. Moving quietly, he got out the ingredients he’d left in the refrigerator and made beef stew. It could safely simmer on the stove until Ray woke.
The time while Ray slept refused to pass quickly. With Dief away for the time being, Fraser had fewer chores to attend to. He supposed he could take a long walk by himself, but he was strangely reluctant to leave Ray sleeping, afraid that if he did So Ray might awaken to an empty house and that felt far too inhospitable to consider.
So he made stew. He tidied the already-neat cabin. He put Ray’s suitcases on their flat sides, as if the clothes inside had some hope of being unwrinkled. He...stood by the window and made weather predictions. He stood by the bed and wondered idly if he should attempt to get Ray under the covers. He cursed himself for being a fool, yanked a random journal of his father’s off the shelf and threw himself down into the wing chair and attempted to discipline his obviously unruly mind.
The time passed with greater speed then and the smell of stew that began to permeate the cabin was curiously soothing, as well. Fraser felt himself begin to relax. All told, it was only two hours until Ray began to stir sufficiently enough that Fraser determined he could safely start the biscuits to go with the stew. He closed the book, and went to the kitchen.
While he mixed the flour and shortening and water, Ray began to mumble in his sleep. Fraser smiled down at his floury hands kneading the dough, remembering the restless and often verbal manner of Ray’s sleep on the adventure. Finishing the kneading (it really didn’t do to overwork the dough), he washed his hands and sprinkled flour on the counter. He rolled the dough out to a satisfactory thickness, and used a water glass to cut out the biscuits. Once he had a tray full, he put them in the oven to bake.
Remembering how much Ray enjoyed coffee with his wallowing, Fraser started a fresh pot.
“Hey, is that your famous Fraser Stew?” Ray’s voice was sleep-roughened and totally unexpected. Only the exertion of extreme control kept Fraser from jumping at the sound of it.
“Yes, Ray. I’m pleased you remember.” Fraser turned around from the coffee maker and smiled happily.
“How could I forget it? First time I ate caribou.” Ray smiled back. His face was puffy with sleep and his eyes were squinty as he attempted to adjust them to the bright light of the kitchen. His hair was even more experimental than ever. He’d crossed his arms over his chest and dug his hands into his armpits in search of more warmth.
He was the most beautiful sight Fraser had seen in over a year and he was unable to keep his smile from becoming wide enough to be considered foolish. Luckily, Ray didn’t seem to mind. If anything, his own smile grew a trifle smug. Fraser attempted to keep up his end of the conversation.
“Tonight’s version simply has beef. I hope that’s all right.”
“Sounds good to me. Do I smell coffee?” Ray craned his neck to look around Fraser.
“Why, yes, you do, Ray. It should be done shortly.”
“Greatness.” Ray came further into the kitchen and leaned on the counter perpendicular to the sink. “So where’s Dief?”
“Well, it would seem he has some value in these parts as...stud dog, Ray.” Ridiculously, Fraser felt himself blush. “He is currently, staying with a family in Blue Mountain and attempting to...that is to say, he is going to...well, anyway, the idea is that he will....”
“Knock up their bitch, Fraser?”
“Yes, Ray. That’s the idea.”
“Well, what do you know? Dief’s gone a’courtin’”
“So to speak. It’s rather odd though.” Fraser scratched his eyebrow and tugged his ear. “It would appear that...he’s not as enthusiastic as one might think. Most of these things take place very quickly, but Dief....well, the fact of the matter is, Ray, he’s delaying. And if he delays much longer, he might miss the opportunity all together.”
“Slow out of the starting gate, huh?” Ray looked to be suppressing laughter.
“It would appear So” Fraser said shortly.
“Oh, well,” Ray waved his hand eloquently and moved to pour himself a cup of coffee. “These things usually take care of themselves. Maybe he felt like he wanted to let her get used to him, make the whole act more special or something.”
Fraser stared. Was Ray suggesting...? “Ray, are you calling Dief a romantic?”
“Sure, Fraser. Why not?”
“Well, it hardly seems plausible. He is, after all, a wild animal. “Well,” Fraser hesitated, wondering if that designation was strictly true any longer. “He used to be, at any rate.” He went to check the biscuits.
“See, that’s what I’m saying. Some of the city might have rubbed off on him, he was there a while, you know. He might think he needs to wine her and dine her a little before jumping right on and doing the nasty.” The accompanying hip action to this comment made Fraser both hot and bothered.
“You’re not convincing me.”
Ray seemed to take that dismissal in stride and merely grinned at him over the top of his coffee cup. “Well, then, there’s always Viagra.” He waggled his eyebrows outrageously. Fraser caught by shock and mirth equally, simply stood by the oven door holding a pan of biscuits dumbly until the heat from the pan began to seep through his hot pad. Moving quickly, he extracted the biscuits and set the pan on the two unused burners on the stove to cool.
“Ray!” he spluttered.
“What?” Ray grinned back, inviting him to share the joke, inviting him back into the easy camaraderie of their relationship, inviting him to share in the simple joy of having a friend.
“It’s good to have you here.” And Fraser started to laugh.
During dinner, Fraser got the reunion he’d wanted at the airport. Ray was full of new information about the Lieutenant, Francesca, and Detectives Huey and Dewey. He and Ray had corresponded in the year they’d been apart, but it hadn’t been the same as seeing Ray’s face and hearing his voice as he expressed himself.
“How many children does Francesca have now?” Fraser asked as he cleared the supper dishes.
“Two.” Ray looked up from the kitchen counter where he was fixing his coffee. “And one on the way.”
“That seems rather...”
“Speedy?” Ray’s eyes danced with mischief over the top of his coffee cup making Fraser’s breath catch in his throat and his fingers tighten unnecessarily on the plates. “Well, that’s Frannie. Where there’s a will...”
“...she will find the way,” Fraser finished.
“Never found her way to you, though.” Now Ray looked speculative, and Fraser found himself motivated into motion again, going to the sink and setting the dishes down.
“No, it would appear not.” Fraser started washing and stacking the dishes; Ray moved beside him and started to dry.
“Why was that, Fraser?”
Fraser froze, his hands stilling on the flatware. A direct question. He glanced over at Ray intending only to determine how he could evade actually answering it, but found Ray regarding him steadily, unblinkingly and with some determination.
“Why didn’t you ever take Frannie up on her offer, Fraser?” Ray asked again. His hands still worked the towel over the plate he was holding, but his eyes were boring into Fraser’s. “Did you think she was ugly?”
“No! Ray!” Fraser felt his ire rise. “I happen to find Francesca very attractive.”
“So she was annoying?”
“No. Ray. It’s not ...appropriate to speak of a lady in this fashion.” Fraser was floundering and he knew it.
“Fraser.” Ray put the plate down and put his hands on the counter. “I am not just anybody. We were partners. We went on an arctic adventure. We’re friends. We’re buddies. You can tell me why you didn’t go for Francesca.” He picked another plate up and started to dry that one. “It’s not like I’m going to run off and tell Huey and Dewey. Or Welsh. Or Vecchio. Friends talk to each other. That’s what they do.” He was quiet for a few seconds and Fraser tried to marshal his whirling thoughts. “Unless,” and Ray looked up to meet Fraser’s eyes and his hands stilled, “Unless you think we’re not such good friends.”
The moment stretched out between them.
Horror-stricken, Fraser managed to dredge up a voice from somewhere inside his numb throat. “Ray. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. God.” Thin and reedy and totally unlike his normal timbre, the voice he found was nevertheless enough. Ray smiled and resumed drying.
“Good. Greatness. You, too. Now what about Francesca?”
Beaten down to the bare essence of himself, Fraser answered honestly and without pretense. “I just never...desired her, Ray. She wasn’t what I wanted...what I...needed.”
“Yeah, that’s the trick, isn’t it? First, figuring out what you want and what you need, and then finding someone who is all that.” Ray slanted a grin at him and everything went back to normal.
Normal normal, as Ray would undoubtedly say and he would be right, Fraser thought as they finished cleaning the kitchen in a comfortable silence. Normal people did talk to each other, did share thoughts and feelings, didn’t sit together in silence giving nothing of themselves away. That, as Ray would say again, wouldn’t be buddies, wouldn’t be friends, wouldn’t be a relationship at all. And he did have a relationship with Ray, a relationship he treasured and Ray was right to make Fraser acknowledge it.
“Ray,” he started needing Ray’s attention before he continued.
“What?” Ray said looking up from tying the garbage bag.
“Thank you.” Fraser tried to put his feelings into his voice. Maybe that’s why it shook ever so slightly.
“Anytime,” Ray said automatically, but straightened up to ask, “For what?”
“For being my friend, despite the fact that I don’t always make it easy.”
“Oh, that.” Ray ducked his head again and picked up the tied trash bag. “Well, I happen to think you’re worth it.” A brief second of that blinding smile, a wink and then Ray was out the door to the trash bin.
Sleeping arrangements turned out to be problematic. Fraser had intended to give Ray the bed and use his bedroll, but apparently Ray had other plans.
“You’re not sleeping on the floor for an entire month, Fraser.”
“Honestly, Ray, I don’t mind a bit and I think you’ll find the bed very comfortable.” Fraser answered back and rolled out his bedroll with a brisk snap of his wrists. He did take the liberty of snagging the extra pillow from the bed and threw it down, as well.
Ray watched him with an expression on his face that for some reason made Fraser nervous.
“Ah. Well, then. Let me just....” Fraser looked around for something else to do. His eyes fell on the dresser. “...get ready for bed then. If you’ll excuse me.” He rummaged quickly in the dresser and then went into the bathroom, an act which felt far more like an escape than it should have.
When he emerged, the cabin was dark. He stood still for a moment, letting his eyes adjust and dithering about the bathroom light. Should he leave it on for Ray? It was entirely possible, however, that Ray was asleep already given his penchant for drug-induced slumber this evening. “Ray?” he tried, his voice little more than a whisper.
There was no answer.
Very well, then. Fraser snapped off the light and picked his way carefully across the wood floor until his toes touched the edge of his bedroll. Squatting, he picked up the top edge of the bedroll. Ray’s breathing in the bed above him seemed very loud. He hoped Ray wasn’t getting congested.
With the ease of long practice he flipped the top of the bedroll open and slid his legs in but then found his way blocked by six feet or so of warm, rangy, Chicago detective.
“Fraser! Geez, friendly, aren’t you?”
“Ray!” Fraser said again, too rattled to say anything else. Evidently, Ray had gotten in the bedroll while Fraser was otherwise occupied. Of all the passive aggressive moves...Fraser felt a reluctant admiration. “You’re supposed to be sleeping in the bed.”
“I’m not turning you out of your bed, Fraser and that’s final.” Ray’s voice was flat and that coupled with his presence in Fraser’s bedroll on the hard wood floor convinced Fraser that Ray might be serious in his objection.
“All right. We’ll reconsider.” Fraser attempted to roll on his back to think, but was hampered by the bedroll now tangled around his legs. He tried to pull his right leg up but succeeded only in kneeing Ray in the buttocks.
“I apologize, Ray, I’m just trying to get out.” He tried the left leg this time, but was no more successful. He apologized again after removing his knee from Ray’s lower back.
“Fraser.” Ray’s voiced was pained. “Do you think you can manage to stay still for just a few minutes so I can get my breath back? I mean, I know you’re not the touchy-feely one here, but it’s not like I have a disease.”
Fraser ceased his struggles, worried now. “Ray, I didn’t mean to imply that I find your proximity...distasteful.”
“Well, that’s something anyway.” Ray’s voice was amused and resigned. “That you don’t find me distasteful.”
Was Ray kidding? Fraser couldn’t read his tone, didn’t know quite how to respond. “Ray, you must know how much I enjoy your company.”
“Just not in a sleeping bag with you, huh?” Ray’s voice was still amused.
“You must admit it is rather close quarters,” Fraser started.
“We’ve done it before, on the quest.” Ray’s head turned and Fraser could see the glint of his eyes.
“Did you mind it then?”
“Not at all,” Fraser answered honestly. And now he could see the shine of Ray’s teeth.
“So you wouldn’t mind sharing with me while I’m here?”
“If that’s what you want,” Fraser answered truthfully, but confused as to why Ray might want to share a sleeping bag with him for his entire visit.
“Good. Pitter patter, then, Fraser.” And with that Ray slid lithely out of the bag and stood up by the bed, holding the pillow. He turned back and extended a hand to Fraser. “Need a hand there, buddy?”
“Ray?” Really, Fraser was starting to feel somewhat pole axed. “Now what?”
“Up, Fraser. We can share the bed as easily as the sleeping bag and it’ll be a whole lot more comfortable. Which side do you like?”
“Usually I sleep in the middle, Ray,” Fraser said pointedly in an effort to remind Ray of whose bed it was and who exactly was being manipulated here.
“See? You really are friendly.” He was sure if he could see Ray, he’d see an outrageous wink accompany that statement as Ray slid into the bed and moved to the far side.
Fraser felt his mouth open to say he knew not what, but shut it again and bowed to the inevitable force of change that was Ray Kowalski. He got into the bed, leaving the crumpled bedroll behind him but remembering to pick up the pillow.
Next to him, Ray sighed and snuggled down into the other pillow, his now, contentedly. “Night, Fraser.”
“Good night, Ray.” Fraser heard the affection he had for Ray in his voice. He wondered if Ray heard it, too.
The next morning dawned bright and clear. Fraser woke first and while it was something of a shock to see Ray’s tousled head on the pillow next to him, he couldn’t deny that he had slept extremely well despite being unaccustomed to another person’s presence in his bed. He rolled on his back and scratched at his chin, wondering if he would have slept so well if he had shared his bed with say, Inspector Thatcher. He thought not. First, he had no doubt that she would have demanded more than her share of blankets. And second, he rather felt that her own nervousness at such a situation occurring would have made her twitchy and restless and an altogether poor sleeping companion.
Ray’s casualness, on the other hand, thought Fraser, turning to look at the other man in his bed, was extremely restful. Apparently, it concerned Ray not a whit to share a bed with another man. Well, he corrected himself, apparently it concerned Ray not a whit to share a bed with him. To be accurate, he had no idea if Ray’s had ever shared his bed with any other man.
In fact, he had no idea if Ray had shared a bed with anyone, other than Stella, of course. Suddenly, he found himself wondering about Ray’s other bed partners, wondering with whom Ray had slept and what he had gotten up to with them while sharing a bed...
Fraser flung back his covers and made his way to the bathroom. It was past time to start the day.
After breakfast, he took Ray downtown. “The Grand Tour” Ray had called it, over his pancakes that morning. They parked in front of the detachment and got out.
“If you don’t mind, Ray, I need to run to the post office for a moment.” Fraser indicated the official building with the Canadian flag flying across the street.
“No problem, Fraser.” Together they crossed the street and entered the building. Ray looked around at the people standing quietly in line and shook his head.
“Canadians. Are you all so polite?”
“Of course, Ray. Is there any other way to be?” Fraser looked through his bills, making sure each one had the appropriate return address, and worked on controlling his smile.
“Clueless Mountie,” Ray said, nudging his shoulder. “Almost forgot that schtick.”
“Schtick?” Fraser carried on. “Really, Ray, I have no idea--”
“See? There he is again!” Ray pointed at him with two fingers in his characteristic fashion.
“Constable Fraser?” The woman in front of them turned around. Her voice sounded somewhat surprised.
“Why, hello, NatalieJean! It’s good to see you this morning.” Fraser greeted her, realizing he’d been so caught up in Ray and his own mail that he’d failed to even notice who else was standing in line.
“You, too,” NatalieJean replied warmly. “I thought you were on vacation?” Her voice rose at the end of the sentence, making it a question.
“Yes, I am. My partner from my days in Chicago is up visiting for a while and has graciously consented to help me build my home during this time. Ray Kowalski,” Fraser turned back to Ray and gestured him closer. “This is NatalieJean Wilkins. She runs the children’s reading room at the library next door and is also a very fine waitress. NatalieJean, this is my partner, Ray.”
Ray put out his hand for NatalieJean to shake and smiled politely at her.
“Hello, Mr. Kowalski. It’s nice of you to come all this way to help out Constable Fraser.”
Fraser watched Ray shift his feet uncomfortably. “Uh, just ‘Ray’ is fine, thanks. And yeah, I’m happy to help out a...friend.” Ray’s eyes met Fraser’s for a brief moment and, unless it was a trick of the light, Fraser thought that Ray’s cheeks reddened slightly.
“You must be a fine friend, indeed. Constable Fraser is very lucky.” NatalieJean glanced sideways at him as she said it, apparently inviting him to comment.
“Indeed. I am very lucky. It is good of him to come.” Now Ray’s face was definitely pink. “But friendship is very important to Ray. For instance, within hours of meeting me, he stepped in front of me to protect me from a madwoman with a gun.”
“I was wearing a vest, Fraser.”
“And I’m very glad she wasn’t aiming at your head, Ray.”
“It would have been your head she was aiming at, not an unlikely reaction to close contact with you by the criminal element, by the way, and it’s likely that she would have missed me anyway.”
“Likely.” Fraser let his tone of voice communicate what he thought about that. “Well,” he went on after a brief pause, turning now towards NatalieJean who had been following their conversation raptly “it’s a good thing that she did in fact hit the vest and not you no matter what she was aiming at initially.”
“Yeah, well, that goes without saying.”
“But, Ray, I just said it.”
“Yeah, I know, Fraser, but it coulda gone without-”
“NatalieJean, I believe it’s your turn.” Fraser interrupted Ray without compunction and gestured to the waiting tellers. “It was very nice to see you, have a nice day.”
NatalieJean closed her mouth and made her way up to the counter, stooping once to pick up the mail she dropped.
“Nice girl,” Ray said as they waited at the end of the nylon guides.
“Yes. Very nice. I knew her slightly when I was growing up, and it was a happy coincidence to encounter her here again years later.”
“You knew her growing up?” Ray was looking at him with a peculiar expression.
“Yes, she grew up in a town that was along my grandparents’ route as traveling librarians,” Fraser replied, wondering at Ray’s expression.
“Oh. Okay. Think it’s our turn.”
“So it is.”
They moved up to the counter and Fraser mailed his bills and purchased some new stamps.
Outside again, Fraser turned to Ray. “So Ray, what would you like to see?”
“We’re on your turf now, Fraser, lead the way.”
“Very well.” Fraser cocked his head and considered briefly. “I believe we will continue down Prancer Street just a bit and visit my office first.” They set off. “Did you find you were missing anything this morning? There’s a grocery store just down the block or an Odd and Ends store just around the corner.”
“No, Fraser. I think I’m good. Found my toothbrush, managed some clean clothes. I’m good to go.”
“Very well, then.” He led the way up the steps of the building and held the door, gesturing Ray ahead of him.
The interior of the detachment with its warm wooden floor and molding soothed him as it always did. He walked with Ray through the foyer and nodding his head politely at Carol, the receptionist. “Good morning, Carol.”
She looked up from her computer screen almost comically startled. “Why, hello, Constable Fraser! I thought we wouldn’t be seeing you for a while!” A small flush stained her cheeks.
Fraser paused for a moment by her desk to introduce Ray. “Carol, this is my friend, Ray, my partner when I worked in Chicago. I’m just showing him around town.”
“Oh!” Carol’s flush seemed to deepen upon gazing at Ray who held out his hand. She grasped it in both of hers. “Ray Kowalski! I recognize you now, of course, from the picture!”
“Uh, yeah, “ Ray answered uneasily, trying unsuccessfully to pull his hand back.
“Oh, this is wonderful,” gushed Carol. “I’m so glad to meet you! We all just think the world of Constable Fraser here and it’s so nice to meet a friend of his. And especially the one who helped him save the world from those horrible terrorists!”
“Uh, yeah, well it’s nice to meet you too.” Ray pulled at his hand again and looked to Fraser for help.
“Yes, well, I’m just going to show Ray my office Carol and then we’ll be on our way.” Under the pretense of patting her hand, Fraser pried her fingers off of Ray’s hand and they made their escape.
“Wow. They all that enthusiastic around here, Fraser?” Ray grinned at him as they moved shoulder-to-shoulder through the detachment hallways.
“In what way, Ray?”
“Benton Fraser Evasion #3, ask for specific clarification in order to avoid answering the question.”
“Ah, here we are!” Fraser pushed open the door to his office and just smiled.
“And that, ladies and gentlemen, would be Benton Fraser Evasion #4, make comments about the immediate vicinity. Hey, this is nice!” Ray walked in and stood in the middle of the room, hands on his hips.
It was nice. Fraser did like his office. The floor was the same hardwood as the Outpost foyer and the desk was of a complementary wood. The shelves behind his desk held only a few items, and the fireplace was a charming addition.
“This where Dief sleeps?” Ray asked pointing at the braided rug in front of the fire.
“Yes.” Fraser felt a pang. It didn’t feel quite right to be here without Dief. Ah, well, soon he’d get his act together and be back where he belonged.
Now Ray was making a big show of looking in all the corners, peering into the closet. “Now what?” Fraser asked, laughing.
“Where do you keep the cot?”
Fraser laughed out loud and rubbed his eyebrow. “Well, believe it or not, Ray, this particular detachment actually encourages us to go home at night. However, Dief has been known to share his rug on occasion.
“Well, it doesn’t quite seem like your office without a Military Issue Sleeping Device.” Now Ray was behind his desk looking at the items on the shelf. He picked up Fraser’s family portrait and looked at it for a few seconds in silence. “Huh. Little Fraser.”
Fraser answered from where he was leaning against the doorframe.
“Long time ago.”
Then, Ray picked up the other picture. Fraser studied his hiking boots. There was a silence. He heard Ray draw in a breath. “Hey,” he said in a soft voice. “I remember this. This was that last day at the airport. We got that pilot to take our picture...” His voice trailed off, as if he was remembering. His fingers traced over the picture again and he set it back on the shelf carefully. “Nice office, Fraser. I really like it.” Ray’s voice was warm.
“Thank you, Ray. I’m glad you do.”
As they were leaving the building, after waving at Carol, Fraser asked, “What were #1 and #2?”
“I don’t want to talk about it, Fraser. They both involve someone shooting at us.”
A comfortable silence fell, and Ray followed without comment as Fraser turned left outside the Detachment and started up Cupid Street. “What would you like to see, Ray?”
“Oh, just whatever, Fraser. I’m trying to get a feel for the place.”
“Right you are, Ray.” Fraser stopped on the corner and gestured to the building that stood on the opposite corner of the intersection. “Well, here on the right, you’ll notice the court house--”
“You spend a lot of time there?” Ray interrupted Fraser’s attempted recital of the pertinent facts of the history of jurisprudence here in St. Christophe.
“Well, a certain amount, from time to time, if my presence is requested.”
“Yeah, I hate dressing up for court. Bet they love you though.” Ray grinned at him and Fraser groped for a reply. He was unable to find one before Ray went on, “What’s over here?”
He was pointing to the arena that stood directly across the street.
“Ah, yes, that would be the skating rink.”
“Cool. I haven’t skated in years.”
“You know how?” Fraser asked with the customary skepticism of a Canadian birthed on skates.
“Yeah, skeptic, I know how to skate. Even played hockey for a while.” Ray swung around to face him, eyes narrowing challengingly.
“I’m sure you did.” Fraser backed off and held his hands up placatingly.
“I did, Fraser.” Ray’s tone said he suspected that Fraser was patronizing him.
“As you say. Perhaps we should go one evening?” Fraser attempted to make amends.
Ray’s face cleared and he smiled again. “Cool. That’ll be fun.”
“Let’s go across then and check for the open skate times.”
“You got it, Fraser.” Ray still smiled, but now his expression held a touch of puzzlement. But what Ray would be puzzled about, Fraser could not fathom.
After picking up the brochure that listed the times the facility was open to the public and introducing Ray to Dave, the owner, they continued down Dancer Avenue. “What’s up there?” Ray asked at the next cross street flapping his arm to the right.
“Just about a block or two down is a community theater, Ray. I believe they are staging a production of “Hamlet” just now. They did a nice production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this summer, I’m told.”
“Hamlet, wow. Shakespeare in the sticks. You been?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Why not? Kind thought that’d be right up your alley.”
“I just haven’t...taken the opportunity, I guess.” Fraser shifted his feet uncomfortably, although there was no rational reason for his discomfort. “There’s a very nice restaurant next to the theater that serves a variety of fine food, I’ve heard.”
“Cool. That your only nice restaurant?”
“No, actually, there’s a pizza and calzone place next to the cinema on Dasher, that is also very good, and the Club on Blitzen serves some very tasty appetizers, I’m told.”
Ray had gone alarmingly still. “Wait...” he said and then stopped altogether.
“Ray? What? What is it?” Fraser put his hand on Ray’s arm in concern.
“Tell me I’m just imagining it.”
“What? Do you see something?” Instinctively, Fraser looked for his father.
“Wait, let me think....Prancer, Dasher, Blitzen...What’s the name of this road, Fraser?” He pointed at the street next to them. A pickup truck rattled by.
Ah. Fraser felt his face get somewhat red, a ridiculous reaction, it wasn’t as if he’d had anything to do with the street names in his new town. “This is Dancer Drive, Ray.”
Ray lost it. He chortled, he wheezed, his face turned red. “You mean to tell me....” He gasped, laughed again, found his breath again and went on, “that the streets in this town...” He was lost again, laughing.
Oh, for heaven’s sake. Fraser grabbed Ray under the arm and dragged him over to a nearby bench, pushed him into it.
“Yes, Ray,” he answered the question Ray couldn’t spit out with some exasperation. “Yes, the streets in this town are named after Santa’s reindeer. Does that answer your question?”
Too far gone now to even attempt words, Ray nodded wildly, tears leaking out of his eyes. Fraser just looked at him. Rolled his eyes and looked away back out at the street. Looked back. Ray now had propped his elbows on his knees but was still laughing weakly. Despite himself, Fraser felt his lips twitch, felt the laughter bubbling up inside him. Ray’s laugh was just so...infectious.
“In fact, as I mentioned at the last borough meeting, they really should go ahead and include the last one,” Fraser heard himself say with some surprise.
“The...the...last one?” Ray wheezed his way, turning his head to look at Fraser directly.
“Yes. Well, there’s Dasher, and Dancer, and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. We even have Rudolph heading out of town toward my own property. But, as yet, there is no Olive.” Fraser wondered when it was he’d lost his mind and where he’d lost it exactly.
“Olive?” Now Ray looked even more confused.
“Surely, you know, Ray. “Olive? The other reindeer? Who used to laugh and call him names?” Fraser held his face in an expression he knew appeared totally guileless and innocent.
Ray just stared and then burst out laughing again, “Oh, God, Olive, you’re killing me, you’re killing me here!” More laughter, so completely infectious that Fraser, despite his determination to maintain the right, so to speak, felt little riffs of laughter escape him. In fact, it seemed that the more he tried not to laugh, the more he actually did laugh, so he gave up completely and leaned back against Ray and let it all out.
After a suitable time spent on the bench, they resumed the tour.
“St. Christophe was a lumber town, initially, Ray.” Fraser lectured once they got going again. “For some reason, its inhabitants have always been inordinately interested in Christmas. Hence, the naming of the streets, some of the more bizarre rituals...” He paused on the sidewalk in front of St. Christophe’s only club, seeing that Ray was studying the club’s outdoor bulletin board advertising upcoming events. “Anyway, the timber trade continues, but now there’s a healthy amount of tourist trade, as well. Perhaps one day you’ll come visit during Christmas. It’s quite a treat.”
“I’d like that.”
The rest of the morning proceeded in a like manner with only one further incident.
“Constable Fraser! How nice to see you!” Guy Douglas trilled a greeting as Fraser and Ray entered his shop. “Welcome! Welcome! Welcome to Santa’s Workshop.”
To Fraser’s amusement, Ray looked as if someone had hit him with an oversized candy cane not unlike the sixteen or so on display throughout the small storefront. In fact, the store was filled with Christmas paraphernalia. Especially charming, according to many (but not including Fraser) was the life-size stuffed renditions of each of Santa’s reindeer.
“Good morning, Mr. Douglas, I was just showing Ray around town and I knew the tour simply wouldn’t be complete without a stop by your shop.”
“Oh, how nice. I must admit, however, Constable Fraser, from the moment you two stepped into the shop, I was dearly hoping you had brought me another elf.” Ray had been attempting to smile in a friendly fashion, but as the proprietor of the shop eyed him up and down in a frankly assessing manner his eyes narrowed and his fists clenched.
Fraser stepped between them quickly, just in case.
“I don’t wear curly toed shoes for anyone, Mister.” Ray pointed emphatically at his feet from behind Fraser’s body.
“Of course not, Ray. Mr. Douglas, I believe we’ll just be on our way then.” Fraser used his body to...encourage...Ray to move back through the doorway. “Have a nice day!” he called back as he shoved Ray through the door.
“Can you believe that guy? Like I’d make a good elf.” Ray moved down the street radiating disgust.
“Actually, I must agree with you, Ray. Your legs are much too long to be considered good elf material,” Fraser answered, unperturbed.
Ray stopped on the sidewalk and stared at Fraser.
Fraser stopped and waited.
“What are you saying here, Fraser? You saying I wouldn’t make a good elf?”
“No, Ray...well, not exactly...I was merely making mention of the fact that you are a trifle...tall...for what is usually considered to be elf-like stature.” Fraser bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Evidently, his earlier bout of hilarity had not completely subsided.
“Cause I could be an elf, Fraser, if I wanted to, I could be the best damn elf this town has ever seen.” Ray seemed disinclined to walk further until this point was made.
“Of course you could, Ray.”
Ray appeared somewhat mollified by this statement and relaxed enough to move a few steps forward. “I could even do the shoes.”
“I’m sure you’d look quite fetching in them, Ray.” Fraser had to wonder if he’d develop mouth ulcers from suppressing the insane desire to collapse on the sidewalk in laughter.
“You think?” Ray began walking for real now, moving confidently up the street. “You really think I’d look good?”
“I’m quite sure, Ray.”
For lunch, Fraser decided to stop at Gepetto’s. Ray approved.
“After this kind of morning, I need sustenance,” Ray declared. “Pizza and calzone sound great.”
“Absolutely,” Fraser agreed and led the way down Dasher.
“So where’s your new place?” Ray asked through his first mouthful of calzone.
“Out on Rudolph, heading out of town.” Fraser wiped his mouth on his napkin and took another large bite.
“Got a lot of land?”
Fraser chewed quickly and swallowed. “About twelve hectares. Not enough to hunt, but enough for a horse, perhaps some sled dogs.” He shrugged went back to his meal.
Ray stopped eating and stared at him. “Fraser. Really? That’s cool!” He leaned back and studied Fraser harder. “You know what that is? That’s settling down. You like it here, in St. Christophe then?”
Fraser didn’t answer right away. In all actuality, he wasn’t exactly sure of his answer. He felt the weight of Ray’s continued stare, but could not form a reply.
“That a hard question?”
“Evidently,” Fraser said finally, trying to be honest, trying not to give into the temptation to merely evade answering. “I suppose I hadn’t quite thought of it that way.”
“Why not? It seems like a nice place to me, but I’ve only been here a day so I’m probably not a good judge.” Ray went back to his meal.
Fraser picked up his water glass and held it thoughtfully running his fingers through the condensation. “No, you’re right, it is nice. And I can breathe here. There’s enough space.”
“Yeah, not like Chicago, all hemmed in. Living in your office there must not have been a big thing for you. You were already claustrophobic, anyway, weren’t you?”
Fraser stopped tracing patterns on the glass and looked at Ray wondering at his understanding and insight. “Yes.”
“So let’s finish up here, and then go look at this spread of yours. I can’t wait to see it.”
On the drive out, Ray brought up their conversation again. “So if it’s not the place making you uneasy, what is it then?”
“I’m sorry?” Fraser asked, not following.
“What is it you haven’t thought about, about living here?”
“Oh. Well to be honest, I think it was the settling in part of what you said. You said, ‘that’s settling down’ and it caught me off guard.”
“Cause you don’t want to settle down?”
“I must want to, I bought the property, didn’t I?”
“Yeah, that’s true. What is it then?”
“I think,” Fraser said as he negotiated the turn into his driveway with some care, “I’m simply not used to thinking of myself as settled.” He stopped the car and looked at Ray. “I never have been, you know.”
“Always the one moving on, I get that.” Ray cocked his head and seemed to consider. “Hmmm...wonder why you feel settled here, then? Come on,” he went on before Fraser could answer, “show me whatcha got.” He patted Fraser’s hand, put on his sunglasses and opened his door to get out.
They skirted the foundation and walked over the cleared area of the property first. Ray seemed particularly taken by the view from the back yard. The land was situated on top of a bluff in such a way that a commanding view could be obtained quite easily. Ray looked out over the vista below them then turned and looked back at the foundation.
“Going to have a ...you know...one of those window sets that goes out like this?” Ray shaped his hands like a trapezoid.
“A bay window?”
“Yeah. One of those. Are you? You should.” Ray turned back around and looked out over the view again, the wind ruffling his hair, pressing his clothes against his body.
Fraser cleared his throat before speaking. “Yes, actually, the eating area in the kitchen will have a bay window. It’s situated on the back wall of the house. Would you like to see the blueprints?”
“Yeah! You got ‘em with you?” Ray swung around and smiled. “I’m trying to imagine what kind of house you’ve got planned.”
They turned and walked back toward the Jeep. Fraser pulled the tube out from the back seat and attempted to unroll the plans on the trunk. The surface proved to be too bumpy.
“Just unroll them on the ground, Fraser. Here.” Ray pointed to a relatively clear area nearby, found some rocks to weight down the corners, then pulled the plans close enough that they could look at them.
Fraser flipped past the front and back elevations, to the floor plan. “See, here,” he tapped the kitchen area, “here’s the bay window in the kitchen.”
“Cool. What else you got?” Ray moved closer, and took off his sunglasses to see better. “Kitchen, the living room, and one --no, two-- bedrooms? And what’s this I see?” Ray’s finger stopped on a small room between the two bedrooms. “INDOOR plumbing? Fraser, is this allowed?” he asked severely.
“Really, Ray. I was thinking of you,” Fraser bantered back.
“Me?” Ray gaped at him. Then he put his hand over his heart and batted his eyelashes like a lovesick moose. “You put in a flush toilet just for me?”
“Well, for you...and Maggie, if she comes to visit...and there’s always the chance that Ray Vecchio and...” Fraser hesitated, but continued, seeing no hope for it “...his wife might come.”
Ray’s grin faded somewhat, and he fumbled his sunglasses back on before looking away. “You can say her name, Fraser.”
“Apparently there’s no need,” Fraser ventured wanting desperately not to cause pain of any kind, fearing he was too late.
“No, it’s okay, really. I’ve made my peace with that.” Ray’s voice was slow but not sad precisely. Resigned, maybe? “They’re expecting a baby, I hear.”
Fraser didn’t know where he got the courage: as Ray said, he wasn’t the touchy-feely type, but his hand reached out (possibly of its own accord) and gently took Ray’s sunglasses off his face. Ray turned to look at him in surprise.
“Are you all right?” Fraser shifted the sunglasses to his other hand and let his fingers trace lightly over the earpieces. He wanted to offer comfort, but felt awkward and somewhat unsure of how to do so.
Ray studied him for a moment, then squinted back at the horizon. “I’m okay. It’s an adjustment, but one thing I figured out this year is that Stella’s not for me, you know? She doesn’t want me, hasn’t wanted me for a while.” He paused and looked down at the ground between his upraised knees. Without thinking about it, Fraser lifted his free hand and placed it on the back of Ray’s neck. Ray lifted his head and briefly let it drop back against Fraser’s fingers in a sort of acknowledgment, and went on. “This year I finally realized she’s not what I want, she’s not what I need either.” Ray turned his head and met Fraser’s eyes intently.
“Do you know what you want? What you need?” Having spent the past year struggling over this very question himself, Fraser was more than casually interested in Ray’s reply.
Ray didn’t move for a moment. Then he gave a full-fledged smile. “I’m getting a pretty good idea. Now I just have to see if I can find it.” Ray reached up and squeezed Fraser’s hand, then let it go and turned back to the blueprints.
“I hope you do.” Fraser pulled his own hand back and looked at the plans for his new house with some disinterest.
“Now what else you got here? A garage? Living big, aren’t you?” Ray grinned back over his shoulder and invited Fraser to play.
Fraser shook himself and did his best. “Honestly, Ray, in this climate a garage is only practical. Would you want to de-ice a vehicle all winter?” he shot back, allowing Ray to set the conversational tone for the time being.
On the drive back home, Fraser was thinking about dinner and whether or not they should just reheat the stew when Ray derailed his train of thought completely with a question.
“Do you think that somewhere there’s a plan like this--” he raised the tube of blueprints he’d been holding on his lap and shook it slightly, “--for our lives?”
Due to the fact that his thoughts refused to be wrenched from dinner preparations to philosophical discussions of the meaning of life so suddenly, the best reply Fraser could manage was, “Pardon?”
“I’m just wondering.” Ray tapped the tube against his leg again and stared out the window. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about.”
Fraser attempted to rally. Ray, after all, was his guest, his friend, his partner. Surely he could come up with some sort of response. He searched and came up with, “No.”
Ray’s head whipped around to stare at him. “No?”
“No, not really,” Fraser clarified.
“You mean you don’t think there is a plan for our lives, some sort of path or...right way of doing things?” Ray’s voice was intense.
“The Inuit believe...”
Ray slashed his hand through the air to cut Fraser off. “Benton Fraser Evasion #5: Bring up the Inuit and tell such a long story your listener eventually sticks forks in his ears and no longer remembers what the hell he asked you in the first place. I don’t care what the Inuit believe. You are not Inuit, Benton Fraser and all I’m interested in is what you believe. Now out with it.”
Fraser was silent for a minute, simply watching the road. “I suppose...I don’t think about it all that often. I’ve never practiced any sort of religion where one would normally go to find that kind of answer. If pressed...” He paused.
“Oh, I’m pressing, Fraser. Believe me.”
“--then I guess I would say, no, I don’t believe that a ready-made, already complete plan that maps out the details of my life in its entirety actually exists. If any sort of plan does exist, then I would have to believe it is being created as I live my life based on the choices I make and the consequences of those choices that I and others close to me may experience.”
“Huh. So it’s all cause and effect for you?”
Ray’s voice was kind and somehow Fraser felt it was even sympathetic. That hint of sympathy got his back up. “Essentially. Therein lies the logic.” Cool precise tone.
“Where’s the comfort in that?” Exasperated tone.
Fraser was unable to reply. Luckily they were approaching the outskirts of town and the traffic had picked up slightly. He concentrated on that for a moment, but felt Ray’s eyes on him unceasingly. In exasperation he finally answered, “I don’t understand what comfort has to do with it. It’s just the way things are.”
“Comfort has everything to do with it. Religion itself is just an organized set of rules people made up to keep from being scared of the dark. And I was raised Catholic, so I know these things, Fraser. And one thing I know is this: comfort is what you tell yourself when you wake up in the middle of the night, sweating and wondering what the hell you did wrong and what’s going to happen now, scared to death that there’s nothing really there at all except you and your mistakes and no one’s going to love you ever. And I can’t imagine what you tell yourself, Fraser, cause I know, I know you’ve had some sleepless nights and by God, I wish you had something better to tell yourself than ‘it’s my own damn fault.’”
For the life of him, Fraser could not formulate a reply nor could he bring himself to return Ray’s steady gaze. He stared out the front window with great intensity and concentrated solely on driving. At one moment, he thought he heard Ray take in a breath to say something, but Fraser shook his head without looking at him and Ray subsiding, staring out the side window.
Soon, all Fraser could hear was the hum of the engine. The yellow line on the highway was all that was necessary for him to see. Nevertheless, he still had to brake harder than he would have liked to keep himself from passing his own driveway.
Once parked, he got out of the car with alacrity and let himself in the house, leaving Ray to his own devices. He went straight to the kitchen. It was late. They’d had a busy day. Surely Ray was as hungry as he was. Somewhat mechanically he went about transferring the stew from the Tupperware container it had been stored in to a pot on the stove.
Ah. Fraser stopped moving but did not turn from the stove. Ray had come in. He made himself keep working, scraping the Tupperware bowl to get the last bits of congealed gravy and vegetables. “Dinner will be ready shortly, Ray. Perhaps you might like to take a shower first?” His voice was matter of fact. He hoped.
“No.” Ray’s voice was directly behind him now. Fraser could feel Ray’s presence all along his back but still didn’t turn around, although he knew that he wasn’t being precisely courteous. “There’s something I need to do first.”
“I...see.” In truth, Fraser didn’t see and all he really wanted was for Ray to leave the kitchen and go elsewhere, but Ray didn’t move away. Instead he moved up closer until he was standing next to Fraser, so close their arms were brushing, and their hands were touching where they both rested on the oven door handle.
“You know, you can always tell me to back off. Sometimes, maybe, I need to back off.” Ray’s voice was tentative.
Fraser bit his lip and shook his head not wanting Ray to apologize, not even wanting to talk about it.
“But...” Fraser heard Ray take a deep breath and let it out in a gusty sigh. “There’s a part of me that...wants to take care of you, Fraser.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Fraser saw Ray shake his head now and look down. Fraser risked turning his head slightly to see Ray more clearly and was caught when Ray tilted his own slightly and looked back at him.
“Kind of crazy, I know, what with you always looking out for me and everyone else you know.”
A brief, somewhat rueful smile chased its way across Ray’s face, but then his eyes became serious.
“But, there it is, it’s true, and I can’t help thinking you don’t have enough...forgiveness or something in your life. Makes me mad.” He grinned a little ruefully again, and shrugged, and then, as if just hearing what it was he’d said, quickly added. “For you, not at you.”
Fraser didn’t know what to say. He could not remember the last time anyone had voiced such a concern for or about him. “Thank you,” he said somewhat hoarsely. He cleared his throat and looked back at the stove. “Thank you for...caring, then.”
“I do, you know.”
Ray had turned forward again too. Fraser had a brief, somewhat hysterical thought that they must look rather foolish, two men standing in front of a stove staring at a pot of beef stew. But then Ray’s little finger traced a gentle line on Fraser’s and all coherent thought fled out the window.
“Care about you, you know. And--” Ray moved both hands off the oven door handle and lifted them up placatingly, “I also know when to back off. So I think I’ll go take that shower now.” He went quickly to rummage in one of his suitcases. Fraser remained motionless at the stove and just watched.
Finally, Ray straightened up and headed to the bathroom. At the door, he paused and turned back to Fraser, who was still staring. “We still good?” His body language indicated he was very unsure.
Fraser nodded in response. Ray cared about him. He didn’t mean to hurt anyone, least of all Fraser. And somehow Fraser knew that Ray only wanted him to heal. They were indeed, ‘good.’
Ray’s face lit up into a smile. “Good, greatness. Okay, then. Pound on the door if I’m not out by the time the stew’s ready.” And he disappeared inside the bathroom.
At the stove, Fraser sagged a little in relief. He and Ray were indeed good, but he’d almost forgotten Ray’s disquieting way of somehow being able to ascertain exactly who and what Benton Fraser was. It was much easier, Fraser had found, to live among people who had no idea what was going on inside you.
He went to stir the stew and found it an unmanageable lump in the pot due to the fact that he’d neglected to even turn the burner on. He sighed inwardly, yanked his thoughts away from their tendency to unproductive introspection, and paid attention to preparing dinner.
Despite his efforts to ignore it, Ray’s question and the subsequent discussion had unsettled Fraser to the point that he could think of nothing else. “Do you—do you really think there’s some sort of plan for a person’s life?” he asked the next morning, almost without meaning to.
Ray looked up from where he was stacking the two-by-fours that had been delivered just minutes earlier. “I don’t know. Like I said, it’s something I’ve been thinking about.”
Fraser nodded and went on with his calculations, determining the lengths and quantity of boards they would need to begin constructing the first wall. He resolved that nothing more would be said about the subject.
His resolve held for approximately twenty-five minutes. “If such a plan exists,” he heard himself start while drawing out the cut marks for Ray on the first batch of boards, “then how do you account for the bad things that happen in a person’s life?”
Ray leaned against the board he was holding ready to take the place of the one Fraser was marking on the sawhorses and seemed to think about it. He shrugged, then answered, “I guess it depends on what the bad thing is. Usually there’s something to be learned. Maybe sometimes, it’s a combination, you know, of your theory and this one: like there’s maybe a general plan for a person’s life, but it’s also true that stuff just happens sometimes and we’ve just got to deal the best way we can.”
Fraser looked back down at his pencil mark and shook his head. “That seems,” he said lifting the board off the sawhorses and placing it on the stack of marked boards “to be a remarkably forgiving sort of theory. As if there is a Benign Planner with some sort of idea for our lives, but he or she can’t be held responsible for bad things that happen because that’s simply the way it goes sometimes.” He could taste the bitterness of that in his mouth and moved to the Jeep to get his thermos of water.
“No harm, no foul?” Ray’s tone was light, but his eyes were serious.
“But there was harm. There...is, I mean.” Fraser leaned against the Jeep and ran his thumb over his eyebrow. He studied his feet stretched out at the ends of his legs in front of him.
“So what did you need to learn, do you think?” Ray’s voice was quiet and came from beside him now.
“What does any six year old need to learn from having his mother killed?” He felt Ray’s hand on the back of his neck now, resting there, warm and strong. He sighed. Ray sighed with him.
“Got me there, Benton Fraser. That just plain sucked.” The hand on the back of his neck pulled him in close to Ray’s side for a brief sideways hug.
Fraser was so grateful that Ray had not attempted to explain that event away as having had some higher purpose, that for a moment he couldn’t see clearly. He leaned back away from Ray again, but Ray left his hand where it was. “And then,” Fraser started again after clearing his throat, “there’s Victoria.”
“Yeah.” Ray scratched his chin with his left hand. “And Stella.”
“Yeah.” Fraser looked back at his feet. “What’s the lesson there then?”
“Been thinking about that.”
“About Stella, you mean?”
“And Victoria, too. Sometimes when I think about me you get all mixed in there too, I can’t seem to help it.” Fraser looked at Ray in surprise, wondering what exactly that comment meant. Ray didn’t look back at him. His hand, however, squeezed Fraser’s neck comfortingly. “I think that we both needed to learn that it was okay to need people. Everyone needs people, Fraser. Even you. You push people away for a long enough time it’s likely to rebound on you. Then suddenly you desperately need the absolute worst person you could pick.”
“I didn’t want to need Victoria,” Fraser could only whisper.
“No, I’m sure you didn’t.”
“I had thought that maybe it was the darkness in her, calling to some darkness in me...” Fraser spoke his deepest fear out loud, that somehow he had called Victoria into being with some dark part of his soul, that he was responsible for her and everything she did.
“Darkness? You’re not at all dark, Fraser. Little needy, maybe, but not dark.” Ray looked at him now with a light in his eyes that made Fraser want to believe what he was saying.
“How can you know that?”
“Cause I know you. You’re my partner and my friend.”
“Was that hard to say?” He used the phrase deliberately, knowing that Ray was doing the same, that through this mirroring a long-ago conversation they were reaffirming their connection, reestablishing what they meant to each other.
“Not in the least,” Ray finished and grinned at him. Then he looked deliberately back at the work site. “And it’s also not hard for me to say that if we don’t get moving, Dief’s going to have a whole litter before he has a house to raise them in.”
“I don’t believe that’s anatomically possible, Ray, but you may be right.” And maybe he was, Fraser thought as they got back to work.
That evening, the phone rang just as they were sitting down to dinner. Fraser answered it. “Hello, Constable Benton Fraser speaking.”
The voice on the other end was short and to the point.
“I see,” Fraser answered evenly, but he could feel his ire rising. “I’m sorry things didn’t work out so well.”
Ray looked up from his own dinner and mouthed, “Dief?”
Fraser nodded shortly and turned his attention back to the man on the phone. “We’ll be there shortly. Expect us...” He craned his head to see the clock above the sink, “by seven at the latest.” He replaced the phone in its cradle and wiped his hands over his face wearily. He sat still for a moment with his eyes closed. Then, dropping his hands, he reapplied himself to his dinner.
Ray waited a few minutes more before asking, “We gonna go get him?”
“Yes. It appears that Diefenbaker did indeed delay too long and the day is not his to be seized, after all.”
“What a bitch.”
Despite his mood, Fraser felt his mouth quirk up almost into a smile. He drank his milk instead. He put the glass down, wiped his mouth and then said, “Agreed. However, that’s neither here nor there. But it is true that Dief is there and he needs to be here, so it would behoove us to finish up quickly to best expedite that process.”
“I’m right behind you, Fraser.”
By eight o’clock, they were home again, two men and an unrepentant wolf. Diefenbaker had been extremely pleased to see not only Fraser but Ray, too and had generally made much of himself to the point of actual barking and capering.
Floyd Bunsen, owner of the bitch in question, had eyed Dief’s behavior with a jaundiced expression. “Hmph.” He paused to expectorate. “That’s more energy than I seen all week from that pup.”
“I’m sorry things didn’t work out, Mr. Bunsen, we’ll just be on our way.” Fraser kept his tone civil and his body language neutral. “I hope things work out better for you next time around.” There was no discussion of whether Dief would be called into service again. It was evident that he would not. At least not at this farm.
This did not worry Fraser overly much. He did not particularly care for Floyd Bunsen; something about the man’s manner had never sat well with Fraser. There had never been any evidence that Bunsen mistreated his animals, but his teams, while fast, had a reputation for being ill-tempered and prone to fighting.
Fraser explained all this to Ray on the ride home, while Dief lay blissfully silent and content in the back seat.
“Why send Dief there at all, then, Fraser?” Ray asked, not unreasonably.
Fraser hesitated. “I’m not sure. I suppose I was reluctant to appear rude. Refusing outright might have convinced him that I held Dief and myself in higher esteem than he and his dogs.”
Ray nodded and appeared to think about this. “So you were trying to fit in?”
“I suppose So” Fraser answered and realized it was true.
“Where do you think you stand now?” Ray asked curiously.
“I’m not sure,” Fraser replied. “But I’m not worried about it.”
A comfortable silence fell, punctuated only by Dief’s snores.
“She probably wasn’t his type, you know?”
Fraser glanced at his partner. Ray was looking out the window. Fraser looked forward again and watched the yellow dividing line disappear into the darkness ahead. “That’s probably true.”
“Maybe she was more concerned with pulling the sled than being a mom.”
“Or she could’ve just wanted, you know, a fancier model, some sleeker, slicked-down husky type, instead some old half-wolf fuzzball, you think?”
“Then that would be her loss, I think,” Fraser answered lightly and not-so-lightly, at the same time.
“Yeah.” More silence. Then “You know, I think he was just too good for her,” Ray said significantly.
Fraser heard the significance of the tone and cocked his head to listen carefully.
“Yeah,” Ray was warming up. “She’s some bad-ass Sled Bitch, probably fought her way up in the line by using her teeth and claws.” Ray made clawing motions with his hands. “She probably got to where she enjoyed it. But Dief-” Dief shifted in the back seat and then sat up. “-Dief’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.”
“He meant it metaphorically, he didn’t really call you a fish,” Fraser said soothingly.
Ray ignored the byplay and went on. “Dief is pure of heart, a true hero-type. Now, I’m not saying he can’t be fierce, because he can, I’ve seen him, others have seen him, he’s one fierce puppy. But see,” he turned on the seat, pulling one knee up to face Fraser more fully. “Dief’s a Good Guy. Those Bad Girls, they can’t take a Good Guy for long. Especially, if they don’t want to stop being Bad. You know what I mean?”
Fraser was quiet.
“You know?” Ray pushed.
“Yeah. I know.” Fraser answered finally, feeling the odd pounding of his heart reverberating through his body to his fingertips. He risked a quick look at Ray.
“Do you?” Ray’s eyes didn’t leave his.
“Good.” Ray slapped Fraser’s thigh gently and shifted back in his seat to face forward again. “Then let’s get His Highness back there home and go to bed. I’m whipped.”
“As you say.”
Fraser drove them home.
By necessity, they retired together each evening. Fraser supposed he could have stayed up reading at the table, or even in the chair with the lamp on its dimmest setting, but it seemed impolite to even think of inconveniencing Ray that way. Besides, he thought as he finished up at the toilet and moved to the sink, it was just...cozier to go to bed at the same time. The untoward thought left him feeling flushed, and he busied himself with his toothpaste and toothbrush.
Ray had left his own toothbrush and paste out on the edge of the sink again. Fraser regarded them thoughtfully as he brushed. Each night, Ray had left them there, balanced on the edge of the sink, almost but not quite teetering off. Each night, Fraser had taken them and stowed them neatly back into Ray’s toiletry bag which sat on the back of the toilet. Ray had been visiting...living with him, really...for three nights now.
The encroachment of his personal space had been difficult to get used to. It seemed as though every time he turned around, he’d tripped over some piece of Ray’s luggage, barked his shin on a coffee table that was no longer in its customary place, or collided warmly with Ray himself. The single bathroom was littered with Ray’s various products both for hygiene and hair care, travel-sized reminders that Fraser no longer lived here alone. No matter how many times he threw them back into Ray’s bag, every day they migrated out again. There was no escape from Ray, not even in sleep, since they shared the same bed.
He was forced to admit it was getting to him. He’d found himself fussily re-zipping Ray’s now disastrous suitcase with its incomprehensible mix of dirty and clean clothes, repeatedly shoving the coffee table back into position, becoming keenly aware at all times of the exact location of one Raymond Kowalski so as not to be caught unaware with an armful of his partner again. And every night, he repacked Ray’s toiletry bag.
Fraser leaned over and spit, then rinsed his mouth and spit again. Finished, he regarded himself in the mirror. Ray is your best friend, he told his reflection silently yet with great emphasis. In his heart, he knew his grandmother would not be pleased. Friends and family should be and should feel welcome in your home.
He’d been working hard to...contain...Ray’s presence in his home, as if, by doing so, he could contain Ray’s presence in his life. He shook his head at himself. It was a pointless exercise. And it was time to change it.
He straightened up and automatically his hand reached for Ray’s toothbrush and paste, but instead of putting them back into Ray’s bag, he hung the toothbrush next to his own, and put the paste on top of his in the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. Step one, he thought with satisfaction. Now he just had to communicate his new frame of mind to Ray.
He closed the bathroom door quietly and made his way to the bed. Ray was already in bed and so was... Dief. Fraser stopped by his side of the bed and stared.
Dief glanced at him, closed his eyes and snuggled his head more comfortably into Fraser’s pillow. Fraser stared more significantly and crossed his arms. Dief cracked open one eye and sighed the sigh of the martyred. Groaning, he pushed himself to a sitting position and hung his head with a low whimper. “Isn’t this where the pack sleeps?” he asked as if he was simply a pup who had misunderstood.
“I assure you it is where Ray and I sleep. It is, not, however, where you sleep. You have a perfectly serviceable rug in front of the fire and another one under this very bed,” Fraser answered snappishly.
The next sound was rather more sulky.
“Ray sleeps here because...he is Ray.” Fraser groped for a better response. “Besides, you know you don’t care for this mattress, it bothers your back.”
Dief rolled his eyes insolently but jumped off the bed and headed toward the rug in front of the fireplace where he flopped himself down theatrically. Since the primary objective had been attained, Fraser decided to overlook the tone of his compliance. Just this once.
He got himself settled in bed and turned to find Ray regarding him with some glee. “What?” he asked with an edge to his tone.
“You guys. I swear you guys are more married than we are,” Ray said, and then flushed. “I mean, listening to you two is just like listening to Mom and Dad,” he added hurriedly.
“I take it one of your parents frequently has to take the other to task?”
“And by your previous comment, I assume you mean that you and I also act like a married couple?” Perhaps this joke would be an opportunity for Fraser to communicate to Ray his new mind set.
“Well....” Unfortunately, Ray’s face had lost all traces of humor. “Yeah, you know, partners, sleeping together, that kind of thing. You know.” The hopeful tone of voice, the half grin indicated that he hoped Fraser did know.
“Then, I would be within my rights, as part of this married couple, to take you to task for inappropriate behavior?” Fraser went with the façade, crossed his arms and gave Ray the same stare he’d given Dief. “Ray, about your clothes...”
“Yeah?” Ray said without a smile, sitting up quickly.
“Since you are going to be here a while--”
“Yeah, I’m sorry, Fraser, I know they’ve been in your way, I’ll just--”
“No. I mean,” Fraser looked at Ray now, took in the way his shoulders were hunched in, the way that Ray was very carefully not looking at him and realized that Ray was not taking this as a joke. He uncrossed his arms and hastened to explain. “I mean you are welcome to share the closet, if you’d like to hang some things up, and I’ve got two drawers that are empty that you are free to call your own.”
“Really? You mean that?” Ray’s head turned slightly now, so that Fraser could see one side of his face, see how the light highlighted the cheekbone, the shape of his mouth.
“Yes, of course. I’m sorry I didn’t offer sooner.”
Ray turned the rest of the way toward him and met Fraser’s gaze directly. “This mean you gonna quit packing me up in the bathroom, too?”
Now Fraser’s eyes dropped and he stared at the worn quilt that covered them. “Ah, yes. I’m sorry about that. I realize I’ve probably made you feel unwelcome. That was not my intention.”
A finger tap under his chin surprised him and brought his head back up. Ray was gazing at him seriously.
“Nah. That’s okay. I knew it must be pretty overwhelming for you, me here all the time, and my stuff everywhere. It’ll be easier for me to keep it straighter now that I’ve got places to put things.”
Ray’s easy acceptance of the fact that Fraser’d needed some time to adjust to living with someone relaxed a tension in Fraser that he hadn’t been aware he’d been feeling. Ray wasn’t angry, didn’t seem to think he was any more of a freak than usual. Relief had his mouth open before he knew what he was going to say. “You’re welcome here, Ray.”
“Yeah?” Ray’s hand came up and gently touched Fraser’s face in what could only be called a caress. “Thanks, Fraser. That’s good to know.” He tapped Fraser’s face twice very gently, and pulled his hand away. He lay down and rolled over on his side, facing away from Fraser, apparently ready to settle into sleep.
Fraser brought his own hand up to his face and stared at Ray’s back in some confusion. Finally, heart still racing, he, too, lay back and, after turning off the bedside lamp, waited for sleep to claim him.
Wednesday morning, Ray and Fraser headed back to the cabin. The morning was brisk in a manner that hinted at an approaching autumn, and Fraser, hefting the tool box out of the back of the Jeep, enjoyed the cool breeze that ghosted over his bare arms. Ray, on the other hand, appeared to be shivering in his tank top. He tumbled out of his side of the car and rubbed his hands briskly over his arms. “Fraser. I’m freezing. Did we bring the coffee?”
“Back seat, Ray.”
“Greatness.” Ray leaned in and snagged the wide thermos from the floorboard and busied himself preparing a cup of the warm beverage. “Hey, this already has cream and sugar in it,” he said as he poured out a cup, looking at Fraser.
“Since you are the one who drinks it, it makes sense to prepare it to your preference, Ray. It eliminates unnecessary complications.” Fraser deposited the tool box on the cabin’s wood floor and crouched down to unhook the latches.
“Makes sense. Yeah.” He heard Ray say behind him. Before he could turn around, he felt Ray’s cold fingers thread through his hair and pat his head. “Thanks, Fraser.” Then Ray moved past him, to sit on an empty crate and savor his morning coffee.
“You’re...ah...welcome, Ray.” Somewhat nonplussed, Fraser turned back to the toolbox and extracted two hammers. Standing again, he set one hammer by Ray on the crate, and handling his own, moved over to the framework for the first of the two walls. With a practiced eye, he checked over the work that they had accomplished yesterday, noting with satisfaction that there were no protruding nails or other obvious deficiencies. Today they could start on the third wall.
“What’s up for today?” Ray had joined him, his hands stuck under his arms, his hammer sticking out of the back pocket of his jeans.
“Ray, you’re cold.”
“Won’t be once we get going, Fraser. Where do we start?” Ray hopped up and down in place.
“Well, we’ll start on the third wall today and once that’s finished we can use the winch to raise the first two, at least.” Fraser walked back to the Jeep as he spoke and opened the door to the back seat. Groping slightly under the driver’s seat, he found what he was looking for. “I think what we need to do first is cut the beams for the third wall. Here.” He tossed Ray his Henley.
Ray caught it with one hand, opened it up and grinned back at Fraser. “Hey, great, thanks.” He pulled on Fraser’s shirt over his own tank top. “I may survive now.”
“That would be my intention, Ray,” Fraser managed, unprepared for the way seeing Ray wear his shirt would make him feel.
Ray ducked his chin down into the shirt’s neck. “Smells like you.”
“I’m...sorry, I thought it was clean,” Fraser said, realizing too late how inane he sounded.
“Nah, it’s clean, no worries, it just...smells like you.” Ray’s eyes met his. “That’s all.”
“Is that a good thing?” Had he lost his mind?
“Yeah, that’s a good thing, Fraser.” Ray smiled. “Now, shouldn’t we be doing something here?”
“Right.” Fraser groped for his scattered wits and pulled them together in a semblance of order. “Let’s get busy.”
The work progressed rapidly. Ray utilized the power saw, cutting the boards that Fraser measured. When the boards were cut they both worked to hammer them together.
Around eleven, they were interrupted. Ray noticed first and nudged Fraser. “Hey, they’re here again.” He very carefully didn’t turn around but continued with his work.
Fraser glanced behind them, using his peripheral vision. Ray was right. There was indeed a bevy of young women setting up what could only be called a buffet on a table they had evidently brought with them. Two folding chairs leaned against a station wagon nearby. Inwardly, Fraser sighed. Outwardly, he flicked his fingers across his eyebrow. Instinctively, he moved closer to Ray only to bump shoulders with him. Evidently Ray had had the same instinct.
“Your fan club strikes again, Fraser,” Ray mumbled around the nails in his mouth before taking one out and pounding it into place.
“I think they could more rightfully be defined as your fan club, Ray. Which is not to say they should even be identified as such, seeing as how such an identification would seem to belittle each one’s individ-”
“Fraser. Get a grip.”
“They didn’t start coming out until you arrived, Ray,” Fraser pointed out logically.
“They really didn’t?” Ray’s grin, sans nails now, was almost blinding.
Fraser felt a jolt of affectionate exasperation. “Really.”
“Heh.” Ray jostled his shoulder. “So they’re out here to see me in a tank top? I don’t think so, Fraser.” Ray’s skin was warm against Fraser’s shirt sleeve.
“Why ever not, Ray? You’re good looking, you have intriguing hair, and...” Fraser glanced down at Ray’s torso and then quickly away, “...your appearance in a tank top is not at all displeasing.” Ray’s hammer slipped just then and he just missed banging his thumb. “Are you all right?”
“Huh? Oh. Sure, Fraser. I’m fine. I...missed.” Fraser could not explain the look in Ray’s eye, which seemed intense, almost as if he was in pain.
“Boys?” NatalieJean’s voice interrupted their conversation (if two men staring at each other in silence could be called a conversation) and recalled them both to the present moment. “Lunchtime!”
“Lunchtime, Fraser. You ready to eat?” Ray’s face changed, the intensity faded and his eyes now reflected only amusement. “Help me with the names again, okay?”
“Certainly, Ray.” Turning together, they greeted the women and sat down to lunch.
The women were very attentive while Fraser and Ray ate. Fraser was extremely aware that RoseMarie, NatalieJean’s clerk at the library, kept him under particularly close scrutiny. Every mouthful of iced tea that he consumed was replaced as soon as he set his glass down. When a small gust of wind blew his napkin to the ground, she was at his side with a new one before the edges of the old one stopped fluttering. He nodded politely each time but was reluctant to acknowledge her any further for fear of encouraging her obvious interest.
Instead, he concentrated primarily on his own meal and on watching Ray interact with the others. Ray spoke to the girls easily and with evident enjoyment. Despite his fears, he seemed to quickly pick up their names and seldom misidentified one. On their part, the girls seemed to relish Ray’s accent and his quirky comments. Their good-natured laughter was frequent.
Fraser felt his own mood darken. He began eating faster hoping to finish quickly and get back to work.
“Hey, Frase, lift your head out of your plate a sec, and tell the girls how long we’ve known each other.”
At Ray’s question, Fraser lifted his head and looked at Ray. Ray sat casually in his chair, legs splayed, with one elbow on the table by his plate and one hooked over the back of his chair. The rest of his body was turned toward Fraser even though such a posture meant his back was to most of the girls. His body language was open, his eyes were dancing. With his whole being, Ray invited Fraser to join in the joke, to join the conversation. Fraser did not know what the joke might be, but found he was unable to refuse such a blatant request for his attention.
“About four years,” he answered after wiping his mouth with his fresh napkin.
“Is it true that you and Ray,” first name basis already, Fraser noted, “went off on an Arctic adventure? Looking for Franklin’s hand?” Theresa Simmons asked somewhat breathlessly.
“Yes. We did.” Fraser did not elaborate.
“We sure did and let me tell you, if it weren’t for Fraser, I’d be one with the glaciers about now. There was this one time, I was driving the sled and Fraser was skiing up ahead of me. If he hadn’t happened to look back...”
“Really, Ray, I’m sure you would have been able to extricate yourself given enough time, I simply expedited your own attempts.”
“Expedited? I hope that means the same thing as ‘saved my ass’ because that there’s what you did, Fraser.”
“What happened?” gasped Cyn. The other girls crowded close.
“What happened? I’ll tell you what happened. What happened was, I drove the dogs off a cliff—”
“It was really a small gully, Ray.”
“So the dogs are over the edge and pulling, the sled’s teetering at the edge, and I can’t remember the word for ‘Stop’!”
“A very common mistake among beginners, I assure you,” Fraser put in smoothly.
“So I’m yelling now, but all I can think to yell is “No! No! Bad dogs!” Like you would if a dog sh--,” Ray’s faced reddened and he paused. “I mean, had an accident on the carpet,” he went on.
Fraser noticed a few of the girls nudging one another. NatalieJean winked at him over Ray’s head. Unaware, Ray continued his story. “But the dogs don’t care, those words don’t mean anything to them, so they keep pulling. So the sled went over the edge and down into the gully, hit the bottom and flipped over.” Ray stopped then and shook his head with a sigh. “I was such a greenhorn.”
“What did the constable do?” RoseMarie surprised them all by speaking up.
“I’m just getting to that part.” Ray took a sip of his iced tea. “So I’m lying at the bottom of the gully, face down and thinking I should just stay that way, when Fraser skids to a stop on the other side, covering me with snow, by the way.”
“I’ve said I was sorry, Ray. Repeatedly.” With an effort, Fraser held in his smile.
Ray merely looked at him. “You pay and you pay and you pay...” he replied just for Fraser’s ears. Fraser did grin then. RoseMarie, who had been refilling his tea, made a small kind of noise and slopped some on the tabletop.
“So,” Ray continued, “he shouted the words, the team stopped and he helped me turn the sled over and repack it.”
“What were the words, Ray?” NatalieJean asked with interest.
To Fraser’s amusement, Ray’s face turned red. “That’s not important. What is important is that without his help, I would still be lying there, one with the glacier, writhing in embarrassment. A true friend, ladies, never acknowledges that you have just royally embarrassed yourself. A true friend picks you up, dusts you off and congratulates you on a job well done.” Ray nodded sagely.
“Or, at least, a job well-attempted,” Fraser inserted.
“Yeah, right.” Ray’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.
Fraser held his tongue.
Later, when they were getting ready for bed, Ray surprised him with a question. “Have you known those girls long?”
Fraser looked up from his dresser to see Ray unselfconsciously stripping out of his jeans. “Uh...no, not as such, Ray.” Fraser turned back around quickly and extracted his thermals from the open drawer. “Most of them I’ve only known as long as I have been stationed here.”
Nearly-naked, Ray brushed past him to his part of the dresser and opened one of his drawers.
“Most?” Ray sat on the bed next to Fraser, his thermal shirt in his lap.
“NatalieJean grew up in Paulatuk, one of the settlements along the route my grandparents traveled with their library. So I saw her from time to time as I was growing up.”
“So that’s a connection for you. That must have been kind of cool to come here and see her.”
Fraser opened his mouth and hesitated. He really hadn’t thought all that much about it. He considered it now. “Yes, I guess it was.”
Ray nodded and unfolded his shirt. “You don’t have a lot of those. Connections, I mean, to your past.”
“We are all connected to our pasts, Ray. The past is, after all, what made us what we are today.” Fraser took off his own sweatshirt and henley and stood to move to the bathroom.
Ray’s hand on his arm stopped him. He turned to look back at Ray to see him sitting on the edge of the bed clad only in his boxer briefs, (would he never put that shirt on?), regarding Fraser seriously. “’Constable Fraser.’ That’s what they all call you. ‘Would you like some more tea, Constable?’ ‘How about another helping of macaroni and cheese, Constable?’ ‘Constable, can I get you some more cornbread?’”
Fraser stiffened. “Well, Ray, I am a constable here...”
“That all you are?”
Fraser stood unmoving, clutching his thermal underwear, staring at Ray. Ray’s eyes pinned him like a butterfly on a board. If only he’d gotten to the bathroom a little sooner...
“Is that all you are? Constable Fraser?” Ray repeated more gently, squeezing Fraser’s wrist. “Fraser. You’ve been here a year but you don’t know when the skating rink is open, you haven’t gone to the community theater, you haven’t even eaten in one of the restaurants. Haven’t you gone out on a date? Asked someone to dinner?” Fraser’s silence was evidently enough of an answer, because Ray went on. “Who’s the last person to call you anything other than ‘Constable’?”
Fraser sat back down with a sigh, and dropped his head to his hands. “Quinn.”
Ray’s hand left his wrist and skated up his arm. Fraser felt the bed shift as Ray moved closer, then felt the warmth of Ray’s bare arm along his shoulders. “Yeah. That’s good. Who else?”
“Ray called me Benny.” Fraser scrubbed his hands over his face.
“Yeah. I remember. Didja like that?” Ray sounded skeptical.
Fraser smiled into his hands. “I did. Not so much for the name...but for the intimacy implied, I guess. The trappings of friendship.” His mouth twisted.
“Don’t think that it was just trappings, Vecchio was a good friend.”
“Yes. Yes, he was, Ray.” Fraser turned and found Ray looking directly at him.
“Who else?” Ray encouraged him to go on with a jerk of his chin.
“Ah...” Fraser wanted to look away, but something in Ray’s gaze held him. Not a challenge, but an...empathy, perhaps. “Victoria...she called me Ben.” He tore his gaze away from Ray and rubbed his eyebrow with shaking fingers. “I can still hear how she said it...all the...ways...she said it.”
Ray reached over and took his hand away from his eyebrow and held it. Now Fraser could feel the warmth of Ray’s torso all along his side. It was astonishingly comforting.
“Anyone else?” Ray’s voice was soft.
Fraser found himself leaning into Ray, as if Ray were the heavier one and such an occurrence was simply the result of gravity. “My father. He often called me ‘Son’, but just as often ‘Benton.’ I don’t think,” Fraser paused to consider, “that he ever called me Ben.”
“How about your grandparents?”
“Oddly enough, perhaps, they seldom called me by name. I was the only child, so there was no need to distinguish me from another child, but when they did utilize my name, it was Benton.”
Now Ray’s hand was rubbing up and down over his shoulder, as if to soothe him. “What did your mum call you?” he whispered.
“I don’t know. I can’t remember,” Fraser whispered back, feeling the loneliness of that welling up inside him. “Why are we talking about this, anyway?” Everything inside him wanted to get up, leave Ray’s embrace, and get to the bathroom where he was safe, but he couldn’t seem to leave the warm circle of Ray’s arms.
“Because...you’re lonely, Fraser. And I...I don’t want you to be lonely.” Ray’s head was against his now, his mouth next to Fraser’s ear. “But you’re not going to stop being lonely, unless you let people get to know more of you than just the constable part.”
“I’m not lonely.” Fraser argued. “I’ve got friends. I have a sister. I’ve got...you,” he said, greatly daring.
“But Ray Vecchio is far away. And Maggie is pretty far, too. And, me...I just call you ‘Fraser’ like everyone else.”
Fraser turned his head sharply within Ray’s hold, but Ray’s eyes were closed though the pain on his face was evident, as if he didn’t know how close he was to Fraser. How deeply inside Fraser’s heart he was embedded. “Nobody else says my name like you do.”
Ray’s eyes opened, and they were caught there, nose to nose, eye to eye, Ray wrapped around Fraser for an endless moment. “Yeah?” Ray said finally, his eyes beginning to light up.
Fraser felt a smile ghost into his eyes. “Yeah,” he answered very deliberately.
“Greatness,” Ray whispered back. They held their positions for a moment more, then Ray backed away slightly. “Guess I’d better let you get changed.”
Fraser looked at him blankly. Ray let go of Fraser’s hand and grabbed a handful of Fraser’s thermals and shook them slightly, reminding Fraser that he was changing for bed. Oh. “Ah, yes. Right you are.” Fraser pulled reluctantly away from Ray and stood up. “I’ll just ...go.” Ray waved him away and flopped back on the bed, his thermal shirt covering his head.
In the bathroom, Fraser changed out of his jeans with hands he willed to stop shaking. He felt unsettled. He felt as though Ray had turned him inside out. He felt like...turning the tables. After all, whom did Ray have? He would bet that Ray was just as lonely as he was. Just as...walled off. He slid into his thermals quickly and brushed his teeth. Then he squared his shoulders and left the bathroom intent on his quarry.
“And you, Ray? Aren’t you just as lonely?” The words were out of his mouth before his feet crossed the threshold.
Ray looked up from where he still lay flat on the bed, apparently startled. And he still hadn’t put his shirt on. He held it now, clutched in his right hand. “Whatcha talking about, Fraser?”
“Who in your life calls you ‘Ray’, Ray?” Fraser tried the same approach Ray had used with him.
“Everyone I know, Fraser.” Ray’s startled reaction had faded and his eyes were now quizzically amused. Fraser felt himself flush.
He moved through the cabin mechanically turning off lights and mentally trying to regroup. At the sofa, he turned, “That may be true, Ray,” he conceded, “but how many of them can you count among your true friends?” he finished pointedly.
Ray was silent, head back again he seemed to be staring at the ceiling, his mouth a thin line. Ah ha.
Fraser pushed further. “How many people have you asked out in the past year, Ray?” He stood beside the bed now, stirred up, unsettled, wanting Ray to feel the same.
Some of the air seemed to go out of Fraser upon hearing that pronouncement, leaving him feeling rather flat. “Really?”
“Yeah, Fraser.” Now Ray’s hand came up to rub over his face and neck and shoulder restlessly. He glanced at Fraser standing beside the bed, then shifted upwards on the bed until he was sitting up by the pillows. He jerked his head to indicate that Fraser should sit down. Fraser sat.
“Did you meet--that is to say,” Fraser cracked his neck, “did you meet someone special?”
Oddly, Ray just looked at him for a few seconds. “You mean someone new?”
Fraser nodded, curiously breathless.
Fraser let his air out with a rush. “Ah. So you, too, are lonely.”
Ray winked at him, but only one corner of his mouth made it up into a smile. “Yeah, Fraser. It’s been that kind of year.”
Fraser pulled his feet up and lay on his side, Ray seemed to consider, then mirrored his position on top of the covers. They regarded one another. “Would you care to elaborate?” Fraser ventured finally.
Ray lifted his head and propped it up on one arm. “Well, you know most of it.”
“I know some of what you did. I can only guess,” Fraser rolled on his back “at how you felt.” He turned his head to look back at Ray. Ray met his eyes, then rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, hands on his chest.
“It sucked.” His long fingers lifted eloquently, tapping some obscure rhythm. “Well, at first, especially, but pretty much all year.” He glanced briefly at Fraser. “See, I’d had, what a year? a year and a half? being Vecchio.”
“Twenty months,” Fraser inserted automatically, then flushed as if to know such a thing was somehow something to be embarrassed by. He did not look at Ray.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ray turn his head and start to smile, but then repress it. He turned back. “Right, twenty months,” he told the ceiling. “Anyway, then I’d had another, what three? four? months adventuring with you--” He stopped as if waiting for Fraser to say something. Fraser determinedly didn’t. “Where I was Ray Kowalski again, but with only you to know it,” he went on finally.
“So.” He shifted his shoulders consideringly and let out a gust of air. “There I was, back in Chicago, just me, Ray Not-Vecchio Not-Stella’s-Husband Kowalski with no Mountie partner to call my own.”
Now Fraser did look at his former partner, but Ray wasn’t looking at him. Instead Ray seemed lost in contemplation or, perhaps, memory and continued to stare off into space.
“I kind of had to figure out who I was again. And you know what I figured out?” Now Ray turned to catch Fraser’s gaze with his own. “I’ve let other people define who I am all my life. My entire life.”
Fraser felt his brow knit, and moistened his lips in preparation of a firm rebuttal.
Ray held up one hand to forestall him. “No, really. Look Fraser,” He sat up suddenly and crossed his legs, arms in his lap. He held up one finger. “First, my parents, there I was Damian and Barbara’s son, the meat-packer’s kid.” He held up another finger. “Then, to the kids at school I was Stanley the Four-Eyed Geek.” A third finger was added, “Then, I’m 14, I see Stella, I’m in love and before I know it, I’m Stella’s Ray. Ray, the guy she hangs out with, the guy her posh friends have to accept and make room for if they’re going to continue to be her friends.” He grinned confidentially and leaned toward Fraser. “Stella had balls even then, Fraser. She didn’t let any of those snobs tell her what to do. And they wanted her to dump me.”
Fraser felt his heart twist suddenly for the child and then the adolescent Ray had been. Gawky and long-limbed, but undoubtedly endearing all the same. He felt an unexpected camaraderie with Stella, who had evidently seen more than the outside of Ray had suggested.
Ray went on. “So I was Stella’s Ray for a long time, Fraser. A long time. Fourteen to thirty -four? That’s what... twenty years? Twenty years.” He dropped his head into his hands. “Shit. No wonder I didn’t know what to do with myself when she left me.” He lifted his head and his eyes pierced Fraser’s. “Which is where, of course, the undercover work came in.”
Fraser put his hand on Ray’s knee.
“See, there, I wasn’t anybody’s Ray, I wasn’t Ray at all.” He threw his arms out. “And it was easy, Fraser, so easy.” He brought his hands back to his lap, leaned forward onto his elbows, his forearm resting against Fraser’s hand. “It was so much easier to be someone else, to be who the cover sheet said I should be, easier ...than being me, by myself, with no Stella, no parents, nobody to tell me who I was, what I should be.”
“Then,” and the corners of his mouth trembled slightly. “Then, I was Ray Vecchio. And I was undercover, but I wasn’t undercover...with you. You knew who I was almost from the beginning. I was never Ray Vecchio with you I was only Ray Kowalski. To the rest of the world, I was Vecchio, I pretended with the best of them, but I didn’t have to pretend with you.”
“I’m glad,” was all Fraser could manage.
“Yeah, me too, Fraser. And it was safe, somehow.” Ray looked up, met Fraser’s gaze with a wry expression then looked down again. “Safe with you, and in the undercover stuff, to think a little about Ray Kowalski, let myself come out sorta naturally, without having to do some heavy soul-searching. Cause I didn’t have to be Ray Kowalski, I couldn’t be him really, I was Vecchio, but still...I could think about him.”
“Think about yourself, you mean.” Fraser didn’t like Ray talking about himself in the third person.
Ray half-laughed and smiled briefly, “Yeah, I thought about myself, although...I seemed as strange to myself as if I was another person. Another undercover job to learn. Which was kind of how I approached things when I went back to Chicago. At first.”
“What did you do?”
“I kind of...” Ray laughed and looked away, “This is dumb, Fraser.”
Fraser could see that Ray was embarrassed, maybe nervous. “I sincerely doubt that. You don’t have to tell me, but I’d like to know.” He squeezed Ray’s knee.
“Yeah, right...” Ray looked down again, seemed to study Fraser’s hand, then dropped his own over it. “Well, I...filled out my own cover sheet. With, you know, details of what I did, what I...liked.”
“Sounds logical. Did it help?” Fraser kept his voice quiet, threaded his fingers slightly through Ray’s.
“Yeah, yeah, it did Fraser.” Ray met his eyes and smiled ruefully. “Got me back on track.”
“Yeah, me, too.” Ray’s eyes were warm. Then they were closed as he was overtaken by an enormous yawn. “Whew, that’s it for me. Hop up, let’s do this right.” He squeezed Fraser’s hand briefly, then unfolded himself to get off the bed. Fraser rolled off his side and they pulled the covers down together.
“G’night, Fraser.” Ray sounded half-asleep already.
“Good night, Ray. Sleep well,” Fraser responded automatically. “Will you tell me more tomorrow?”
“Sure, Fraser, it’ll be True Confessions time, I promise. Tell you all about it...” Ray’s voice trailed off. “Hey, Fraser?” he said sleepily a few moments later.
“Thanks for not telling the girls that the word is ‘stop.’”
Fraser felt the stretch of his smile in his ears. He made sure there was no hint of laughter in his voice before he answered. “Of course, Ray. Good night.”
Fraser turned off his bedside lamp and lay in the dark, thinking, for a long time.
The next day, both men were quiet as they started work. Building the framework was taking longer than Fraser expected which caused him no little stress. However, Ray, too, seemed preoccupied and distant, as if he were thinking extremely hard about something.
Fraser did not have a clear idea what might be bothering Ray or if, indeed, anything was. But he could not shake the feeling that something was off with his partner. To keep his mind off his own troubles of time and construction, he watched Ray surreptitiously out of the corner of his eye. It was somewhat of a challenge, as Ray was both perceptive and in constant motion around the site. It was really only a matter of time before Ray figured out he was being observed and once that happened—
“Yes, Ray?” Fraser met Ray’s exasperated irritation calmly.
“Why don’t you just ask me whatever it is you’re trying to stare out of me?” Ray tapped his foot and glared.
Fraser turned back to the framework and considered. It was, indeed, the more direct method. “Very well. Are you all right? You seem very quiet this morning.”
“I’m fine, Fraser.”
“You’ll excuse me for mentioning it, I’m sure, but it’s been my experience with you, Ray, that the answer ‘I’m fine’ seldom means that.”
Ray’s head whipped up and he stared at the side of Fraser’s head. Fraser deliberately didn’t look at him, but selected another nail from the pouch at his waist and pounded it into place with a single stroke.
“How do you do that anyway?” Ray used his own hammer to gesture vaguely toward Fraser and the now properly placed nail.
“It’s just a matter of force and acceleration. Here, I’ll show you.” Fraser opened his arms and gestured for Ray to come closer.
Ray sidled nearer.
Fraser positioned the nail properly, and gestured with his chin for Ray to move in a little. “The trick to a powerful stroke lies in your wrist.” Fraser demonstrated. With a solid thunk! his hammer connected with the nail and pushed it almost all the way in.
Ray stared at the nail. He appeared to be impressed. At least, that was one possible reason for his fascination.
“So the trick is in your wrist you say?” Ray looked at Fraser’s hand.
“Do you like a snap? Or a flick?”
Fraser felt himself flush. “Pardon?” he asked for clarification.
“The motion of your wrist, is it strong and hard like a snap? Or lighter and softer like a flick?”
Fraser wasn’t sure he could stand this close to Ray and hear that mouth say words like that for much longer. But, just as his discomfort was registering internally, Ray moved closer still and asked for more.
“Show me?” Ray now stood directly in front of Fraser with his hand upraised and a nail in position.
Fraser groaned inwardly but could come up with no conceivable reason to refuse. Hadn’t he invited Ray over here to “show him?” He stepped up behind Ray and wrapped his hand around Ray’s hand on the hammer.
“You need to hold the hammer lower on the handle.” Fraser exerted pressure and together his hand and Ray’s moved down the hammer’s shaft. “Perhaps, I should hold the nail,” he suggested somewhat breathlessly in, he realized too late, Ray’s left ear. He raised his left hand somewhat tentatively to take it. Ray shifted fractionally and held out the nail. Fraser took it and held it into place. He took a deep breath and concentrated only on the nail. He altered his grip slightly over Ray’s hand, shifted his feet to more evenly distribute his weight and with a single stroke, slammed the nail home. He let go of Ray immediately and backed off.
Somewhat to his surprise, the hammer dropped to the wood floor.
“Ray, are you all right?” Fraser hoped he hadn’t broken his toe.
“Yeah, sure, Fraser. I’m pretty good for someone who just missed getting nailed.” Ray smiled with some embarrassment.
“Ah. That’s...funny, Ray.” Fraser knew the slang, knew Ray was making a joke, but couldn’t quite laugh at it.
“Well, I try. Think I’ll take a water break.” And that fast, Ray moved toward the Jeep. Fraser watched him go and decided that the fact that Ray reached down to adjust himself was simply a matter of coincidence and couldn’t be....anything...else.
It was almost an hour before Fraser realized that by asking for a hammering demonstration, Ray had effectively distracted him from his question as to Ray’s well-being. It had been very neatly done, too, Fraser mused while refilling his nail pouch. He straightened and went back to watching Ray again.
Ray responded predictably. “Now what, Fraser?” He turned to face Fraser with his hands on his hips. The tool belt he wore only accentuated that area of Ray’s body and Fraser very sternly exerted his self-control and kept his eyes on Ray’s face.
“You’ve never told me what’s bothering you,” he pointed out.
Ray’s eyes rolled and his hands went out in a gesture meant to convey his exasperation before he turned back to the wall he was working on. “Some people might take that as an indication I don’t want to talk about it.” He set up a nail and raised his hammer.
“Your hand needs to be lower...” Fraser started, then stopped refusing to be distracted. “But that’s seldom the case with you Ray,” he said instead. “As far as I’ve been able to determine, you demand a necessary but unspecified amount of poking and prodding after which you do indeed ‘spill your spleen,’ as I believe the idiom goes.” Fraser turned back to his own wall and waited.
“Your guts!” Ray raised his voice for emphasis and Fraser turned around to see. “Spill your guts! Which” and now Ray was pointing at him with his index finger and pinky in his characteristic fashion, “you know perfectly well, you big red pain in the ass.”
“Ah. I see.” Fraser said blandly. “And is that the kind of ‘poking and prodding’ you require today?” He froze and cringed inwardly.
“Hey, you want a piece of me, you’ll pay for it like everyone else,” Ray shot back.
Fraser’s tension released itself in a sudden burst of laughter that he was unable to control.
Huge guffaws shook his body, until his knees gave way. He slid to the plywood sub-floor and knelt there.
“What? What?” Ray demonstrated outrage, though his eyes appeared delighted. “You think I’m not worth it? Don’t knock it, baby, until you’ve tried it.” He waggled his eyebrows and shimmied his hips sending Fraser into further paroxysms of hilarity and forcing him to actually lie down on the floor from the sheer pleasure of it. He’d actually forgotten how good it could feel to laugh.
Ray came to stand above him, eyeing him critically with his hands on his hips. “You, Benton Fraser, are so easy,” he said shaking his head. Then he squatted next to Fraser’s still convulsing body. “And you laugh like a girl.”
“I-I-I- I do not,” Fraser attempted, taking in huge gulps of air between attempts.
“Trust me, Fraser, that last bit there, very girly.” He patted Fraser’s foot. “That’s okay, I won’t tell, believe me.” He looked off into the distance for a moment and Fraser attempted to pull himself together. “That’s the second time I’ve made you laugh since I’ve been here.”
“I assure you, Ray, that’s more than I’ve laughed all year.” It slipped out unheeded.
Ray just stared at him for a moment. Then the corners of his eyes crinkled up. “That’s....that’s...”He appeared at a loss for words momentarily. Then he found them. “That’s really pathetic,” he finished finally.
Fraser was caught by that truth for a moment. “You’re right,” he said and for no apparent reason, except perhaps that it was better to laugh than to cry, he burst into laughter again. This time Ray joined him.
They ended up lying next to each other, gasping for air, each one still dealing with little riffs of hilarity from time to time.
“So...” Fraser tried again, when he felt he was really past the worst of it. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Oh, that,” Ray swiped at his eyes and turned his head to meet Fraser’s own watery gaze. “I had a bad dream.”
Fraser sat up swiftly, concerned. “About what? Would it help to talk about it?”
“I....I...it’s hard, Fraser.” Ray put his arm over his eyes.
“You can tell me, Ray.” Now Fraser was really worried.
“I dreamed I was....a rent-boy down on Wacker.” Ray lifted his arm slightly and peered at Fraser guilelessly.
And Fraser burst out laughing again. Even knowing he’d been suckered, he couldn’t help the new bout of giggles, guffaws and chuckles that filled him to overflowing.
“It was awful,” Ray went on meditatively. “So many men, so little time...” He trailed off as if lost in the memory.
“Stop, stop,” Fraser raised his hands in defeat, still chortling. “I can’t take it. I’m going to pull a muscle.”
“Wuss,” Ray said affectionately, but thankfully left off with the scenario.
Fraser used the time to pull himself together. He wiped his eyes. He breathed deeply. He resisted the urge to recall exactly what it was Ray had said as the briefest flicker of memory pulled his mouth up into a grin.
“Hey,” Ray asked for his attention again. “I’m thinking I need to set up a date.”
“Yeah, Fraser, a date. I know you know what I mean. A guy sees someone he likes, asks that someone out for an evening of fun and entertainment. You’ve heard of that, right?”
“Of course I know what a date is,” Fraser snapped unintentionally. “Have you met someone you would like to do this with?” Fraser wondered if it was oxygen deprivation from his laughing fit that was making his head spin.
“Well, you never know how things might work out, do you?” Ray’s grin was all Ray but revealed nothing of what he might be thinking.
“Well, no, you never do, I suppose. When did you think this ‘date’ might occur?” Fraser tried to rally and be supportive.
“Needs to be soon, Fraser,” Ray answered getting to his feet. “I’m working with a definite time limit.”
“As you say,” Fraser replied and regained his own feet, still wondering.
That night, Fraser woke up unexpectedly with a sense he was needed. The cabin was still, shrouded in darkness. From the quality of the darkness he could determine that only a few hours had passed since they had turned off the light. He turned his head on the pillow, unsure what might have awakened him. He attempted to roll onto his back but a sharp tug on the front of his thermals prevented him from moving. He rolled back to ascertain what on earth he might be snagged on.
He moved his hand down his chest and encountered...Ray’s hand. Fraser stiffened in surprise. Ray’s fingers were tangled up in his long johns, clutching them really, in rather the same manner as a child might hold a well-loved blanket while sleeping.
Fraser wondered what he should do. Ray would certainly be embarrassed if he were to awaken to find himself holding on to Fraser like a teddy bear. Probably, he should remove Ray’s hand, return it to him and go back to sleep. That was the logical course of action. The fact that he was strangely reluctant to do that was completely irrelevant.
As gently as possible, he began to pry Ray’s fingers away from his clothing.
It wasn’t a yell, but there was no doubt that Ray was awake and alarmed. His voice was very intense. “Ray. I’m right here.”
“Yes, Ray. I’m right here.” Fraser stopped pulling at Ray’s fingers and held them briefly instead.
“Okay. Okay. Wow.” Ray pulled his hand back and rolled over on his back away from Fraser. “Sorry. Did I wake you?”
“Something woke me,” Fraser said truthfully. “But I don’t know what. Are you all right?”
From the sound, Ray was scratching at his chest. “Uh, yeah. Hang on, I’m gonna use the can.” The bed shifted then was still. Fraser could hear Ray picking his way carefully over to the bathroom.
“Shall I turn the light on?”
“Nah, I’m good, I’m there now.” With a click, the bathroom light came on, and Fraser had a glimpse of Ray in his boxer-briefs and thermal shirt, before the door closed. He lay back again and closed his eyes, feeling more than awake.
In short order, Ray came back and got back into bed. He sighed and settled back in, seemingly ready to go right back to sleep. Ah. Well. Fraser shifted to a more comfortable position himself, closed his eyes. But it niggled at him. Was Ray all right? Was something upsetting him? His voice had sounded...almost frightened. “Ray,” he whispered, just in case Ray had dropped right off.
“What?” Ray whispered back from right in front of him. Fraser started back a bit”Are--are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m good Fraser.”
Ray sat up suddenly. “What did I say?” Ray sounded uncertain and certainly somewhat...concerned.
“Just my name, but the tone made me think you were worried I might not be here....” Fraser answered in his normal voice, since whispering was both difficult to maintain and pointless.
“Ray, what is it?”
“It doesn’t matter Fraser. I’m fine now. Go back to sleep.” Ray abruptly lay down again.
“Ray...” Fraser tried again.
Fraser sighed inwardly and again readied himself for sleep.
“I’m sorry I woke you.” Fraser’s eyes opened at the sound of Ray’s voice.
“That’s quite all right. Although, point in fact, I’m not sure you did.”
“Ah.” Fraser shifted his feet and pulled at the covers. “What about it in particular?” he asked, then squinted in the sudden light. Ray had turned on his bedside lamp. Letting of the switch, he rolled back to face Fraser again.
“No, you don’t Fraser. See...in the beginning...well, I didn’t know anything... it was all snow and cold and my eyelashes sticking together...” One corner of Ray’s mouth pulled up into a closed mouth smile. Then his face changed. “But you, you were like Super Mountie.” He looked away.
“Not that that was a big surprise or anything. I mean, in Chicago, I’d pretty much gotten used to the cape and the whole bit...but on the adventure, there in the wilderness, it was like...getting to see you fly for the first time since I’d known you.” Ray glanced back at Fraser and smiled a bit, then looked down again.
“You were so at home there...made me feel at home, too.”
Fraser listened dumbfounded, staring at Ray seeing how his hair gleamed in the lamplight, how it was going ever so slightly gray at the temples.
Ray took in breath to go on, and the corners of his mouth trembled just a bit. He kept his eyes on the quilt. “Things were great during the day. Sure it was cold and there was snow everywhere, but we were moving, we were busy. You could show me what to do to help, and I could actually be kind of helpful.
“Days were great. But the nights...” Ray paused and rubbed his forehead and Fraser could see his hand was shaking slightly. “The nights were really dark, Fraser.” He looked up at Fraser then, and his mouth pulled up wryly. “I never knew just how much I could miss the lights of the city, you know?”
Fraser was aghast. How could he have not known this? “Ray, I--”
“Not your fault, Fraser. I never told you.”
“Why on earth not?”
“Don’t know.” Again, the wry tilt to his mouth. A look up at Fraser, a look away. “Pride maybe. I had to lean on you so hard during the day, I didn’t want to admit that...” Ray’s fingers pulled at the quilt, folding it between his fingers and then releasing it only to fold it again.
“See, at night, it was so dark, I couldn’t see you, I could hear you sometimes and that helped, but I couldn’t actually see you. And the longer I lay there, the more it was like maybe you weren’t there at all. Maybe I was all alone...maybe it’d never get light again and I just be alone there in the dark and cold...it would all spiral from there.”
“Like vertigo...” Fraser said, wishing from the bottom of his heart that he’d known this about Ray, that he’d guessed it, that Ray hadn’t had to go through it.
“Yeah.” Ray looked up again to briefly meet Fraser’s eyes. “Like that. Like Jimmy Stewart falling down that spiral. That was me. So I’d get a little panicked, start breathing funny, until one night I just reached out and tried to find you.” Eyes down again.
“I sat up and reached out as far as I could on either side of me, because by that time, I was so...dizzy...I couldn’t remember which side you were on. Didn’t get you on the first pass, but then I stretched farther and found your shoulder. I just about passed out from relief. So I just held on a minute feeling you breathe. Feeling me breathe.” Ray stopped worrying at the quilt and used that hand to scratch at the stubble on his cheek and neck. He rolled over on his back and went on.
“Finally, I started getting sleepy again. I didn’t want to let go of you, but...I couldn’t sleep sitting up. So I slid as close as I dared, until I could feel the edge of your sleeping bag.” Ray turned his head a bit, his eyes shining a little in the low light. “So I grabbed on and held it. Like a...little kid with a blanket.” He didn’t look away.
Fraser felt an upsurge of emotion. There was affection there: sympathy, empathy, pride, and a little bit of awe. Without meaning to, he brought his hand up to touch Ray’s arm. “Lonely nights can be intimidating.”
Ray glanced down “Yeah,” he answered and there seemed to be something more in is gaze than just gratitude. But he turned his head and went on, before Fraser could determine what that might be. “So tonight,” Ray went on. “I was dreaming that we were back in the tent, and I guess I needed to know you were there.”
“That’s why you were holding on,” Fraser put it all together.
“Yeah. Sorry about that.” Ray looked at him ruefully.
“I needed you out there. I would have died without you.”
Fraser stared at Ray, marveled at his courage. Dug deep inside himself to meet that example. “If, as you say, I have served as your ‘blanket’ it must also be said that you have served me in the same capacity.”
“Uh, Fraser, it’s really late and that’s way too many big words--”
“You’ve been my ‘blanket,’ too.”
Ray’s smile was brilliant. “I have?”
“When I returned to Chicago and found that Ray Vecchio had gone, I...despaired. He had been my only friend. His departure left a hole in my life. A life, mind you, which could only be called patchy to begin with.”
Fraser looked down at the bed, unable to keep holding Ray’s eyes. “Your friendship offered freely during that time, meant the world to me. If you had turned me down when I asked you to dinner that first evening,” Fraser stopped and shook his head. “I don’t think I could have stayed in Chicago.”
“I’da never turned you down.”
“Ray, I fed you putty sandwiches.”
“I still said yes.”
“I got ink all over your hand, I measured your nose.”
“Didn’t matter. I still wanted to know you, wanted to be your friend.”
“I...can’t imagine why.” And Fraser really couldn’t. He still twisted with embarrassment inside whenever he thought of his actions that day.
“We were destined to be buddies, Fraser.” Ray yawned.
“And what makes you think that, Ray?” Fraser leaned carefully over Ray and turned off the light.
“Cause I need you Fraser and you need me. Arctic adventure or not.” Ray’s voice trailed off and he made snuggling sounds as his body relaxed into sleep.
“Sleep well, Ray.”
And silence descended once more.
After dinner the next night, Ray wandered over to the boom box. At the sink doing the washing up, Fraser heard the click of CD cases as Ray decided on a selection. He dunked the spaghetti pot in the soapy water and briskly scrubbed it out, rinsed it then set it on the counter next to him with a loud thud. Quickly he dunked and scrubbed the saucepot, and the pot Ray used to boil the broccoli. Soon they, too, dripped on the counter next to the dutch oven. The silverware landed in the soapy water in a bunch, to soak at the bottom, while Fraser quickly washed the plates. The silverware he did in one big bundle, scrubbing negligently with the washcloth at whatever was visible, then rinsing.
By the time the washing up was finished, Ray had selected his music and was loading it into the CD player of the boom box. Fraser pulled a clean dish towel from the pile under the sink and turned to the counter where the pots and dishes were drying. He picked up the dutch oven and began drying it, watching as the music became audible and Ray started to move.
Ray got the beat in his shoulders first, then echoed that in his hips. Fraser’s hands slipped on the pot he was holding and he tightened his grip absently, attention elsewhere. By the time Ray moved away from the boom box, his eyes would be closed and he’d be totally immersed in the music. Tonight it was Aretha Franklin.
Fraser put the dutch oven away, moved on to the next, eyes still on Ray. He’d moved away from the CD player now, body moving in synch with the rhythms of ‘Respect.’ His shoulders and hips were still undulating and the footwork he’d added was of a sliding variety that accentuated the smooth rhythm of the piece.
Fraser had come to love this time of the evening, when Ray used his music to unwind. He’d taken to hurrying through the washing up, just so he could turn to the counter between the living room and the kitchen for an unencumbered view. He loved to watch the fluidity of Ray’s body, the way he seemed to take the music and make it a part of himself. Usually, Ray was good for at least twenty minutes of total zone-out time, as he called it, and Fraser could watch to his heart’s content.
After ‘Respect’, came ‘Think’ and then ‘Highway to Love.’ Fraser was done with the dishes by then, and simply stood, arms braced on the counter to watch, feeling fairly sure that Ray would be involved for at least two more songs.
He was wrong.
“Enjoying the show?” Ray’s eyes opened and he looked at Fraser directly, but he didn’t stop moving. Fraser started, then blushed.
“Y-y-yes. You’re a very fine dancer, Ray.” Fraser went for obvious and oblivious, a combination that usually worked to mask his nervousness in certain situations. He felt his body move into Parade Rest without his conscious control, however, which was a dead give-away. He could only hope Ray didn’t notice.
“Gotta get back in shape, if I’m going to take my date dancing.” Ah. Yes. The date. Before Fraser could shake the peculiar feeling of ambivalence that always came over him when Ray mentioned his upcoming social engagement, Ray went on. “You done in there?”
Fraser looked around blankly. Ah. The dishes. “Yes.”
“Then come on. Come out here with me. I’m better with a partner.” Ray continued to move, adding a little spin in place that still manage to make the beat.
“I’m...not sure I’d be up to your skill level, Ray. As a dance partner, I mean.”
“Never had any trouble with you as a partner before.” Ray spun again.
“Thank you kindly, but I feel obligated to point out that you have no experience with me as a dance partner.”
“How different can it be? Come on. I’m lonesome out here.”
Fraser rolled his eyes at that and stood his ground. “On the contrary, Ray, I believe you’re enjoying yourself immensely.”
“Yeah, well, that’s true, I like to dance. But come on, it’ll be fun. It’ll loosen you right up.” ‘Freeway to Love’ ended and Ray stopped dancing and headed back to the CD player.
“Do you think I need to loosen up?” Fraser asked, wondering suddenly if Ray found him as stiff and formal as most people seemed to. He hadn’t thought Ray thought of him that way...
“Don’t get me wrong, Fraser. I think you’re great. But you are the one standing at attention over there,” Ray said over his shoulder, “while Aretha is singing her heart out over here.” He turned back and pressed a button. ‘Freeway to Love’ started again.
When he turned back around, he ran directly into Fraser’s chest. Fraser held him by his elbows until he regained his balance. “Wow. Fraser. What a swim.”
“Excuse me?” Fraser wasn’t sure he’d heard right.
“Never mind.” Ray grinned and shook his head. “Little Mermaid reference.”
“Ah. Hans Christian Anderson?”
“No, Walt Disney.”
“Oh.” Fraser was unenlightened, but willing to drop it. “Here I am.”
“I see that, Fraser. Now dance. Aretha’s wastin’”
Fraser applied himself. He listened to the music, ascertained the beat and attempted to translate that into movements of his body. Thankfully, Ray’s eyes were closed again, so Fraser had the illusion of complete privacy. Surreptitiously, he again studied Ray and attempted to move his body as he did.
At first Ray was just sort of...shimmying to the music with no clearly defined motion that Fraser could seem to emulate. Gradually though, Ray seemed to add some more obvious moves involving his arms that Fraser was happy to latch onto and copy. It was when Ray hooked his thumbs in his armpits and flapped his arms that Fraser began to suspect...
“Whoa, Fraser! Way to do the Funky Chicken!”
Fraser went for oblivious: after all, another person could only make fun of one if one allowed it. “Why, thank you kindly, Ray. I find copying your moves to be very instructive. I can’t wait to tell everyone what a fine dance instructor you are.”
Ray burst out laughing. “God, you’re good at that.”
Fraser stopped and could not stop the grin that spread across his face. “What, dancing?”
“Turning the tables, you freak. Now come here and I’ll show you some real moves.”
For the next hour Aretha sang her heart out and Ray showed Fraser the steps and moves to dances with names like, The Swim, The Mashed Potato, the Pony and the Frug. It was fun and Fraser thoroughly enjoyed himself, enjoyed the music and enjoyed Ray most of all.
Afterwards, when they were flopped backwards on the bed catching their breath, Fraser said, “Some of those moves were familiar. I remembered them from dancing with Ray Vecchio at the Convent.” There was a significant silence next to him. Fraser turned to see what was wrong.
Ray lay still, staring at Fraser like he’d been...hit with a brick, was the kindest thought Fraser could come up with.
“Ray are you all right?”
“You...you danced with Vecchio?”
“Well, yes, it was just the one time...it was for a case, you see-”Fraser started.
“I read the files, Fraser. There was no case where you danced with Vecchio. Trust me. I would remember.”
“Ah. Well, I believe it was primarily off the record that we looked into it.”
“Yes,” Fraser hurried on, not understanding what was making Ray look like that. “I went undercover at St. Fortunata’s , as a teacher, to investigate—”
“You went undercover in a Girls’ Catholic School? As what? A nun?”
“Well, no, Ray, not as nun, as a...woman.”
“As a...woman?” Ray’s voice went up a notch.
“Yes. You see, it was necessary that we move quickly and there was no female officer available...” Fraser trailed off, completely unable to decipher the look on Ray’s face. Did Ray have a problem with the fact that Fraser had once dressed as a woman? “Ray, are you all right?”
Ray looked at him directly then. “Yeah, Fraser. I’m good. Wow. Just you know.” He waved a hand in Fraser’s direction, letting it fall on Fraser’s arm. “You surprised me, that’s all. Once in a while I forget you aren’t nearly as straight-laced as you look.” He squeezed Fraser’s forearm reassuringly.
“There are good surprises and there are...bad surprises...” Fraser heard himself say with some shock, as if he was openly asking for...something.
Ray’s gaze changed then and his grip loosened so his fingers could trace the bones of Fraser’s wrist lightly. “No bad surprises here, Fraser. We’re good.”
Fraser stared into Ray’s eyes. Noticed his heart pounding, his breath sighing through his lungs with relief...and something else. Unaccountably, he started to get a little dizzy, lying on the bed, face to face with Ray, feeling Ray’s fingers on his wrist. There was no reason he should be experiencing vertigo...yet, the symptoms were unmistakable. Ray held his gaze for a few seconds more then his eyes flickered and seem to come to rest on Fraser’s mouth. Fraser felt it like a kiss, but before he could more than draw in a breath, Ray was sitting up, standing up and gone...to the bathroom. Fraser brought his wrist to his chest and held it, closing his eyes against his own foolishness.
In the bathroom, he heard the shower start. Ah. An excellent idea. Forcing himself up, he sat on the edge of the bed and took off his shoes. After placing them neatly side by side under the dresser, he stood, fingers reaching for his waistband. Slowly, with some thought as to whether he should just undress in the bathroom, he undid the snap and pulled the zipper down. After all, he reasoned as he sat back on the bed the comforter a comforting chill against the back of his thighs, Ray was certainly comfortable enough here to walk around clad merely in his boxer briefs. There was certainly no reason why Fraser should feel confined to what he was sure his father would liken ‘excessive’ modesty himself.
So there he was then. He peeled the jeans off his legs, one at a time and then turned them right side out again before tossing them in the hamper in the closet. Seeing the hamper reminded him that the bathroom towels were still in the dryer. He padded over to the laundry closet at the far end of the kitchen and extracted the towels. Taking the bundle to the kitchen table, he dumped it then began folding the towels quickly and efficiently.
Ray would probably appreciate a clean towel. He selected a blue one for no reason worth dwelling on and laid it at the top of the pile. He moved to the bathroom with the towels, stopping at the linen closet to deposit all but the top one. Still holding that one, he knocked on the door.
He received no reply. He could still hear the shower running, so he eased the door open and stuck the towel through it, then followed the towel with his arm. If he just stretched far enough, he could set the towel on the edge of the sink. There.
He pulled his arm back and froze. Was that a moan from Ray? He listened harder, but didn’t hear anything further, so he quietly closed the door.
Twenty minutes later, Fraser looked up from the wing chair to see Ray emerge from the bathroom with slicked-back hair and bare feet, clutching his dirty clothes to his chest. Obviously, he hadn’t used his gel yet, and the resulting flat look made him look about seventeen. Fraser felt his eyes crinkle up into a smile. “Hello, Ray.”
“Yeah, hi, Fraser.” Ray looked at him strangely, perhaps he was wondering why Fraser was sitting there smiling at him. “All done, bathroom’s all yours if you want it.”
“Thank you kindly, Ray, I believe I will follow your good example and take a shower myself.” Fraser closed his book with a snap, and stood up briskly.
“Yeah. Okay. Good. Uh, you going to go right now?” Ray held up his hand as if to stop Fraser from going into the bathroom. Fraser stopped next to him and looked at him curiously.
“I was planning to. Is there something wrong?”
“Uh, you know, you might want to wait a few minutes, the uh, smell...is...uh...”
Fraser thought he understood. “Relax Ray. I was once holed up for eleven days with the carcass of a...”
“...dead caribou, yeah, I know, Fraser. Okay. Whatever. Knock yourself out.” Ray grinned that odd closed mouth grin at him and waved him on.
“But...thank you kindly, Ray for the warning.” Fraser hesitated at the door, feeling that maybe he’d missed something.
Ray had turned by then and was headed to the dresser, providing Fraser with an excellent view of his bare back. “Go ahead, Fraser. Enjoy yourself.”
“Right you are.” Fraser escaped into the bathroom, shut the door behind him and leaned on it, then wondered what was making his heart pound in such a way. He shook his head slightly, and straightened. It was then that the smell hit him....
The air was full of ...Ray: his soap, his shampoo, his deodorant. These scents that he’d come to associate with Ray were almost tangible, touching the skin on his face, his arms, his bare legs...and intertwined with all these scents was the unmistakable, distinctive, pheremone-laden odor of semen.
Ray had masturbated in the shower.
The evidence was very clear.
Fraser felt the realization roll over him like a wave of heat. He stood indecisively in the middle of the small room, then turned and started toward the sink to brush his teeth, but before he got there he turned back and moved to the shower to start the water instead. Before he could accomplish that, however, he changed his mind again and sat down on the closed toilet seat to attempt to determine what ailed him. His heart was thudding loudly, he felt confused, he was, quite literally, flustered. His ears burned where he held them and he felt flushed all over.
He knew he was aroused. God, he’d gotten erect so quickly, it was no wonder that he couldn’t think. It was obvious he no longer had any blood flowing to his brain. It had to be this room: this room smelled like sex and his body recognized it and prepared itself appropriately.
Oh, that was good, Fraser thought cynically. Evidently, he’d raised rationalization to an art form now. A simple explanation, patently logical, it could easily be used to explain why he was hard and aching, flushed and wanting. So simple. And so wrong.
It wasn’t that the room smelled like sex. It was simply that the room smelled like sex and Ray. Ray and sex. It was true, he wanted sex. Like any male animal (except Dief evidently), he wanted sex. But unlike most male animals, he also wanted Ray. Ray and sex. Sex with Ray.
He moaned a little himself at the sound of that, at the images it provoked. Ray’s mouth on his. His mouth on Ray’s body, Ray’s mouth on his. His body naked and sweaty under Ray’s, over Ray’s...in Ray’s. With a barely suppressed groan now, he gritted his teeth and stalked awkwardly to the shower to turn on the water.
Once inside, the warmth and wetness on his skin only served to arouse him farther. Before he could rationalize a reason not to, he slid his hand down his stomach and took himself in hand. Ray had done this after all, why should he deny himself the same pleasure? God, if only his pleasure and Ray’s were the same. What would Ray like? Fraser’s mouth? His hand jerking roughly like it was now, or more gently? Would he let Fraser push him over onto his back and taste the soft skin where his shoulder met his neck? Would he let Fraser pleasure him with his mouth, his tongue, the whole of him?
His mind stuck on an image of Ray’s body hot and hard against his back, Ray’s hand stroking him just right, Ray’s cock inside him, pumping strong and fast. With a groan that was surely audible even in the kitchen, Fraser let loose his frustration, let go his control and came all over the shower wall.
Damn, he thought somewhat blearily. He needed to do that more often.
The next morning dawned bright and clear with a temperature in the very low 40s but the cloudless sky promised more comfortable temperatures as the sun rose. Ray wore his own long-sleeved shirt today, but Fraser had hopes that the tank top would make its appearance as the day warmed.
They drove to the site in silence. Ray, Fraser had learned, woke up slowly. As Ray himself had put it, “I might be mobile and moving around, Fraser, but until the caffeine hits, I’m not much for conversation.”
“I didn’t notice that on the adventure, Ray.” Fraser had noted.
“Let me rephrase: In the absence of life-threatening situations immediately evident upon opening my eyes,--”
Fraser stopped the Jeep in front of the foundation and merely sat looking at the framework with some concern. They had not been able to work as fast as he had anticipated, he and Ray. The house certainly showed progress, it was almost completely framed in now, but so much work still remained...
He shook his head. Speculation was pointless. The work was progressing. That’s all that mattered.
To take his mind off his troubles, he glanced at Ray who had apparently dozed off. Ray’s head was back against the seat, his eyes were closed and his face wore a serious expression, as if he, too, was worrying over the fruition of months of planning. Almost immediately and, he admitted ruefully, quite inappropriately, he found himself wondering what Ray looked like in the throes of orgasm. Serious, as he appeared now? Joyful? Or would his expression be one of open-eyed concern, almost quizzical, as if he were attempting to study the experience and analyze it’s very components? Rather like the way Ray looked right... now.
With his eyes open.
With a very real horror, Fraser realized that Ray was no longer sleeping and was, in fact, awake and staring. Thoughts of orgasms and Ray fled shrieking into the dark recesses of Fraser’s brain, leaving him groping for a thought to take its place.
“We’re here!” was weak, perhaps, but all he could manage right now. More babble. Fraser opened his mouth again. “Arise, fair Sleeping Beauty we have arrived at the castle. Let us exit our chariot to advance upon its half-formed walls and begin our work.” Judging from the expression on Ray’s face now, it was readily apparent that less would have been more in this instance. Fraser settled for closing his mouth altogether and getting out.
The chill of the air served to clear his obviously addled brain. Ray got out of the other side of the Jeep and stared at Fraser in some consternation. “Did you drink my coffee this morning, Fraser?”
Actually, he had downed a cup while Ray was showering hoping it would clear his brain. Something of a joke now. He nodded.
“No more coffee, Fraser. Never again. You hear me?”
Still not trusting himself, Fraser nodded again.
“Let’s get moving then.” Ray clapped his hands together and moved toward the site.
Fraser followed, just hoping to get through the day without further embarrassment.
Throughout the day, they consulted the blueprints and moved carefully to construct the frame for the attic and roof line. It was tricky work, but things were progressing, if slowly, according to plan. It was just short of 1:30 when Fraser’s plans changed irrevocably.
Ray hit the ground with an audible thud. Almost as loud was the sound Fraser’s heart made when he turned to see his partner lying motionless on the ground.
“Ray!” He covered the ground within the framework with two bounds, dropping his own hammer heedlessly. “Ray!”
There was no response, save a moan. Ray’s right arm shifted restlessly, but his left remained sprawled out awkwardly, unmoving.
Fraser ran his hands quickly and professionally over Ray’s body, leaving the left arm until last. No other injuries appeared evident. The arm though, was obviously dislocated at the shoulder.
“Did you get him, Fraser?”
“What, Ray?” Fraser’s eyes moved from Ray’s arm to his face in confusion. “What did you say?”
Ray’s eyes were closed and he rolled his head back and forth on the ground. “The guy who shot me. Did you get him?”
Fraser stared at Ray in consternation. Ray was disoriented. A head injury seemed likely. The churning in Fraser’s stomach grew worse.
“Ray.” Mumbles. “Ray.” More head rolling. “Ray!”
“What, Fraser!” Ray’s opened his eyes and glared at Fraser. “What?”
“Can you tell me your name?”
“What are you talking about, Fraser? You know my name.”
“Yes,” Fraser answered patiently, “But the question here is: do YOU know your name?”
“Why wouldn’t I know my own name, Fraser?”
“Because you’ve suffered a fall, a dislocated shoulder and a possible head injury. Now could you please tell me your name?” Fraser felt his patience beginning to desert him.
“How ‘bout I tell you your name?”
Fraser’s nerves were really beginning to fray. How was it Ray could always get under his skin? “I know my name, Ray-”
“Benton Robert Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. First came to Chicago on the trail of your father’s killers and then, for reasons that really don’t need exploring at this juncture, you stayed and acted as liason with the Chicago PD, partnered up first with a slick Italian detective named Raymond Vecchio then partnered with a skinny Polish cop by the name of Stanley Raymond Kowalski, with whom you took an Arctic adventure and with whom you are now currently sharing your domicile....and your bed.”
Ray’s eyes had remained closed throughout the litany. But the grin pulling on his lips seemed to indicate he was alert and basically aware. And teasing Fraser outrageously despite whatever pain he must be experiencing. Doggedly, Fraser pushed on. “Are you aware of where you are now and what has happened?”
“I am here with you, lying on this cold-ass ground, because my foot slipped out from under me while I was trying to hammer a nail into a two by four about six feet up there. And from the feel of things,” Ray lifted his head and peered at his arm. “I dislocated my shoulder.” His head dropped back to the ground.
“I’m afraid you are right, Ray.” He moved up into a crouch. “I’m going to have to take you to the Detachment and then the Clinic for medical treatment.” He shuffled in closer and put his hands on Ray in preparation for lifting him.
“Wait.” Ray raised his good hand. “Just wait.” Fraser sat back on his haunches and waited. “Can’t you just...put it back in? I know you must know how.”
“Please, Fraser?” Ray opened his eyes and looked entreatingly at Fraser. “You pick me up and one of two things is going to happen. I’m either going to pass out or throw up, neither of which will make it any easier to carry me.” His eyes closed again. “Can’t you just fix it here? Then I can pass out or throw up right here on the ground...”
“Ray--” Fraser started again, alarmed.
Unbidden, Fraser’s hand touched Ray’s face. Ray’s right hand came up to hold it there. “I...can’t...I...don’t want to hurt you, Ray.” To his horror, Fraser’s eyes filled and he blinked quickly.
“Fraser. I’m already hurt. The fall hurt me. You’re going to fix me. Then we can go see the doctor, okay? Please?”
Fraser was lost. Ray seemed to want this. So he would do it. He sat back again and scanned the ground, looking for...ah, there was something. Getting up quickly, he retrieved a small wood block from the corner of the framework. “Here, bite down on this.” He held it near Ray’s mouth. Obligingly, Ray opened and took the block in his mouth.
Steeling himself, Fraser went around to Ray’s left side and gently, picked up his arm. With one brutal efficient action, he twisted and shoved the arm back into place. Ray groaned and his face broke out into a sweat. Fraser gently checked the placement with his fingertips, removed the block from Ray’s mouth, moved some distance away, knelt and threw up.
Ray turned his head toward Fraser and said weakly, “Hey, that’s supposed to be my line, Fraser.”
“All things considered, Ray. I’d be most grateful if you would shut the hell up.” Still shaking, Fraser moved away from the mess he’d made and dropped to the ground, rolling over on his back to lie next to Ray.
“Fraser...” thin voice.
“Yeah?” Fraser’s voice wasn’t much better.
“This is more than we can handle...”
Fraser couldn’t answer, but he was beginning to think that maybe Ray was right.
“We’re in over our heads.” Ray’s voice was still weak but carrying more assurance now.
Fraser still couldn’t answer. Surely he could...he should...how hard could it be? But his inner voice lacked confidence. He turned his head and looked at Ray who was pale and holding his arm awkwardly against his chest and who had turned to look at Fraser.
“Not that that ever stopped us before...” Ray continued. “Where do you keep the fire extinguisher, anyway?”
It only took a few seconds for the meaning of what Ray said to make itself clear. Then a rueful, embarrassed laugh forced its way out from inside him. Ray’s face lit up in response and he laughed, too. Which made Fraser laugh harder. It was like the deck of a sailing ship all over again.
He knew somehow that Ray would work with him on this house for as long as Fraser wanted him to, no matter how foolhardy a plan it might be to continue. He knew that as surely as he knew they were lying on the cold concrete foundation. Looking at Ray, laughing with him over shared history, he could feel the connection between them so keenly, it was as if it was a tangible thing—as real as the fire hose they had used to strap themselves together to escape a sinking ship. He could feel it, and he could name it for what it was: love. He loved Ray. As a friend, as a brother, perhaps, but mostly as a soulmate. Fraser knew this and was not afraid.
Their laughter had died down to giggles now, yet Fraser did not immediately look away from Ray. For a moment, he indulged himself and let his eyes travel over the familiar planes and angles of Ray’s face. The laughter faded from Ray’s eyes, as well, but he, too, kept himself still and did not disturb their intimacy.
Fraser was careful not to let the moment stretch too long, but could not help himself from touching Ray’s shoulder in what he hoped was a fairly clinical fashion. “How’s this?”
Ray shook his head slightly. “Well, I can’t say it doesn’t hurt, Fraser, but it’s much better.”
“We’ll still need to see the doctor, I’m afraid.” Fraser broke eye contact and raised himself to a sitting position.
“Well, Fraser, I kind of planned—ow! Careful, Fraser!” Ray groaned as Fraser eased his hand under his good shoulder to aid him in sitting up. “I kind of planned on seeing one while I was here. Didn’t think you’d changed that much.” Ray winked outrageously, despite the pain severe enough to cause his face to break out in a sweat.
“Let’s just sit here a moment.” Fraser maneuvered himself behind Ray and pulled gently until Ray’s back rested against his chest. “And I believe we will find our fire extinguishers in the phone book.” He could not help but savor the weight of Ray against him, the brush of Ray’s hair against his cheek.
“The phone book?” Ray’s voice was confused, he dropped his head back against Fraser’s shoulder and closed his eyes, as if to think.
“Understood.” Ray’s good hand dropped to Fraser’s leg and squeezed.
Things progressed quickly after that. The doctor at the clinic pronounced Ray’s shoulder fine but cautioned him that it would be quite sore and advised him to undertake only limited activity for the next two days. He wrote out a prescription for some pain pills that Fraser insisted on filling at his own expense over Ray’s protests.
“Fraser, I got insurance, I got money. You don’t have to do that.” Ray remained seated in the Jeep, but his tone was aggrieved.
“Please, Ray. It’s no trouble and...” Fraser looked down at the pavement where he stood in the Jeep’s open door and didn’t finish his sentence, but Ray did.
“And it will make you feel better?”
Fraser nodded without looking up.
A gusty sigh. A brief silence. Then, “All right then, knock yourself out. While you’re at it, you can get me some cough drops too. Those Wild Cherry kind.” As always, Ray made it easy.
At home again, Fraser installed Ray on the couch gave him two pain pills and a glass of water, then turned to the phone.
“Whiteriver and Sons,” the voice on the other end answered, its reedy-sounding rasp identifying the elder Whiteriver, Jasper.
“Mr. Whiteriver, this is Benton Fraser.”
“Constable Fraser! How are you? Why aren’t you at work on that house?”
“I’m fine, sir, but unfortunately, my partner has suffered an injury.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Jasper Whiteriver replied sincerely. “What happened?”
“I’m afraid he fell while working on the frame and dislocated his shoulder.”
“Oh, that’s a sonofabitch to recover from. He going to be okay?” Jasper’s blunt but caring concern was characteristic.
“Yes, I’m quite sure,” Fraser glanced at Ray, already dozing on the sofa. “However, Mr. Whiteriver, there is something I wish to discuss with you.”
“And what would that be?” Fraser could hear Jasper pushing his chair back, heard the clunk of workboots hitting a firm surface. The desk, no doubt.
“It would appear that I have bitten off more than I can chew with regards to the house.”
“You need some help with the actual construction?”
“Yes, I believe I do.” It almost pained Fraser to admit it, but the sight of a now sleeping Ray firmed his resolve.
“Well, that happens to work out nicely. We just finished a job yesterday and I’ve got a crew that would love to get to work right away on another. Would you like them to start tomorrow?” There was another clunk, surely Jasper’s feet on the floor, and some rustling of paper. The work schedule, perhaps.
“Yes, that’s would be wonderful. Far sooner than I thought I could hope for.” Now that he’d gotten the actual asking for help out of the way, Fraser found it easier to concentrate on the details. “I’ve got the blueprints, shall I drop them by in the morning?”
“Yeah, whyn’t you meet us at the site and you can give Tom,” Jasper’s eldest son and the work crew’s foreman, “the plans and kind of go over any details you need us to know.”
“Very well. I’ll be there in the morning.”
“Thank you very much, Constable, we won’t let you down.”
“No, thank you, Mr. Whiteriver.” Fraser was surprised at the amount of relief he was experiencing. “I appreciate your assistance.”
Fraser hung up the phone. His mind whirled. Could it really have been that easy? He turned back to the sofa automatically wanting to talk it over with Ray. He knelt on the floor by Ray’s side and whispered his name. “Ray?”
“Mmmmmmmm?” Ray made an interrogative sound.
“Contractors are taking over tomorrow. They’re going to build the house for us, me, I mean.”
“Mmmmmmmm,” Ray acknowledged.
“We can have a real vacation now, if you want. We could...” Fraser sought for some sort of leisure activity to with which to entice Ray, “go camping, if you want.”
“Mmm-mmmm,” Ray vetoed that suggestion rather unmistakably.
Fraser grinned ruefully, “Well, perhaps not, then. At least now we’ll be able to take in more of what the town has to offer. Shall we go ice skating tomorrow?”
“Mmm-hmmm,” a positive sound now that was very sleepy.
“Well, there you are then.” Fraser knew he should just let Ray rest, but something held him there by Ray’s side. Daringly, he put his hand over Ray’s where it rested on his chest. “Are you all right, then?” he asked in a whisper.
Ray turned his hand over, threaded his fingers through Fraser’s and squeezed. Then without opening his eyes or letting go of Fraser’s hand, Ray turned on his side, on his good shoulder, to face the back of the couch. He seemed to go completely to sleep, then. For a few minutes, Fraser stayed where he was, kneeling by the side of the couch. He pressed his face against the couch feeling the warmth of Ray’s body, letting Ray hold his hand.
The next morning, Fraser let Ray sleep and went to the site alone, blueprints in hand to meet with Tom Whiteriver. The transfer went smoothly and when Fraser left, there were workmen crawling all over the wooden frame that he and Ray had constructed thus far. It was somewhat unsettling. There was no doubt, though, that the work would progress more quickly now.
Back at the cabin, he was pleasantly surprised by the smell of breakfast.
“Hey! Just in time,” Ray turned from the stove and smiled. He was shirtless and the navy material of his sling stood out sharply against the paleness of his chest. “Watch these eggs, willya, while I go get a shirt? I’m about to start bacon and I’m so not into grease burns.” He held out the spatula beseechingly.
“Of course. Why don’t I just finish up?” Fraser stepped up to the stove and took the proffered spatula.
“No, no, no. This is my treat and I’m going to finish it,” Ray’s voice was muffled briefly by the fabric of his shirt. “Back off, Mountie,” he threatened as he hurried back to the kitchen, still trying to settle his sling on his shoulder.
Fraser surrendered the spatula and made short work of untangling the strap so it lay smoothly against Ray’s neck. His fingers tingled where they touched Ray’s skin. Without warning, he felt a sudden desire to pull Ray against him and kiss him. Ray looked up, but even then, Fraser couldn’t look away. It would be so easy...
He stepped back and crossed his arms.
“Thanks, Fraser,” Ray said casually and turned his attention to the bacon.
Fraser let out his breath. “You’re welcome,” he answered and began to set the table.
Over breakfast they discussed their plans for the day. “Seems a little weird not to go to the site,” Ray commented.
Fraser felt a pang. “Tom Whiteriver and his crew are certainly very capable. The site is in good hands.” He stood and took his plate to the sink and scrubbed it quickly, his back to Ray.
“Good.” Thankfully, Ray didn’t say anything more about the house. “Hey, I need some more thermal underwear, Fraser. You mind if we hit the stores this morning?”
“That’s a good idea, Ray. We should pick up some groceries, too.”
Somewhat to his surprise, Fraser enjoyed shopping with Ray. They went to Davison’s department store first where Ray chose a nice pair of navy blue thermals. Fraser could imagine Ray wearing them much too easily, so he busied himself picking out three new henley undershirts from the shelves by the dressing room, a good three racks away from the underwear shelves.
“Get a black one.” Suddenly, Ray was there, juggling his own packages to flip through the neatly stacked pile of undershirts.
“Generally, Ray, I choose—”
“Yeah, yeah, white, I know. Been there, done that.” Ray brooked no nonsense. With his good shoulder, he shoved Fraser over and started looking for him. “Here.” He held up a shirt. It looked precisely like his other undershirts, except for the color. It was black.
“It’s black,” Fraser pointed out inanely.
“Know that, Fraser. That’s why I picked it. Now go pull it on.”
“I hardly need to try it on, Ray. It’s the correct size,” Fraser hedged, somewhat uncomfortable despite the fact that he wanted the shirt.
Ray stared at him and then shifted his eyes uneasily. “Well, whatever.”
Fraser stared back, wondering what Ray was thinking, feeling like he was missing something. “Still,” he said slowly. “It would probably be a good idea to see if I actually like it. Once it’s on, I mean.”
Ray’s head came back up and he smiled. Fraser felt his heart ease a bit. He’d said the right thing.
“Okay, I’ll just...wait out here.” Ray glanced around as if searching for a chair.
In the dressing room, Fraser stripped off his sweater and his henley underneath. He slid the black shirt over his head and smoothed it down. Then he glanced at the mirror.
His reflection startled him, but he didn’t give it much thought being more concerned with the fact that the shirt did, in fact, fit and seemed comfortable enough.
“Hey, let’s see it!”
Ray’s voice floated in over the top of the door.
“Really, Ray, I don’t think that’s necess—”
“C’mon Fraser, move it. That’s one of the perks of shopping with somebody, you get to show off. Get out here and show me, and then we’ll go get some grub.”
Evidently there was no avoiding the issue. Fraser opened the dressing room door and emerged.
The look on Ray’s face upon seeing Fraser was difficult to decipher. He certainly appeared pleased, which should be a favorable reaction thought Fraser, but there was an accompanying intense satisfaction which Fraser could not explain.
After the first, almost tangible, reaction, Ray’s gaze became shuttered and even harder to read. “Looks good, Fraser,” he offered casually. “You ready now?”
“Yes, of course. Let me just change back and we’ll be on our way.” Fraser escaped back to the dressing room and leaned against the door for a moment, gathering his fast slipping internal control. Seeing Ray’s intensity had made him want to meet it with his own. The urge to reach out, to touch Ray and to let him touch in return was growing stronger every day. He liked that Ray had liked the way he looked. He wanted Ray to look at him like that again.
Dressed again, he return to the store and after a brief stop at the undershirt shelf made his way to the register. The cashier rung up his purchases. Ray stood beside him watching the transaction and waiting his own turn.
After Ray was finished they moved to the store’s exit.
“Two blacks and a navy.” Ray said finally. “Did the Queen die?”
“Not that I’m aware of, Ray.”
“Did you just end a sentence with a preposition, Fraser?” Ray held the door for him.
“Actually, I ended it with your name, Ray.” Fraser walked through feeling unaccountably happy.
“What’s that, a loophole?” Ray let the door close and caught up to Fraser on the sidewalk.
“As such, yes, it is, Ray.”
“Which means it works for you so you’ll use it, right?”
“My, isn’t it a gorgeous day?”
“And that’s Benton Fraser Evasion #7: Make Weather-Related Comments. It’s sad. Sad, Fraser, that you have sunk so low.”
“Rather like the barometer, I believe, Ray. Did you know that a rapid change in barometric pressure can signal the start of—”
“ARGH! I give! I give! Consider the subject dropped!” Ray held his hands over his ears. His shopping bag rattled as he twisted from side to side in imaginary agony.
Fraser grinned and walked on down the street toward the market.
The rest of the week went extremely well. After putting the groceries away Sunday, Fraser took Ray and Dief fishing. The water was clear and cold and the fish were hungry. They had a fish fry that night and went back for more the next day.
On Wednesday while Ray was in town taking care of arrangements for his date, Fraser was pleasantly distracted from his own internal angst by a phone call from Carol, the detachment’s secretary. Carol and her husband, Frank, owned a team of extremely fit and well-bred sled dogs. One of the bitches was in heat, and Carol was anxious for Dief to act as stud. Fraser listened carefully to the offer and promised to call back after discussing the situation with Diefenbaker.
“Your services are wanted,” he enunciated clearly after hanging up the phone.
Dief sat up.
“Carol at the station...” Dief interrupted with a head bob and a sound somewhat akin to a squeal. “Yes, Carol, the one with the doughnuts, but that’s not important right now.” Fraser rested his elbows on his knees and opened his hands for emphasis. “What is important is that you understand clearly the role you are to play in this scenario.”
Dief turned his head away and snorted.
Fraser felt his ire rise. “There’s absolutely no reason for you to take that tone. After your ‘performance’, or, I should more accurately say, your non-performance last time, I certainly feel that some sort of refresher course in your...duties...would certainly be implied.”
Dief continued to look away and snorted more derisively.
“Yes, I do happen to think that I am the one to instruct you. You have placed yourself under my care, and it is up to me to make sure you behave in a responsible fashion--”
Dief made a rather rude suggestion.
Fraser sat back in the chair and felt his face flush. “That is entirely uncalled for, not to mention rude. It’s a completely different situation and you know it.” He was unable to continue and sat staring moodily at the far wall. He wondered what Ray was doing right this very minute. He could not help but wonder who it was that Ray would ask to accompany him on this carefully planned date.
In a few moments, he felt the brush of fur against his leg and a snout under his hand asking for attention. Diefenbaker had come to apologize.
“It’s all right, Diefenbaker. I just don’t want you to...” What? Embarrass him? Fraser shook his head. It wasn’t right to put that responsibility on a wild animal that chose to make his home with people. Chose to limit himself and his opportunities to whatever human society would offer him. Fraser sighed. He knew exactly how Dief must feel.
“Well, do whatever you want, Dief.” He ruffled Dief’s fur. “What do you think, anyway? Do you think we ought to go meet this bitch?” He growled playfully and shook Dief by the ruff gently. Dief growled back and wagged his tail, playing along.
“What’s that?” Ray came through the door, empty-handed, but with a shocked expression on his face.
Fraser had to laugh. “Hello, Ray. It would seem,” he turned back to Dief and shook him again, “that Dief has had another offer for romance.”
“Oh, great!” Ray’s eyes warmed and his demeanor relaxed. “It’s high time somebody got some action around here.”
“Indeed it is.” Fraser picked up the phone and dialed Carol at home.
In the Jeep on the way to Carol’s, Fraser delicately probed for information regarding Ray’s trip to town. “Was your trip to town...successful?”
Ray turned and looked at him. “Yeah, it worked out pretty well.”
“Were you able to find a...date...for Friday evening?”
“Not yet, but I made some more arrangements. Let me ask you, Fraser,” Ray turned in the seat, bringing one bent knee up to more fully face Fraser. “If you want the evening to end in a special way, you know, a romantic way...” He seemed to be waiting for some response.
Fraser nodded tightly, keeping his eyes on the road.
“Where would you go?”
Of course. Obviously Ray didn’t want to bring his date home to share a bed with him and Fraser and, with the luck Ray seemed to have with women, probably Dief, too. Fraser cleared his throat. “Well, I hear, Beatrice’s Bed and Breakfast is very nice. A very romantic setting for...the end of a date, I would imagine.”
“Yeah? All right. Cool.”
Fraser waited but no more information was forthcoming. Finally his curiosity got the better of him. “Have you decided...that is to say, do you know whom... I mean, have you determined who you will ask to accompany you?”
Ray gave him the same measured look. “Yeah, I got a pretty good idea.”
Ah. So Ray had somebody particular in mind.
“Have you asked her?”
Again with the stare and pause before answering. “Not yet. I’m waiting for the right time. This is kind of important and I’m a little nervous.” Ray’s eyes dropped and his hands shifted restlessly on his thighs. “Maybe I’ll get lucky.”
Obviously he was very nervous, which would seem to indicate his feelings were very strong. Fraser pushed down his despair at the idea that Ray would have strong feelings for someone other than him and concentrated on providing friendly support.
“Whomever you are going to ask is the lucky one, Ray.”
Ray’s head shot up and Fraser could feel his once again steady regard though he kept his own eyes straight ahead. Ray continued to stare until Fraser was forced to look at him.
“What?” he asked somewhat snappishly.
Ray smiled. “Thanks.”
Fraser felt his face heat up. He glanced back at the road and then back to Ray. “You’re welcome.”
At Carol’s, Fraser was pleased to see that Dief reacted favorably to the female in question. Since prospects looked hopeful, Fraser agreed to leave Dief for a few days in order that he might tend to his business. So to speak.
“Damn dog’s got it going on, that’s for sure,” Ray mumbled not quite under his breath, as Fraser slid into the Jeep next to him.
“That is the point of this exercise, after all, Ray,” Fraser pointed out logically if somewhat defensively. “And point in fact, the same thing could be said for you,” referring of course to Ray’s upcoming date.
“Me? I got nothing, Fraser. Nothing but hope.” Ray’s own hackles were up, too. “Furball there’s got a sure thing.”
“At least you have hope,” Fraser mumbled, sotto voce.
Ray did not respond.
They did not speak of the date again that day, although Ray did leave after dinner to visit the local tavern. He called it ‘research’ and invited Fraser to come along, but Fraser declined thinking that his absence would make it easier for Ray to ask his intended if the opportunity were to arise.
After an hour of his own company without even Dief for distraction he was ready to admit he should have gone along. Actually watching Ray ask some lovely young lady out on a date could in no way be any worse than imagining the whole scenario in head over and over again.
Disgusted with himself, he closed his book, stripped and took an extremely cold shower. Afterwards, shivering in the bathroom, he donned his long johns and got into bed.
Surprisingly, he did not awaken when the cabin door opened and Ray came in. Nor was he aware of Ray’s time in the bathroom. His first inkling that Ray had returned was the shift in the mattress that was caused by Ray’s arrival in bed.
Even without looking, he knew Ray had just showered from the smell of water and soap on his skin. He smelled delicious.
“Fraser?” Ray’s unexpected whisper almost startled Fraser into rolling over and responding automatically. But he clamped down on the urge, stayed still and feigned sleep instead.
“Fraser? You awake?” Ray whispered again.
Fraser kept his breathing even and slow.
Ray said nothing more, but appeared to settle into the mattress and go to sleep. Fraser felt himself begin to drift again, as well. Just as he was dozing off, he felt the brush of fingers against his lower back, the tugging and tightening of the cotton there.
Almost totally asleep, Fraser smiled nonetheless.
Ray was still reaching out for him. And Fraser was there.
Fraser awoke Thursday morning still agitated. Despite his best intentions to stop thinking about it, Ray’s plans for the next night preyed on his mind. Surely he had asked somebody out by now. But who?
He rolled over onto his back and stared at the ceiling, as if the name of Ray’s intended was written there. It wasn’t. He lay still a moment and listened to rain hitting the roof. Then he sighed and thought about getting up.
“Hey.” Ray’s voice, still rough with sleep, broke into Fraser’s thoughts.
“Good morning, Ray.” He turned his head and regarded his partner. Ray lay curled on his side, head on the pillow, with wildly tousled hair. He was such an endearing sight that Fraser was unable to prevent his mouth from stretching into what he just knew was an incredibly silly grin. Fortunately, Ray’s eyes were closed.
“Whatcha wanna do t’day?” Ray asked, still sounding half-asleep. Fraser rolled over on his left side to more fully face him. The bed was warm, it was raining, and Ray was in his bed. Fraser could think of no conceivable reason why he might want to get up at all.
“It’s raining,” he pointed out.
“Mmmm.” Ray acknowledged the information without opening his eyes.
“We have no set plans,” Fraser continued.
“You should really rest this shoulder.” Fraser lifted one hand and lightly traced a line on Ray’s injured shoulder, causing Ray’s eyes to open.
Ray just looked at him, far more sharply than Fraser would have expected. He appeared to be thinking. Fraser held his breath. Then Ray seemed to reach a conclusion and he smiled. “You want to stay in bed,” he crowed.
Fraser felt a flush climb his neck. “Yes,” he answered with complete honesty.
“Greatness. I’m good with that. Let me use the can and we’ll be all set.” And with that Ray slid his long form out of bed and moved toward the bathroom. Fraser watched him walk away, appreciating the way his boxer briefs conformed to the contours of his sleek form.
Ray paused at the door and Fraser held his breath, thinking he’d been caught. But Ray merely opened it, walked in and shut it behind him without looking back.
Fraser shut his eyes and indulged himself in a momentary fantasy that he and Ray were partners in every sense of the word and that, when Ray returned, they were going to spend the morning in bed, rather than merely spend the morning...in bed.
So caught up was he in his imagining of what the first connotation of in bed would entail that he failed to hear either the bathroom door open or the soft pad of bare feet across the wood floor. His first inkling that Ray had finished was hearing him speak.
“Hey, Fraser?” Ray said as he got into bed, making the mattress tip slightly. “Are you already asleep again?”
“No.” Fraser opened his eyes to meet Ray’s. Ray lay on his side again facing Fraser. They were very close together. Although they were not actually touching anywhere, Ray’s face was only inches from his. The warmth of the bed, the soft cocoon-like effect of the blankets both served to create a sense of coziness, of shared intimacy.
Fraser realized he could actually feel Ray’s breath feathering across his own face. Automatically, he inhaled to better experience the sensation. “You brushed your teeth,” he blurted out.
Ray chuckled. “Yeah, so? I usually do in the morning.”
“Well, I believe that gives you an unfair advantage,” Fraser mumbled opening his mouth no wider than absolutely necessary.
Ray laughed out loud. “You got nothing to worry about, Fraser. Remember, I’ve slept with Dief.”
“I don’t find that particularly comforting,” Fraser replied dryly, “as I, too, have slept with Dief.” He moved to get up.
“Don’t.” Ray’s word and his hand on Fraser’s arm prevented Fraser from leaving the bed. Fraser looked over with some surprise. Ray was blushing. “I mean, just stay here. Come on, you’re sleepy, and your hair’s all messy anyway. Brushing your teeth would just ruin the look.”
Fraser stopped trying to get up and let his body sink back into the mattress. Ray didn’t want him to leave. That was enough in itself to stay. Still, he couldn’t say that exactly. “Some look,” he mock-grumbled.
“It’s a good look on you. I kind of like it.” Ray’s eyes were closed again, but he was smiling. “Makes you more approachable, somehow.”
Fraser was conscious of a pang somewhere in the vicinity of his heart. “You never seem to have any trouble approaching me,” he tried, wondering what exactly Ray meant.
Ray stopped smiling and he opened his eyes to look at Fraser seriously. Fraser tried to keep his expression neutral, but from the way Ray’s eyes tightened Fraser knew he’d seen the hurt. “I’ve known you a long time now, Fraser and we’ve been through so much, you know that. Yeah, I can approach you, I can get close. I know now from being here that I’m probably the person who’s closest to you. But for the rest of the world, and even me, sometimes, you got this Mountie Act. And it’s a great act, don’t get me wrong. The Mountie is polite and kind and remembers everyone’s name and asks after everyone’s mother, or kid, or sick dog. The Mountie is a Stand Up Guy. But...”
Fraser closed his eyes, not wanting to hear or acknowledge what might come next but Ray went on anyway. “But the Mountie, while definitely a Stand Up Guy, is also a Stand-Offish Guy. He never says anything about himself, doesn’t share with anyone but Dief the details of his day, never lets anyone know that he’s lonely, or sad, or bored, or happy, or glad, or...anything.
“Everybody in this town knows The Mountie, Fraser. Nobody knows Benton Fraser.”
Fraser couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t look at Ray and see the pity he feared he’d see on Ray’s face. He couldn’t seem to catch his breath, either, the way it kept hitching up in his chest and making his nose stuffy. He honestly had no idea he was crying until he felt Ray’s thumbs under his eyes wiping the moisture away.
Then Ray’s arms were around him and his face was buried in Ray’s neck—exactly where he’d wanted to be for so long but for none of the reasons he’d wanted to be there. Never in his imaginings had he pictured falling apart in Ray’s arms and making a mess of his neck and shoulder and dear God! Was this the sore shoulder? He jerked back.
“Stop that. It’s fine. Go back to what you were doing.” Ray’s voice was exasperated but somehow kind. Fraser subsided and allowed Ray to continue to hold him.
The Mountie. He snorted unintentionally. Was that really all that people saw of him? He knew the Uniform compelled a number of people, men and women alike, to expect certain behavior from the people who wore it. He certainly did do his best to meet that expectation while wearing it himself. And, he was forced to admit upon reflection, even when he wasn’t wearing it. Maybe that’s why he wore the hat so much. A constant reminder to himself of what people expected of him, a constant reminder to others who...no, not who. What. What he was.
He raised his head up off Ray’s shoulder. “I don’t always wear the hat with you,” he said rather incoherently. “I never wore it on the adventure.”
And Ray, being Ray, got it. “I know. I know. And I’m glad. And that’s important. I know it is. But I still...I’d like to know you better.” Ray’s eyes were very intense and for a moment Fraser was extremely aware that they were only partially clad and embracing in his bed. No, not now. Think. Finally the pieces clicked.
“You could...” He stopped then started again. “I think I would like it if you called me Ben.”
Ray’s grin was breathtaking. “You bet.”
Thank God. Fraser pushed back a bit from Ray and rolled onto his back. He wiped his hands over his face and sighed heavily. “Can I go back to sleep now?” He asked Ray a bit plaintively.
“Who’s stopping you? I’m not stopping you. In fact, you’re keeping me up.” And Ray rolled over to face the edge of the bed and seemed to go immediately to sleep.
Fraser looked at his back for a moment, then rolled his eyes heavenward. Moving slowly, he rolled back onto his side and, keeping some space between them, spooned up behind Ray. He sighed again and let his eyelids drift down, felt his body relax.
This time, it was Fraser who reached out and tangled his fingers in the back of Ray’s t-shirt. And Ray was there.
When they awoke again some hours later, Fraser was aflame with curiosity about Ray’s proposed outing. Who had he asked last night? Where were they going? The questions kept circling his brain.
Ray, however, was unforthcoming with details regarding either his date or his venture out the night before. He seemed to be in a keyed up mood, however. He leaped out of bed immediately upon opening his eyes. He insisted on cooking breakfast and bounced around the kitchen with such manic energy while doing so that Fraser feared for the state of his crockery. Finally he was forced to stop watching all together and went to take his shower.
Ray seemed somewhat calmer when Fraser emerged a few moments later, clean and dressed for the day. Breakfast was not only edible, but actually tasty. Fraser determined he would ask Ray about his date during breakfast. After all, it was only normal he would show some interest, right? Right.
“So, Ray—” And that was as far as he got.
“How about we go fishing today?” Ray interrupted. “That stream where we went the other day, could you show me how to fly-fish, you think?”
“Certainly, Ray. I’d be happy to,” Fraser replied and then tried again. “Is there anything else you need to do today to get ready for—”
“Do I need waders? ‘Cause we should run into town so I can get some,” Ray interrupted again.
Fraser was momentarily distracted. “No, I don’t believe that’s necessary. I think I have an extra pair that used to belong to my father. Those should suit you. I’ll go check.” Fraser rose automatically, his mind on fishing equipment.
“Finish your breakfast first, Ben. The fish’ll wait that long.” Ray grinned at him over the edge of his coffee cup, but even that expression looked nervous. Fraser sat back down and picked up his fork to resume his meal.
Thoughtfully, he made one last attempt. “What are your plans for your big—”
“My dad always wanted to try fly-fishing. He’d watch the shows on the weekend and once I caught him trying out the cast with his old Zeppo in the backyard.” Ray kept his eyes on the coffee cup he now held restlessly, sliding and turning it through the fingers of both hands. He glanced quickly up at Fraser and then back down again at the mug. “He’ll be tickled to find out you showed me how.” Another fast glance and a smile.
“Perhaps,” Fraser said slowly, resolving not to bring up Ray’s date again when it was clearly something he did not want to talk about. “Perhaps he could come with you on another visit and we could both show him.”
Ray’s head came up fast and his smile was more relaxed, more genuine. “Yeah, thanks, Fr- Ben. That would be cool.”
They finished breakfast and tidied the kitchen companionably. On the way out of town, they stopped at the work site. They both got out and inspected the progress on Fraser’s house. Fraser took a few minutes to speak to Tom Whiteriver and then they got back in the Jeep to continue on to Nick’s River.
“So is that weird for you?”
Ray’s question jolted Fraser out of a blue study. “In what way, Ray?” he answered automatically.
Ray pointed his fingers at him. “Do not do that, Fraser. Do not make me start listing Benton Fraser evasions. You know exactly what I mean so just answer the question.”
Fraser glanced at Ray, glanced back at the road, glanced at Ray again. He hadn’t moved. Fraser turned back to the road and sighed. “Yes. Yes, all right?” He looked back at Ray again, saw him lower his hand. “It was weird. It is weird. It is unsettling that other people are working on my house right now while you and I frolic our way southward for a day of fishing.”
“Wow. So that’s what a straight answer sounds like.” Ray’s voice was full of overdone awe.
“You’re not helping,” Fraser pointed out somewhat acidly.
“Chill out, Fraser. So you aren’t completely totally self-sufficient after all. What a shock! Now you’ll just have to join the rest of us mortals down here who need other people in our lives.”
“I hardly thought of myself as above—” Fraser started, shocked at what Ray was saying.
“It so happens that I know something you don’t know, Benton Fraser. I know that that work crew, those other people you just mentioned, that work crew is thrilled to be working on your house. Think about it. For the next six weeks those guys know, they know, where the next paycheck is coming from. They can continue to buy groceries and get the kids new school shoes. By hiring them to finish your house, you’ve contributed to their quality of life.”
Fraser watched the road go by thoughtfully.
“Self-sufficiency is nothing to sneeze at Fraser and sometimes its absolutely necessary for survival, like on our adventure. But, self-sufficiency does nothing to contribute to the community, you know?”
“I didn’t think about it quite that way, Ray.”
“Yeah, well, most people like to be needed, Fraser. Like you. You like being needed.”
Fraser felt his ears burn. “Maybe that’s why I like you so much,” he countered.
But Ray didn’t rise to the bait, he just smiled slow and sure and met Fraser’s gaze evenly. “Cause I need you?”
Fraser nodded, unable to speak.
“Yeah, okay, I can see that. The thing is, can you see the other?”
Fraser glanced quickly at Ray and then back at the street. “I’m beginning to.”
“Good.” Ray turned back to his window and mumbled something that sounded like “About time.”
And maybe it was.
The fish were biting, which meant teaching Ray to fly-fish was extremely rewarding for Fraser. And for Ray. He seemed to catch on to the cast quite readily, relying, perhaps, Fraser mused, on the innate sense rhythm cultivated during his years of dancing. The placement of the fly took a bit longer, but soon Ray seemed to get the hang of that as well.
The lessons allowed Fraser to keep in close contact with Ray, but as Ray became more proficient he moved farther and farther away. Soon it was impossible to hear each other over the roar of the stream, so they ceased talking altogether.
Fraser let the sound of the water, and the repetitious movements of the cast lull him. He did not consciously think about the house or the people building it. He did not let himself consider yet again whom Ray might have asked on his date. Instead he let only the stream, the trees, the rocks, the emerging sunlight and Ray into his awareness. He watched Ray fish, watched the long lines of his body move into and out of the cast, and without realizing it, he mimicked Ray’s motions until they were moving in the same rhythm. When he did recognize what he had done, he let himself continue. It felt right, this synchronicity. It felt like how things should be. He felt he could fish with Ray forever.
Somewhat later, Ray reeled his line in and waded back toward the bank.
“What’d we bring in the cooler?”
Fraser brought his own line in and moved into step with Ray. “I believe there’s still some beer, a few soft drinks and some bottled water.”
“Sounds good.” They made their way to the bank.
While Ray rummaged in the cooler, Fraser scouted the bank with a practiced eye and selected a flat spot with a view of the stream and a conveniently placed rock for leaning against. He sat down.
“What can I get you, Fraser?”
Fraser smiled. Ray was trying hard to change over to using his first name, but the name he was most accustomed to did still win out on numerous occasions. “A beer would be fine, Ray. If there are two.”
“Yeah?” Ray’s surprise was evident in his voice. “Okay.” He rummaged again in the cooler and came to stand next to Fraser and hand him his beer.
“Thank you kindly—argh!” Fraser startled at the cold hand Ray placed on his neck.
Above him, Ray grinned. “Sorry. My hand was cold.”
“So I noticed.”
“Sharp guy.” Ray remained standing and surveyed the bank as he took a swig of his own beer. “Figures. You got the best spot. Shove over.” And he turned and started to sit.
Determining that he’d best slide over a bit or end up with a lapful of Ray, Fraser slid.
For a little while they just sat. Fraser tried to get back into the relaxed state he’d been in while fishing, but Ray’s proximity made that very difficult. He was keenly aware of each shift of Ray’s body next to him. Could smell the water, the sun, and the sweat of the day on his skin. He attempted to temper his awareness, but it was a losing battle. Ray was so close. They seemed so connected that any denial of the connection between them seemed wrong. Finally, he brought his knees up, rested his elbows on them, let his head hang down and let Ray wash over him. Let the waves of awareness settle into his body like the water on the beach.
Ray, of course, picked this moment to speak.
“Ben? You okay?”
“Yes. Of course,” Fraser answered automatically but did not open his eyes.
“Yeah? Okay, but you look kind of...passed out there.” There was concern in Ray’s voice. “That beer get to you?”
Fraser now let the waves of exasperation wash over him. “No, Ray. I assure you. It would take more than,” he cracked an eye open to peer at the bottle he still held loosely in his hand “half a bottle of beer to get to me.” Honestly.
“What does it take then?”
New tone, new question, and Fraser felt his heartbeat pick up strangely. “Pardon?”
“What does it take to get to you?”
You. You get to me. The words almost slipped out. They hovered on the tip of his tongue. He turned his head and opened his eyes to see Ray staring at him intensely.
“What does it take to get to Ben Fraser? That’s what I want to know.” Ray leaned in closer. Fraser could feel the warmth of Ray’s body along his side and the press of Ray’s hand on his bicep.
And this time the words came out. “You. You get to me.”
Ray’s expression turned from intense to intently hopeful. “Come with me tomorrow night. I want you to come.”
There was nothing else to say.
It was in the Jeep on the way home that Fraser suddenly realized there was a hell of lot he could have said. For instance a well-worded question or two could have clarified his role in tomorrow’s outing. But instead, the lull of the river had prompted him to answer exactly the way he wanted to. Yes. Yes, I want to accompany you, Ray, on your date. I want to be your date.
But now, the farther away they got from the river, the more unsettled he felt. He cracked his neck just thinking about the next evening. Good Lord, what had he agreed to? What did Ray mean asking him out for his special evening? How could he have answered ‘yes’ without even thinking about it?
His fingers trailed through his eyebrow as his mind worked furiously. And what did Ray mean asking him out on what was obviously intended as a date? Good God, Ray had even asked about how to end the evening romantically. Surely he couldn’t have had Fraser in mind...
Fraser licked at his lip, cracked his neck and tightened his hands on the steering wheel at the very thought of the evening ending romantically. He exerted all his self-control to talk himself down. It was highly unlikely that the evening would end that way. Surely Ray had had a girl in mind when he’d asked about that.
In fact, Fraser’s hands relaxed somewhat on the wheel, it was extremely likely that Ray had asked the girl of his choice and been turned down. Which would explain, of course, why he hadn’t wanted to talk about his venture out to the bar last night. Suddenly things seemed to make sense. Ray had wanted Fraser’s company, as a buddy, as a friend.
Fraser let out a long breath and let himself sink back into the seat.
The question caught him off guard. “What?” he asked back, wondering what Ray was asking.
“Well, you got all wound up over there, and now you’ve ...deflated or something. You okay?”
“Wound up in what way?”
“What? You think I don’t know what a neck crack, lip lick and the eyebrow thing mean?” Ray demonstrated each of Fraser’s mannerisms as he said them, making him look quite comical. Fraser felt a laugh attempt to escape. He arrested it.
“I simply disabused myself of some misconceptions and now I feel more relaxed.”
“Uh-huh.” Ray didn’t sound convinced. “You wanna ask me anything?”
Fraser saw no need to bring up what must be an uncomfortable memory for Ray. Now that he’d figured out what happened, he could approach his evening with Ray with equanimity. “No, I don’t believe so. But thank you.”
Ray just stared at him for a moment as if trying to determine something from the tone of his voice, the set of his shoulders. “Okay,” he said finally, and half-turned away to face the windshield again. “But remember, you can ask me anything Fraser.”
“That’s good to know, Ray. There is something I’ve been wondering about.”
“You did say I could ask you anything, right?” Fraser hedged.
“Right, right. Anything. Get to it.” Ray flapped his hand impatiently.
“Who put the bop in bopshebopshebop?” Fraser kept his face as straight as possible.
Ray’s eyes closed briefly and he seemed to be waging an small internal conflict. “Fraser?”
“I never knew that Ben was such a smart-ass.”
This time Fraser let the laughter loose.
FRIDAY NIGHT—DATE NIGHT
They were seated quickly the next evening, owing to Ray’s reservations. As soon as he’d walked into the lobby of Act II, Fraser had been fervently glad he’d taken his cue from Ray and worn his khakis and not the jeans he’d been otherwise inclined to wear.
He’d not put a tie on, though he’d noticed Ray’s. Ray wore ties with an understated grace that Fraser knew he, himself, did not possess. He’d never really mastered the whole necktie issue, one might say, probably because he simply wore them so rarely. Once in a while he’d worn them to church to please his grandparents, but since he’d entered the Depot fancy occasions simply meant the Uniform or the Dress Uniform, neither of which required him to deal with the intricacies of a necktie.
In fact, he thought, opening his menu, he didn’t even own a necktie at this particular time barring the brown one that went with his old uniform. He supposed he could have borrowed one of Ray’s, he thought idly, as he considered and dismissed several entrees as having too much fat.
Although, he chuckled inwardly and brought his right hand up to trace over his eyebrow, causing the crease of his menu to fall against the table with a small percussive sound, it would certainly speak to the intimacy between them if he had done so. Wearing Ray’s clothing would only cement the intimacy they now experienced living together in his small cabin, sleeping together in his double bed. In fact, the only way they could be more intimate than they were already was to become sexually involved.
“Are you ready?”
Ray’s voice brought Fraser’s head up sharply, caused a slow flush to rise unbidden up the back of his neck and settle around his ears. He had a sudden vivid memory of Ray wearing his henley at the worksite. “I’m... sorry?”
“Are you ready to order or do you need a few more minutes?” Ray smiled directly at him, telling Fraser that he’d noted Fraser’s discomfort but making no public issue of it.
Fraser stared back and asked, “What are the specials?” Above him the waiter rattled off the night’s special offerings: mozzarella sticks with a fresh marinara sauce, French Onion soup, Grilled Blackened Grouper with a new potatoes and sautéed broccoli and cauliflower, a beef entrée, filet mignon with sautéed mushrooms, and a baked potato and hinted at the joys of dessert to come.
Fraser heard him only vaguely, his eyes caught by Ray’s, caught by the way Ray’s gray, almost silver, necktie lay against the navy blue of his shirt which, in turn, lay across his chest. He was caught and breathless and flushed, as if he’d been hauled up from the cool water into the blazing sun of the world of air.
Ray seemed unfazed by Fraser’s regard. He casually gave his order to the waiter and then it was Fraser’s turn. Fraser looked in the waiter’s direction. “I’ll have what he’s having.”
Over dinner, a deliciously spicy grouper, Fraser pulled himself together enough to enjoy both his meal and Ray’s company. Possibly the two glasses of wine he consumed had something to do with it, but Fraser attributed his relaxation mostly to Ray. He even considered ordering dessert.
“Desert is for later,” Ray said as he finished the last half-inch of wine in his glass and looked at Fraser over its rim. “We’ve got more to do yet.” His eyes did not waver from Fraser’s, although what promise it was that they held, Fraser could not determine.
As the air was only crisp and not yet cold, they decided to walk from the restaurant to their next destination.
“Where are we going, Ray?” Fraser asked finally.
“Thought we’d check out that dance club. See what kind of music scene you’ve got going down around here.” Ray smiled and turned the corner, now as familiar with the town as Fraser was.
Fraser could hear the music in the small club that St. Christophe boasted as they approached the non-descript door. Picturing a dark, smoky den filled with intoxicated patrons, Fraser balked a little. “Really, Ray, do not feel obligated to continue with every aspect of the date that you’ve arranged...as I mentioned before, the dinner out was quite satisfactory, even thrilling, you don’t need to see it all the way through as if this were a--”
“Real date?” Ray filled in the blank. He continued on and yanked the door open, holding it politely for Fraser to walk through. “Who says it isn’t?” he added with a smile and a wink. “Come on in Fraser. I won’t bite you.” Fraser sighed and moved forward, knowing that protesting further would only hurt Ray’s feelings. As he brushed in front of Ray, his partner leaned in, stopped Fraser with a hand on his chest and outrageously whispered into his ear. “Unless you want me to.”
Fraser turned his head and looked at Ray in surprise. The mischief in Ray’s eyes assured him that Ray was merely being outrageous, teasing him again as he did so often. Still, his body responded to the tease as if the invitation was real and tightened with arousal. He ignored it and continued into the club.
To his surprise, the lights were high and the music while somewhat loud, was not overpowering. The tables were fairly full, but the air was not one of drunkeness and lechery so often associated with nightclubs, but of good high spirits and anticipation. A goodly number of the women in the crowd appeared to be wearing poodle skirts, an occurrence for which he had no explanation.
He turned to Ray with his eyebrows raised.
“Fifties night, Fraser.”
“Ah. I see.” And that did explain it. Such a theme for the night also explained the distribution of soft drinks in outdated glass bottles and the “tough-guy” look of white t-shirt and leather jacket many of the men had chosen. “I’m afraid we’re not...dressed appropriately.” He noted.
“Maybe not, but we do know the dances.” Ray leaned into him confidentially and nudged Fraser’s shoulder with his own. “Let’s go stake out a table before there aren’t any left.” He wended his way through the crowd.
Fraser followed, mind whirling. Thanks to Ray, he did know the dances. How had Ray known? How could he have known there would be a fifties night offered at the local drinking establishment? True, he could have just stumbled upon the situation and taken advantage of it as part of his well-thought out, carefully considered date, but why, then, teach Fraser the dances?
Ray stopped at an empty table and took off his topcoat. He folded it over the back of an empty chair. Then he reached for Fraser’s. Mechanically, Fraser took off his jacket and handed it to Ray, finding an undoubtedly laughable amount of significance in a simple gesture of politeness. Ray folded Fraser’s jacket and laid it over his own coat. If his hand seemed to linger for an extra second on the warm leather, it was true too that his eyes held only friendship and fun when he looked back at Fraser. “Wanna get a Coke first?”
Blankly Fraser nodded and sank down into a chair. He had the feeling he was missing something here. Something important, but it was hard to think what it might be with the music so loud, and his mind whirling.
“Hi, guys!” NatalieJean whizzed past on... roller skates? “Be right back!”
Ray grinned and his gaze followed her. Fraser shook himself and chastised himself for foolish thoughts. “Wow, she’s really moving. Don’t see how she’ll be able to keep that up in this crowd.”
“NatalieJean was Queen of the Roller Derby three years running, I believe,” Fraser choked out over his inexplicably dry throat.
“Must be why she’s in such good shape.” Ray concurred, his eyes still on NatalieJean’s retreating posterior.
“Right.” Ray turned back around and grinned at him again, elbows on the table, hair delightfully rumpled, eyes dancing. Fraser was struck with a longing so deep he dared not name it for what it was. Ray must have seen the change in his eyes. “Fraser. What?” His grin dropped off his face and he reached across the table as if to take Fraser’s hand.
“So guys, what will it be tonight? We’ve got Coke, Cherry Coke, fizzy lemonade, root beer, and grape Nehi.” NatalieJane had appeared suddenly at their table, order pad ready. “We’ve also got some appetizers going, nachos, homemade potato chips and dip, and poutine.”
Ray jumped as if startled and Fraser jumped on the opportunity for distraction. “Ah, yes, I believe I will try a root beer and an order of poutine. Ray, what about you?” Fraser forced himself to look directly at Ray, keeping his expression deliberately cheerful.
“Uh, yeah, I’ll have a Coke and some of that poutine stuff, too.” He sat back in his chair and the hand that had been reaching out to Fraser slid back with him. “Thanks, NJ,” he added smiling up at her.
“You bet, guys.” She finished writing and wheeled off again. Ray’s eyes did not follow her.
The table was situated such that they had a good view of the dance floor from their seats. There were a few couples out dancing to the music from the old jukebox, but most of the people were eating, drinking and watching like he and Ray. “Are they waiting for something?”
“DJ, I think. Party doesn’t really start until the DJ shows up.”
NatalieJane rolled up then and deposited an A&W and a Coke on the table in front of them. “Poutine will be up in just a minute.” She executed a neat turn and then turned back. “Oh, there are some girls at the door, can they share your table? You know them already,” she added with a wink.
“Certainly,” Fraser said automatically.
“Great. I’ll send them your way.”
Ray was looking at him peculiarly. “Is that all right, Ray?” he asked rather belatedly.
“You bet, Fraser. Whatever floats the Mountie’s boat.” Ray smiled but the twist of his mouth seemed to indicate that he was somewhat...disappointed. Fraser hesitated, understanding the implication, torn between duty and desire. He did not want Ray to be disappointed.
“It’s just a...habit...Ray,” he tried to explain.
Fraser opened his mouth to say more, but then the women were among them.
“Hi! Thanks for sharing!” Cyn flaunted a flouncy poodle skirt with a crisp white oxford shirt that set off her dark hair. Jessica’s lithe blondeness was attractive in long knit skirt with a small sweater which looked as though it had been dried one too many times in an automatic dryer. Fraser had risen immediately in the presence of two women and Ray had followed suit a moment later.
Cyn moved toward the chair that held their coats, intent, it seemed on sitting by Ray. Ray still had that twist to his mouth, and Fraser’s senses twanged. He intervened.
“Please, take my chair” he said holding out his chair gallantly and pointedly, for once using the Mountie for his own purposes. Jessica had already seated herself in the fourth chair at the table. Hesitating, but perhaps not wanting to appear rude, Cyn seated herself and allowed Fraser to push her up to the table.
That taken care of, Fraser moved to Ray’s side of the table, shifted their coats so he wasn’t actually sitting on either and sat down. He smiled perfunctorily at the girls across the table, then glanced at Ray and felt his smile become real.
NatalieJean delivered their appetizers then. Ray made sure the girls had one and he and Fraser shared the other. While they were eating, the DJ arrived, set up quickly and began spinning tunes, as Ray called it. The liveliness of the party increased dramatically. Soon many couples were out dancing.
“Let’s dance! Come on, guys!” Cyn jumped up and reached out a hand to Ray. Jessica reached for Fraser, as well.
“What do you say, Ray? It would certainly be rude to turn down a lady.” Fraser chose his words carefully.
“I’d never want to be rude, Fraser,” Ray said back just as pointedly. Then he turned and took Cyn’s hand and entered the dance floor. Fraser watched for just a second, then took the hand Jessica offered and escorted her out.
On the dance floor, it was almost impossible to tell who was dancing with whom. Unless a couple was shagging, something Ray had not yet taught him, there was actually not much physical contact between any one couple. A certain synchronicity between partners was really the best clue, Fraser found, that two people were dancing together. He and Jessica and Ray and Cyn made a small quartet in one corner of the floor. They were periodically bumped by others on the floor as they all twisted and moved to the music.
Jessica seemed to be quite an able dancer. Her skirt twirled and swooped rhythmically and her blonde hair shone under the dance floor lights. She laughed and smiled often and seemed to be enjoying herself immensely. Fraser enjoyed her company, but he found himself continually looking for Ray. Jessica’s body, while really quite capably performing the movements of the dances, just simply did not draw his eyes as Ray’s did. It probably had something to do with Ray’s skill.
The DJ put on a new record, one he recognized immediately. Unconsciously, he looked to meet Ray’s eyes.
“Fraser!” Ray was already looking for him and was ready with a smile and a head tilt to draw Fraser’s attention to the song. Fraser grinned back and nodded.
“Do You Love Me?” blared over the speakers and out of instinct, Fraser began following Ray’s moves, until they were moving in synchronization. Together they did the Mashed Potato, The Frug, The Pony, The Swim as they were called for by the song.
The crowd around them melted away until Fraser felt like he was dancing only with Ray, for Ray, because Ray had showed him how. It took a minute to realize that he actually was dancing only with Ray. The crowd had pulled back to watch, giving them room to move together. The DJ, seeing a floor show, put the song on repeat. Fraser almost stopped, unprepared to be the center of attention, but then Ray jumped up into his space and nudged him. “Come on, Ben. Show ‘em what you got, buddy. I know you got the moves.”
The refrain started again, and Fraser let himself be seduced by the teasing light in Ray’s eyes, by the way Ray’s hips moved, and by his own desire to truly dance with Ray and only with Ray. Ray’s eyes warmed with delight, and affection.
Sometime later, the DJ finally let the song wind down and they stopped, and came together to speak. Breathing hard, Ray said, “Thanks for the dance, Ben.” Then he leaned on Fraser briefly in what could be termed a hug.
“No, Ray. Thank you,” Fraser answered just as breathlessly. And then they turned and waved to the clapping crowd.
“Come on. Let’s go sit down. I’m dying of thirst.” Ray led the way back to their table and collapsed in that elegantly boneless way that seemed to characterize his movements. Fraser sat down next to him rather like a rock dropping from a cliff, and drank from what he realized must be a new bottle of A & W as his other had been almost empty.
Ray put his own bottle down and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “Hey, that was some kind of fun, wasn’t it?”
“Yes, Ray. It was very enjoyable.”
Ray rolled his eyes briefly, but didn’t lose his smile. “Freak. Come on, you can say it, nobody’d hear you anyway in this din.”
Fraser felt his eyebrows knit somewhat, then figured it out. “Say what?” he asked, playing dumb.
“Say you had fun. F-U-N. Come on, it’s not even a four-letter word. Not that you’d ever say one of those. “ He lifted the bottle to his mouth, and left it poised there while he slid his eyes back over to Fraser and winked. “Go on I dare you.”
Fraser felt the lure of an impossible challenge. “And what precisely is it you are daring me to do?”
Ray drank deeply, wiped his mouth again, and leaned in close. “I dare you to say a four-letter word,” he held up a hand preemptively, “a profane four-letter word.”
Fraser was inordinately charmed, although it would never do to say so. He cleared his throat instead. “Right here, now?”
“Right here, right now.”
“Really, Ray, it’s most unseemly...after all, these people...”
Ray made chicken noises under his breath, and smiled again without looking at him, running his tongue over the top of the coke bottle. “That’s the Mountie talking. I’m looking for Ben.”
Fraser felt his temperature rise. “Ray, look at me.”
Something about the intensity of his voice must have gotten through to Ray, because Ray’s head turned and Ray looked at him with mischief dancing in his eyes.
Fraser mouthed something at him.
Ray’s eyebrows flew up, and his chin dropped. He looked completely disbelieving, so Fraser mouthed it again, just to be sure Ray got the point.
“Fraser...Ben...you said...I can’t believe...I can’t believe you said that!” Ray’s shock was being quickly replaced by mirth.
“Shall I say it again?” Fraser drew in breath as if to ready himself. Ray’s hand flew to Fraser’s lips to stop him.
“No,” he gasped with laughter. “Don’t do it again, I haven’t recovered from the shock of seeing you do it the first two times.”
Fraser stilled, reveled in the feel of Ray’s fingers on his lips, had to almost physically restrain himself from sucking them into his mouth. He reached up and pulled Ray’s hand slightly away. “Really, Ray. I don’t see what’s so shocking about it, after all people do it everyday.”
Ray laughed even harder at that, almost leaning into Fraser’s lap, resting his hand on Fraser’s shoulder as if he needed the extra support.
“You guys need anything?” NatalieJean’s comment took them both by surprise. Reflexively Fraser startled, then settled himself. After all, there was no reason for fear. NatalieJean stood by their table, looking at them rather oddly.
“Uh, no, NatalieJean, thank you kindly. And thank you very much for the replenished drinks you’ve already brought.” Fraser answered since Ray seemed hardly fit to do so just yet.
“You’re very welcome. You’re a good dancer.” She bent and professionally cleared their table.
“Ah. Well, thank you kindly. That’s due to Ray here. He’s a good teacher.”
NatalieJean seemed to take that in. “Well, he’s good for you, I think. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so ...relaxed. It’s a good look on you. Maybe he should come visit more often.” She blushed faintly and rearranged the condiments on the table neatly. “What happened to the girls?”
At first Fraser hadn’t the faintest idea of whom she might be speaking, but then recollection hit. “Ah! Well, they are...” He looked around hoping to spot one or the other.
“Think they’re out dancing.” Ray, who had been listening silently, waved at the girls who were indeed on the dance floor with new partners. Both waved back and Cyn gave them a “thumbs-up” sign assumedly congratulating them on their dancing. He waved back.
“So they are,” Fraser said, answering both Ray and NatalieJean at the same time.
“Okay, Ben. Time to go.” Ray swigged the last of his Coke, slapped Fraser’s knee and stood up and reached for his wallet.
Surprised, Fraser stood too, and wondered what could be next. He reached for his own wallet intending to pay his share, but Ray eyed him threateningly. “Really, Ray...”
Ray held up a hand. “Why do we keep having to go over this? Outside, Fraser. I can’t hear myself think in here.” He reached around Fraser for his coat, picked up both, handed Fraser his, and shrugged into his own. “You,” he said pointing his fingers at Fraser, evidently seeing the argument poised on the tip of Fraser’s tongue. “Outside.”
Fraser followed Ray out, pausing only a moment to say good-bye and thank you to NatalieJean.
Outside, the evening was just starting to get cool. Ray had stopped just outside the door and was buttoning up his overcoat.
“Ray, I just wanted--” Fraser started.
“Not right here, Fraser.” Ray looked around and walked a short way down the sidewalk to the side of the building, “Over here.” He gestured for Fraser to follow him into the alley. Once inside, he looked around critically, hands on his hips. “This is an alley?” He pivoted around, a complete three-hundred-and-sixty degrees. “Where’s the trash? Where’s the winos? What kind of alley is this anyway?”
“A Canadian alley, Ray.” Fraser replied somewhat stiffly. Then was forced to add, “It is a very small town, Ray.”
“Right. And it’s well lit, too!” He pointed at the streetlight halfway down the alley which burned brightly illuminating every corner. “Well, whatever. Look,” he turned suddenly and faced Fraser, then advanced a few steps forward.
Fraser felt a sudden, compelling need to back up, so he didn’t.
“When I ask someone out on a date, I expect to pay. That’s the way it works.” He stepped forward another step, putting himself inside what could rightly be determined Fraser’s personal space. Their bodies weren’t touching, but Fraser could hear Ray’s topcoat sliding against the leather of his own jacket.
“It’s true, Ray, that what you are explaining is the customary practice when two people are dating.” He cleared his throat, “A practice which is the modern interpretation of the age-old courting ritual used historically when a man,” and for some reason he felt his face get red, “would court a woman. But in this day and age, a woman is just as likely to court a male of her choice, as well, so the practice of “he or she who asks, pays” has come into--”
“Ben.” God, was Ray closer now? Fraser felt hot all over.
“Yes?” he managed.
“You’re blithering.” Ray was very close, and his smile was incandescent.
“So I am.” Fraser felt his breathing quicken but was helpless to prevent it. Ray’s nearness was overpowering his normal controls.
“You sound nervous.” Again with the delighted smile.
“That’s possible.” Fraser admitted. “You are standing very close to me. I’m not accustomed to...”
Ray leaned in as if to...but then moved his head to Fraser’s ear. “So back up,” he whispered in a soft but somehow challenging voice.
Fraser shifted weight but did not move back, as if moving back would somehow be akin to losing in this battle of wits? Will? Fraser wasn’t sure. “You back up,” he retorted following another age-old ritual.
“No. And that’s bullshit, you know.” Ray said conversationally, moving his head around to Fraser’s other ear, leaning close enough that Fraser could smell the scents of hair gel, shampoo, and musk that said ‘Ray’ to him.
Fraser’s eyes closed. “Wh--what is?”
“You’re accustomed to me being close to you, we’re sleeping together, for chrissakes, so it’s not me being near that’s making you nervous.”
Was that a touch of Ray’s lips on his neck? Fraser’s pulse sped up, but he didn’t open his eyes to see. “Oh?” he pushed out.
“I think you’re nervous because you want me near. You like it when I’m close to you. At least...” a hesitation, and then, shockingly, Fraser felt Ray’s fingers bump against his own tentatively. “I hope you do.” And slowly Ray twined his fingers with Fraser’s. “Ben, I asked who I wanted to on this date. I asked the person I wanted to go with me all along.”
Fraser wrenched his eyes open and found Ray gazing at him intently. “And she said no. I’m sorry, Ray.” He attempted to put the sorrow he felt for Ray into his voice. And still he wondered who it was Ray had wanted to accompany him this evening. Who in this town of not-so-plenty had had the wherewithal, the thick-headedness, the unmitigated gall to say no to a date with Ray Kowalski.
For some reason, his response had provoked an absolutely evil grin on Ray’s face. “No, Ben,” Ray said and gently untangled his fingers to point directly at Fraser’s chest in his characteristic fashion. “He said yes.”
Dumbfounded, Fraser watched Ray’s fingers come closer and closer, until he had to bend his head to see them poke his chest. Too late he anticipated the next move, but was unable to duck out of the way quickly enough to avoid the clip of Ray’s fingers under his chin. “Gotcha,” Ray said smugly and sauntered out of the alley. “You done in there, yet, Fraser? Come on, we got things to do here!” he called back without turning around.
Fraser forced himself to move, to catch up, which it seemed was all he’d been doing this entire visit. Ray was moving with purpose, but not particularly fast, down the sidewalk in front of the club. Fraser caught him at the corner.
They walked a moment in silence, turning the corner, their steps aligning after only a few beats. Like they always did, thought Fraser, and wondered why he’d never noticed that before. “So...” he began.
“You asked me.” Great, go for the obvious. “I mean, of course you asked me, because, after all, here we both are and we’ve been together all evening, so it’s obvious that yes, you asked me, otherwise, I’m sure our evening wouldn’t have gone this way a’tall.” Fraser stopped and looked hopefully around the deserted street for a crime in progress. A drunk in a doorway. Anything. Anything at all.
But there was nothing.
Except Ray. Who was looking at him with the corner of his mouth quirking ever-so-slightly. Fraser felt his face flame hotter. Thankfully, Ray’s only response was another, “Yeah.”
Fraser dropped his head down and rubbed his eyebrow unable to look at Ray another second. “What I meant to say, however inarticulately, was...”his voice failed slightly. “Did you only ask me?”
“Yeah, just you.” Fraser still wasn’t looking at Ray, so he could not judge his facial expression, but the words sounded...warm.
“Why, exactly, was that?”
“‘Cause I wanted you to say yes.”
Fraser dared a glance sideways and found Ray looking at him steadily. “And...I did.”
“Yeah.” The smile was in Ray’s eyes first, making them shine and when it traveled to his mouth, Fraser felt the breath leave his body.
“So...this really is a date, then,” he found himself saying inanely.
“This isn’t dating, Ben.” He leaned in closer. “This is courting.” He faced forward again and but continued talking, so softly Fraser almost missed the next words. “This is what you do when you want to do things right.”
“And you want-”
“I want a lot of things, Fraser.” Ray cut him off verbally and with a gesture of his hand. “And right now, I want you to have fun cause we’re here.”
Much to Fraser’s surprise, Ray opened the unlocked door to the ice arena. “Ray, this isn’t normal operating hours.”
“Know that Fraser. But we’re cool.” Unperturbed, Ray gestured again for Fraser to precede him. Confused, but trusting, Fraser did so. “Hi, Dave!” Ray called as he came in behind Fraser.
“Hi yourself, Ray. Constable.” Dave came out from behind the counter and handed Ray a set of keys and a black duffel bag, that Fraser recognized as Ray’s own carry-on bag. “Have a good time, then. Drop the keys in the mailbox, Ray, or bring ‘em by tomorrow, and I’d appreciate it.”
“Have a good time.” Dave started out the doors, but stuck his head back in to say, “Might want to come lock up out here, so there’s no confusion.”
“Gotcha covered. I’m there.” With long strides, Ray covered the ground between the counter and doors in just a few seconds and locked the door. Then he turned back to Fraser, who had continued to stand in silent amazement near the counter. “Okay, buddy, the place is ours.”
Ray didn’t wait for a response, but came back to the desk, hefted the black duffel bag onto the counter and unzipped it. Out came skates, his own Fraser realized and Ray’s. “Come on, Fraser, lace up.” Ray grabbed his own skates and moved toward the rink.
“You rented the rink?” Fraser asked, following slowly.
“Yeah,” Ray answered and held the door to the rink open so Fraser could pass through.
“Why on earth would you do that?” Fraser was honestly befuddled and somewhat in shock at the lengths Ray had gone to. Just inside the doorway, he sank to a bench and looked back at Ray.
“Toldja. I’m courting you. That’s what the court-er does. Goes to great lengths.” Ray answered casually, seemingly free of self-consciousness. He dropped down next to Fraser and kicked off his shoes.
Fraser watched in silence as Ray methodically laced up his skates. “What does the courted one do?” he asked finally, unsure of what was expected of him.
Still bent over his left skate, Ray turned his head to look Fraser in the eye. “Enjoys himself. Lets the courter knock himself out. And then,” Ray turned back to his skate and finished tying it “you decide if you want what I got, Ben, if you want what I’ve got to give. But mostly,” he paused and if Fraser hadn’t been watching so intently he might have missed seeing the way Ray’s fingers shook slightly on the laces, the tension in his shoulders. “Mostly you got to decide if you can let me give it to you.” Ray didn’t look at Fraser again, but placed his hand on Fraser’s knee to lever himself up before gaining the ice and skating away.
Fraser laced his own skates with his mind whirling. What was Ray offering exactly? His pounding heart wanted to believe that Ray was offering everything he’d ever wanted but his far more jaundiced mind refused to let Fraser get carried away. He stood and walked carefully out onto the ice.
“So did I win you over yet?” Ray shot past him and awkwardly, but effectively turned around to skate backwards to grin at him.
“I---couldn’t say,” Fraser answered honestly.
“Well, I knew it couldn’t be that easy.” Ray sighed theatrically, then gestured for Fraser to follow him. “Come on, guess I’ll let you beat me at hockey. Maybe that’ll move things along.”
Fraser followed, relieved to have something else to think about and determined to set the record straight. “I assure you, Ray, there will be no ‘letting’ on your part.”
“Oh, yeah? Think I’m easy, do you?” Ray turned away from the storage closet at the edge of the ice and held out a stick for Fraser to grab. Fraser grasped it, but was unable to pull it out of Ray’s grip immediately. Instead, Ray used Fraser’s momentum to pull him forward. “If I was easy, Fraser, we’d have already been naked and sweaty in your bed.” Ray winked and pulled once more on the stick, almost overbalancing Fraser.
While Fraser fought to regain his footing, both physically and mentally, Ray skated blithely away carrying his own stick and a puck. “Fraser!” he yodeled absurdly from the center of the rink, “Where are you?” He sounded like a mother calling her tardy offspring for dinner.
“I’m c--” Fraser started to answer, then cut himself off, blushing. “I’ll be right there, Ray.” He cursed Ray’s foray into sexual innuendo. He skated quickly to where Ray waited facing away from him.
“Aren’t you coming yet?” Ray continued on in the same warbling tone, still facing the opposite wall.
Fraser’s sigh contained equal parts of exasperation and unwilling yet unmistakable arousal. “I’m right here, Ray,” he said quietly to Ray’s shoulder.
Ray spun around almost gracefully and grinned that devilish grin. “Good. It’s no fun without you.” With that, he dropped the puck and slapped it away before Fraser could even shift his weight.
And so they began.
Fraser raced after Ray, stung that the other man had gotten the jump on him. He concentrated solely on catching up and taking control of the puck. Ray glanced over his shoulder once then feinted to the left. But Fraser, with his eyes on the puck, was not fooled. He managed to snag the puck from under Ray’s stick.
Ray’s hand on his right buttock surprised him and he hesitated for a fatal second. Just that quick, Ray stole the puck back and scored. Fraser raised his eyes to the ceiling and cursed his own foolishness. Well, two could play at this game.
“Whooo-ooo!” Ray yelled as he skated a victory lap around Fraser’s net. “Who’s the man?”
Fraser let Ray retrieve the puck and glided back to the center to await the next face-off. Ray joined him shortly, breathing hard and still excited. Unbidden, Fraser began to wonder what Ray might sound like during sex. He crushed those thoughts and concentrated on hockey.
Taking the puck from Ray, he held it and then asked in as casual a voice as he could manage, “So, Ray, have you always been bisexual?” then dropped the puck.
To his credit, Ray paused only a second, but it was enough time for Fraser to get around him and move quite a ways toward Ray’s net. Quicker than he might have imagined, however, Ray was there, his stick crossed with Fraser’s, fighting him for the puck.
“Probably,” Ray answered somewhat breathlessly, “but, you know, I’d always had Stella, so it just never came up...for any guy in particular, that is.” Still outrageous.
“Were you aware of your bisexual tendencies?” Fraser pressed on even while being pressed for the puck.
“Sure, Fraser. I’m not an idiot,” Ray snapped, not quite so cool, Fraser knocked his stick away again and spun swiftly on his skates to move down the ice toward the net again. “I just wasn’t in love with any one but Stella.”
“So now you think you’re in love...with a man?” Fraser hedged and lost ground on the ice, as well as in this surreal conversation. He shoved against Ray’s body and attempted to knock him off his feet.
Ray held firm. “Yes, you dork, I’m in love with you.” Grunting with the effort, Ray still refused to give ground. Their skates slipped and slid together and apart.
Love. Fraser felt his heart leap hard enough in his chest that he considered the possibility he was having a heart attack. “And you decided this when, exactly?”
“Fraser, Ben, you idiot. You don’t decide to fall in love with someone. You just do. And sometimes,” Ray retrieved the puck with a particularly deft move and tapped it with just enough force to send it between Fraser’s legs and behind him. “It takes a while to get your head out of your ass to see that you are.”
“How long did it take you?” Fraser glanced over his shoulder and skated backwards overtaking the puck and regaining control from a surprised Ray. But when he attempted to dig in and move back toward the net, Ray was there preventing it.
“A while. Taking you longer, though.” Audacious. Such audacity must be answered with a goal, thought Fraser. He spared a glance to the net, then one down at his feet. The swiftly sliding movement of ice under his feet gave him about half a second, he judged. Using that information, he calculated the appropriate angle and velocity and did his best to apply both to a powerful wrist shot.
He hit the puck cleanly and it sailed away on what looked to be the correct path. But he wasn’t able to watch for long. Without warning, and completely illegally, Ray threw his body into Fraser’s forcing them both up against the rink wall. With deliberate intent, it seemed, he held Fraser there.
“That’s crosschecking,” Fraser said thinly with what little breath he had left. “And holding.”
“Yeah?” Ray shot back, his face only inches away. “And what’s this?” He shifted his hips deliberately against Fraser’s.
“Frottage,” Fraser answered weakly, feeling his arousal skyrocket at the feel of Ray’s erection brushing against his.
“Yeah?” Ray laughed just a little. “Is that what it’s called? I never knew.” His smile left his face, but the intensity remained. “Have I won you over yet?”
Fraser fought to remain upright on knees that suddenly wanted to melt. “I think...” He glanced quickly at Ray’s net to determine the truth. “It was a tie.”
“I’m not talking about hockey, Fraser.”
“Neither am I, Ray. It’s not about winning.” Fraser struggled to make his meaning clear.
“It’s about partners.”
“Yes. What are you offering exactly, Ray?” Fraser finally asked the question he needed the answer for.
“A full partnership, Fraser. And everything that comes with it.” There was a clattering sound, and Fraser felt Ray’s hands under his chin. “I’m offering everything. Buddies, best friends, love and sex, all rolled up together. What do you say?”
“It’s everything that I’ve wanted, Ray.” Fraser looked longingly at Ray’s mouth and shifted his weight forward.
Unaccountably Ray pulled back. “You want to kiss me now?”
Fraser felt the flush all over his face, but cocked his head and moved his shoulders to show his assent. Then he moved forward again, anticipating the feel of Ray’s mouth on his own.
“Good,” Ray said. He bent down to retrieve his stick, slid Fraser’s from Fraser’s slack and surprised grasp, and then skated backwards, leisurely, toward his net to retrieve the puck. “Time to move on to the next part of the evening, then.”
The walk back to the Jeep was fraught with intensity. Ray didn’t say much and Fraser felt beyond words himself. He wanted Ray desperately. It would appear that Ray wanted him in return. He had no room inside his head for any other thoughts.
At the Jeep, in the restaurant parking lot, Fraser mechanically opened Ray’s door and then his own. As he settled in, he asked, just to be sure, “Where to?”
Ray, who had been staring silently out the front window, turned and looked at him a moment before answering. “We’ve got a reservation at Beatrice’s Bed and Breakfast.” His eyes held a challenge.
Fraser stiffened his spine and forced himself to answer heartily. “Right you are.” He started the Jeep and backed out of the lot.
It wasn’t far to Bea’s. Sooner than he might have wished, Fraser was parking again and wiping his sweaty palms on his pants. Ray got out immediately and reached in the backseat for yet another duffle bag. This one was one of Fraser’s. Evidently he’d thought of everything.
Bea’s was a substantial two-story home painted white with a cornflower blue trim and accents. The back side of the house faced the Mackenzie River and even in the parking lot, Fraser could hear it’s muted rush. The air around the inn smelled and felt fresh in a way that indicated its proximity to water.
They walked under a garden trellis, its cornflower blue paint all but obscured by the climbing vine that covered it. A charmingly lettered wood sign welcomed them to “Bea’s B & B.” The sidewalk under the trellis continued on to a flight of steps that led to a door marked ‘Reception.’
Fraser followed Ray up the steps and through the door, knowing as he did so that his life was about to change forever.
The door opened into a beautifully appointed great room open completely to the second floor. Floor to ceiling windows on the wall that faced the river gleamed darkly. A variety of comfortable chairs surrounded a wide square coffee table in front of an obviously functional wood burning stove. The freestanding chimney rose from the stove in the center of the room. Behind it, the railings of the second floor balcony could be seen. Under the balcony to the right of the stove, a closed door led to what were undoubtedly the private quarters of the host and hostess.
In an alcove to the left of the stove, closest to where they were standing, tucked under the second floor itself stood a breakfast bar that obviously served double time as a reception desk. A small bell rested on the counter’s immaculate top.
Due to the lateness of the hour, there was no one immediately about. After a quick glance around, Ray rang the bell.
The door in the far wall opened momentarily and a comfortable-looking woman emerged. She was in her late fifties, Fraser judged, with reddish-brown curly hair and glasses. She was dressed casually in khaki pants and a royal blue button up shirt and tan loafers. He had never met Beatrice but assumed that this must be her.
“Good evening, I’m sorry I wasn’t here to greet you,” she said, smiling ruefully. “My husband had misplaced his glasses again.” She put out her hand to Ray. “Beatrice Sibbes, and you must be Ray Kowalski?”
Ray transferred the bag he was holding to his left hand and shook her hand. “Uh, yeah, it’s nice to meet you. And this is—”
“Constable Fraser, of course.” She turned immediately to Fraser. “I’ve seen you about town a time or two.” Her handshake was strong and her gaze direct. “It’s very nice to finally meet you.”
“Thank you.” Fraser felt very at ease with Beatrice, despite his somewhat jumpy nerves.
“You’re welcome. Now...” her tone became business-like and she moved behind the desk. “I’ve put you into Room Seven. It has a king-sized bed and a private bath. It also has a nice view of the river.” She listed the amenities to the two men without blushing or stumbling, a feat that Fraser admired greatly as he stood awkwardly next to Ray, knowing his own face was red.
“And, Mr. Kowalski,” Beatrice went on. “I have selected a variety of desserts that Bea’s is known for and I will bring them up as soon as I see you settled. Will that be satisfactory?”
“Yeah, thank you very much. I appreciate that. I haven’t been here long, but I’ve already heard that Bea’s desserts are to die for. I didn’t want us to miss out.” Ray smiled directly at the hostess.
Bea’s face went pink. “Thank you! I hope you enjoy them.” And, still smiling, she picked out a key from underneath the counter and led the way upstairs.
The room she took them to was as nice as the rest of the inn promised. Although it was not large, thoughtful planning made it a comfortable. The bed took up most of the space, but Fraser found he could not let his eyes linger long there or his breathing started to become erratic. Instead, he admired the navy draperies on the sliding glass door; the handsome mahogany armoire near the door and the matching table with wing chairs tucked nicely in the corner.
As soon as the door closed behind Bea, Ray had gone into the room’s small private bath and locked the door, so for the moment, Fraser was alone. Spotting the duffle bag on the floor by door, where Ray had dropped it, he grabbed it thankfully and occupied himself with unpacking.
It didn’t take long, but the small task eased some of his nerves and made it easier to meet Ray’s eyes when he did finally emerge from the bathroom. Just as Ray opened his mouth to speak, however, a discreet knock interrupted him.
Beatrice didn’t stay. She merely dropped off a covered tray and wished them a good evening.
“Are you ready for this, Ben?” Ray moved the tray to the table and turned back to look at Fraser.
“Yes, I believe so.” He met Ray’s eyes without flinching and moved to the table to uncover the tray. “Are you?”
“You know me, Ben. I’m always ready,” Ray said, smiling, and then half-laughed and pushed his hands through his hair nervously.
Dessert was for later, Ray had said. It appeared that ‘later’ had finally arrived.
Fraser eyed the tray laden with every confectionery known to man, or failing that, at least every confectionery known to the chef here at Bea's B & B, who was, of course, Beatrice herself.
“So you see anything that looks good?” Ray stood very close to him by his side staring in apparent rapture at the desserts. But his voice was shaking as if it were under some great strain. A greater strain than one might think deciding between apple pie, chocolate mousse, angel food cake, and what appeared to be banana pudding would entail.
“It's difficult to choose...” Fraser hedged, needing to be sure, still not daring to hope despite all the evidence that had been laid before him.
“It’s not so difficult, Fraser. It’s all right here.” Ray extended his hand hesitantly over the desserts, pulled it back, then extended it again with greater confidence, snagging a fingerful of whipped cream from the top of the banana pudding. Turning toward Fraser, he put his finger into his mouth and licked the whipped cream off.
Fraser stared, barely breathing. Ray held his gaze, pulled his finger out of his mouth and reached back over the cart. He pulled his eyes away for the barest second, then looked back brought his hand back from the cart with another fingerful of whipped cream. “It's all right here, Fraser.” He offered his finger to Fraser. “The thing is, are you going to let yourself take it?”
Fraser's heart leapt, his arousal intensified, he felt his eyes close. He wanted it, he wanted to lick Ray's finger clean, wanted to taste the sweetness and salt that seemed to personify Ray to him, God, he wanted it so badly he was shaking, but his iron control so long sustained still held. “Don't tease me...Ray...God, don't do this to me...”
Ray shifted closer. Still holding out his offer of whipped cream, he used one finger of his left hand to trace a line over Fraser lips. “I'm not teasing you, Fraser, I'd never do that. This is a serious offer here. You think I offer to feed just anyone whipped cream off my finger?” His voice held the barest touch of humor, then deepened to a husk. “This is all for you. If...” His voice trailed off and his weight shifted back far enough that Fraser could no longer feel the heat of his body. “...it's something you want.”
Fraser opened his eyes, and saw Ray still near, but looking more uncertain now. Summoning all his courage, Fraser leaned forward and put his hand on Ray's to hold it steady. They were both shaking. He dropped his eyes to Ray's hand and opened his mouth.
The first taste was overpoweringly sweet. He licked further down to get to Ray's skin, to get to the taste he really wanted. Ray's skin was rough, chapped from the cold maybe, but ever so much sweeter to Fraser than the cream. He let his lips close around the base of Ray's finger hollowed his cheeks and sucked, sliding his lips up almost to the tip but not releasing it. Opening slightly, he moved his mouth back down again to the second knuckle and then stilled, holding Ray's finger inside (God, inside) his mouth. At first he simply savored the feel of Ray's finger lying on his tongue, the bump of Ray's knuckle just behind his front teeth.
But then other images prevailed. Images of what else he could have in his mouth, images of what else he could be doing and he could no longer be still. He shifted his feet in closer, held Ray's hand tighter and began sucking, licking, even biting Ray's finger, mimicking what he'd like to do, what he'd only dreamed about, what he might yet be doing tonight.
Ray moved in closer, his left hand clutching and releasing Fraser's shoulder alternately. “God...Fraser...I'm so...you're going make me...” Fraser heard the whispered, broken words and thrilled to them. He opened his eyes and saw Ray, eyes closed, head back, looked down and saw Ray's hips moving restlessly, obviously hard, obviously in need and wanting. Fear asserted itself in the maelstrom of emotions he was experiencing. Was this just another dream, another lonely fantasy?
Still holding Ray's finger in his mouth, Fraser raised his free hand and brought it, trembling, to hover next to Ray's cheek. Ray's eyes opened and grew concerned. “What? Fraser, you okay?”
Fraser let his hand touch down on Ray's face, hardly daring more than the lightest of touches below Ray's eye with his thumb, the barest grazes of his fingertips against the rough skin of Ray's cheek. Ray pulled his finger out of Fraser's mouth and rested his own hand on Fraser's face reciprocally. Fraser could feel the dampness of Ray's index finger in contrast to his other fingers, but still was driven to ask, “Is this real? Do...do you...? I mean...are we going to...?” He stopped and looked helplessly at Ray.
Ray's left hand left Fraser's shoulder and moved to clutch Fraser's hand on his face pushing it in to rub against the stubble. “This is real.” He held Fraser's hand with his own and moved it down to his groin, pushing it against the front of his slacks. “This is real, too. I do want you. And I really, really hope we're going to...make love.” His face reddened on the last phrase but he held Fraser's eyes steadily offering everything, holding back nothing. “If that's what you want.”
Ray turned blurry around the edges and Fraser felt his shoulders hitch up. He closed his eyes and felt Ray gather him in, one hand in his hair now the other soothing him with long strokes up and down his back. Words tumbled unheeded out of Fraser's mouth. “I do want that...I think I've always wanted it...I thought I'd never...”
“Shhh...that's going change now, Fraser. You want it, I do it, I get it, you hear me?”
“So, Fraser.” Ray's voice dropped and his eyes became what Fraser could only describe as sultry. “What do you want?”
Fraser was completely unable to verbalize the numerous images that danced before his eyes. Fortunately, Ray moved on without waiting for a reply. He leaned in close again and traced Fraser's ear with his tongue. Fraser jumped in response, unprepared for the rush of arousal such an action would cause.
“Too fast?” Ray purred. “You want to start slow? That's okay, too.” He licked his way slowly over to Fraser's lips. “I loved you sucking on my finger. Think you could do that for my tongue?” His mouth covered Fraser's.
Kissing Ray was nothing like Fraser's previous experiences. Ray's mouth was larger, providing more area to explore, more space to slide his tongue against. He was certainly more assertive than Fraser's previous partners, his tongue demanded entrance to Fraser's mouth almost immediately; and the contrast between his soft lips and the electric brush of his beard stubble was immensely arousing. Fraser clutched at Ray's hips to pull him in closer, angled his head for maximum efficiency and thrust his tongue against Ray's with serious intent, finally sucking it into his mouth and holding it fast. Gasping, Ray broke the kiss and leaned his head against Fraser's shoulder, laughing weakly.
“Is that slow for you? God. I'm never going to make it.”
He didn't like it.
Fraser started to step back, to apologize but Ray tightened his arms and held him still. “Okay, okay. God, you turn me on.” He turned his face into Fraser's neck and nuzzled it, breathing hard, his hips thrusting gently against Fraser's. “Let me come down just a minute here, or the main event is going to happen in my good slacks, and I'd rather it didn't.”
Understanding now, Fraser took a deep breath to steady his jumping nerves and let himself truly experience the moment.
Ray felt...wonderful in Fraser's arms. They were much the same height. Their shoulders, hips and legs were in line with one another. Fraser felt as supported as supporting. Without thinking about it, he began slow sweeps of his hands along Ray's back, caressing him from shoulders to waist...then lower. Ray groaned and thrust harder. He lifted his head from Fraser's shoulder and looked at Fraser his mouth open and his breathing accelerating. Fraser drew his hands again to the back of Ray's neck and then down slowly to his buttocks, which seemed to fit into
Fraser's hands like they were made for each other. He pulled steadily and brought their hips together.
“We're... in alignment...” Fraser gasped, finding it hard to speak, finding it hard to think coherently with the hot length of Ray's penis up against his own, rubbing...just right. With a herculean effort he moved his right hand toward Ray's fly.
“Been trying to tell...you that...God, Fraser...” Ray's hands, one on Fraser's hip, one on Fraser's shoulder pulled them more tightly together, making it more difficult for Fraser to do what he needed to do, but making the sensation between them build even higher.
Urgently he thrust against Ray, whose eyes rolled back in his head. He finished with the fly quickly, and yanked Ray's good slacks down and out of the way. Then he grabbed Ray's ass with both hands again and thrust again and again once more. Ray groaned out loud and his hands grew weak on Fraser as his climax hit. Fraser's own body tightened up exponentially in response to Ray's orgasm and then released itself in an additional flood of warmth and stickiness between them.
They stood still, leaning against each other. Rather like the letter A, Fraser thought bemusedly as he widened his stance minutely in response to a weight shift from Ray. Ray sighed against his shoulder in what sounded like contentment.
“Are you all right, Ray?” Fraser ventured.”
“Oh, yeahhhhhhh.” The ending of the last word was drawn out in such a way that extreme satisfaction seemed to be indicated, Fraser was pleased to determine. “Except...” Fraser felt himself stiffen up. Ray must have felt it too, because his hands came up to caress Fraser's shoulders. “...I just came in my good pants,” Ray finished.
Ah. Fraser relaxed. “Actually, Ray you didn't.” He moved back away from Ray and looked down. Ray followed suit.
“...when did that happen?”
“Near the end.”
Ray's eyes met Fraser's with a bewildered warmth. “You...you...Fraser, I love you.”
Fraser felt his ears get hot and his eyes fill again. “I bet...” he tried, but had to stop to clear his throat. “I would bet, that is, if I were a betting man, that you'd say that to anyone who got your pants out of the way.” He tried to make light of Ray's declaration, but he couldn't seem to get his voice to cooperate. His words said one thing, but his tone begged for reassurance. Fraser felt his face get redder and he looked away.
Ray caught his chin and turned Fraser back to look at him. “Nope. I only say that to you.” Then he leaned in, kissed Fraser on the mouth and hugged him hard.
“And I you, Ray,” Fraser managed and let Ray hold him.
A few mindless moments passed, but reality in the form of Ray’s shaking knees and Fraser’s uncomfortable pants soon made it necessary to move. They both stripped off their clothes, and Fraser reached for Ray’s shorts to wash out with his own in the bathroom. Ray rolled his eyes but refrained from comment.
Task accomplished, Fraser came back into the bedroom feeling somewhat awkward with nothing specific to do. Ray was in bed already, his arms behind his head. Without looking at Fraser, he asked, “Hey, bring the dessert tray with you, would you?”
Fraser raised an eyebrow.
“What? We can’t let them go to waste, now, can we?” Ray looked at him now and grinned. “It wouldn’t be polite.”
True enough. Fraser wheeled the cart to the bedside, got in the bed himself and reached back to pull it closer. “Which dess--” he started to ask, but was stopped effectively by Ray’s mouth on his. Fraser closed his eyes and savored the warmth of Ray’s mouth, the slide of Ray’s chest against his own, the silky feel of Ray’s waist under his hands.
“This. This is the dessert, I want,” Ray whispered against his jaw on his way to mouth Fraser’s ear. And truth be told, holding Ray was like having dessert--rich, warm, satisfying and oh, so sweet. “Gonna taste you all over, Fraser, God, I want to eat you.” Ray’s voice in his ear was dark and laced with sugar like bittersweet chocolate. Ray’s tongue licked a path down Fraser’s neck to his shoulder his lips closing at intervals as if leaving chocolate kisses in his wake.
“Ray...” Fraser gasped, his eyes opening, falling on the dessert tray, his arm reaching out. “Do--do you like chocolate?”
Ray raised his head, saw what Fraser was holding, and answered seriously. “Love chocolate, Ben.”
Fraser scooped out a fingerful of the mousse and held it out to Ray. Without a second’s hesitation, Ray opened his lips and lowered his mouth until the complete length of Fraser’s fingers was enclosed in the warm wetness. Fraser groaned and nearly dropped the dessert. Now Ray was licking, lapping, small warm touches on and between his fingers, searching out the smallest taste of chocolate, leaving no part of Fraser’s fingers unloved. Fraser lay limply, but deep within he could feel the resurgence of desire.
Finally Ray finished and raised his head. “You got any more of that?”
Fraser dug out some more and offered it again on his fingers. But Ray didn’t move to take it. Instead, he stared intently at Fraser as if trying to communicate something....Fraser stared back, wondering, then...he dropped his hand to his chest, spreading the dollop of mousse in the center, gasping a bit at the coolness.
It wasn’t cool for long. Quickly, Ray straddled him, and leaned down. The contrast between the cool dessert and the warmth of Ray’s tongue was...exhilarating. Somehow knowing this, Ray slurped up a mouthful of the dessert and moved to the side, opening his mouth over Fraser’s right nipple, following the onslaught of coolness with hot licks of his tongue. Fraser bucked up under the stimulation, barely retaining the presence of mind to slam the dessert back onto the cart and thread both his hands through Ray’s hair, holding him right there. “Ray...”his voice was broken and hoarse. His penis was hard again, his climax already building.
Ray released his right nipple and licked one broad stripe across Fraser’s chest through the mousse to the left one. More hot licks, more cool dessert and then Ray latched on and started to suck. Blindly, Fraser’s hips thrust up against Ray’s, searching for and feeling the hot slide of Ray’s penis against his own. Ray’s mouth on his chest was driving him to distraction.
Ray released his nipple finally, but set about cleaning off the rest of the mousse with single- minded devotion. His tongue slid and tickled wetly around each nipple, on his sternum and along the sensitive stretch where his belly met his rib cage. Fraser panted for breath under Ray’s ministrations, his hips still hitching up. “Ray...Ray...I need...”
“Shh...Ben. I got you. I got you,” Ray said into his breastbone and, somewhat tentatively Fraser thought, Ray’s hand began to slide down his stomach. He felt himself tense in anticipation. But there was something else...
“Ray, could you...”
Ray’s head lifted off his chest. “What? Could I what? Anything, you know that.” His eyes pierced Fraser’s intently.
Fraser was caught by that gaze, held fast, unable to deny that he must mean a great deal to this man who truly did want to give him anything he might want. His heart swelled up into his throat and he was unable to talk, and if that were a physical impossibility he could not deny it was still exactly how he felt. Hand shaking, he raised it to Ray’s mouth and put his fingers gently on his lips. Ray smiled against those fingers, raising his own hand to hold Fraser’s wrist. He kissed Fraser’s fingers and nodded.
Ray started to slide down between Fraser’s legs, but then stopped and seemed to change his mind. Instead he turned and positioned himself on his side with his head toward the bottom of the bed. Tugging at Fraser’s legs, he urged Fraser over to his side. Fraser went willingly, looking down his own body to see Ray looking up at him. “Hang on to your hat,” Ray said and opened his mouth.
Fraser watched Ray’s mouth take him in until he couldn’t watch anymore. Warmth. Wetness. Slick tongue rubbing just right. The breath Fraser didn’t know he’d been holding escaped out his nose and mouth suddenly in a moan. God. Sucking. Fraser’s hips thrust and thrust again, though he vainly tried to prevent it. His head arched back, and as it did, he felt a hot brush against his cheek. He opened his eyes. Ray. Ray’s penis was right there.
He looked down at Ray. Ray met his eyes.
“Ray, ...may I...”he asked hoarsely, not even recognizing his own voice.
Ray’s eyes rolled and his hips hitched forward. Fraser took that as a yes.
Fraser opened his mouth wide and moved in. He was surrounded by Ray’s scent, a deep musky aroma of sweat and something that was just plain Ray. Ray’s penis felt as delightful in his mouth as his finger had earlier. For just a moment, he stayed still, just enjoying the stretch of his jaw muscles, the warmth of Ray in his mouth.
Then Ray, who had gone still himself, very deliberately licked the underside of Fraser’s penis and then was still again as if he was waiting.
Fraser loosened his suction and then, he, too, licked the underside of Ray’s penis. Ray moaned and slid all the way up so his lips were just closed around Fraser’s glans. His tongue teased Fraser with delicate little laps.
Now Fraser groaned but gamely followed suit.
Ray slid down again and clamped down hard for three vigorous sucks. Fraser could not stop himself from thrusting hard in response. He just managed to repeat the motion on Ray.
Now Ray’s hand slid along Fraser’s thigh, along the crease where thigh met groin and came to rest behind Fraser’s testicles. Then Ray waited.
Not quite sure what might happen next, Fraser found the same place on Ray.
Ray waited a second more, then licked Fraser all over, slid his lips as far down as they would go and started sucking, gently at first.
Fraser did his best to follow but his orgasm was building quickly and he was afraid he’d gotten a little sloppy. Ray’s sucking increased, so Fraser increased his own. He was thrusting wildly into Ray’s mouth now, but it was hard to monitor that since Ray was also slamming into his own mouth. In the maelstrom, he became vaguely aware that Ray was pushing hard now against that place behind his testicles, it felt amazing. His climax overtook him and he came long and hard in Ray’s mouth.
Gathering the scraps of his brain, he took Ray in as deeply as possible and was soon rewarded with the taste of Ray, the very essence of Ray, which turned out to be the only dessert that Fraser was interested in having.
Reluctantly it seemed, Ray sat up and stared rather blearily at Fraser before collapsing back down onto the bed and into Fraser’s arms. They slept a bit then, at least Fraser did. He woke some time later, spooned up behind Ray. It was very comfortable. He moved his head forward and let his lips brush against the back of Ray’s neck. The fine hair there felt nice against his mouth. So he did it again.
“You nuzzling me?” Ray’s voice was sleepy.
“Yes,” Fraser answered, letting his lips form the word against Ray’s skin.
“Mmmm-hmmmm.” Fraser went back to what he was doing. He let his hands wander along Ray’s chest and abdomen, until finally he slid them down slowly, but without hesitation, to grasp Ray’s penis as he would his own.
“And that...”Ray gasped a little, “feels nicer.”
Fraser thought so too. He liked the warmth and smoothness of Ray’s skin there, loved how the breadth and width seemed made for his own hand. His own penis grew harder at the realization that it was Ray he was doing this to, that it was Ray in his bed, at last. He rocked forward and felt himself brush against Ray’s backside. He inched even further forward and allowed himself to slide between Ray’s thighs. Ray seemed to understand what Fraser was doing and opened his legs a trifle, then tightened them around him again.
“Mmmmmmmm.” A muffled moan escaped Fraser’s lips and he rocked his hips harder.
“Oh yeah, Fraser.” Ray’s hips were rocking too. He was thrusting himself into Fraser’s hand with what could only be described as serious intent. “You...you could, you know,” he whispered.
“I could what?” Fraser’s rational thought processes were rapidly headed due south.
“What you said in the bar.” A pause. “You know, earlier.”
What had he said? Oh. And despite his situation, despite the fact that he hovered on the edge of orgasm, Fraser had to laugh and stop what he was doing.
He stopped the motion of his hand on Ray and shifted away from him just enough to pull on Ray’s shoulder. Finally, Ray lay on his back, staring at him in some consternation.
“Why on earth,” Fraser said, enunciating very clearly and deliberately, “would I want to vacuum right now?” He grinned at Ray outright, watching as shock turned to comprehension turned to outrage on his expressive face. Before Ray could verbally express himself, however, Fraser slid out from behind him and rolled over on top of him, kissing him senseless and then dragging his body slowly down over Ray’s to take him in his mouth.
Ray’s air whooshed out of his lungs and then rapidly back in, as Fraser began to suck gently at first and then harder.
“I'm going to kill you...just as soon as...death, man, that's what I'm saying here...gonna, gonna, Ohhhhhhhhhhh!” Ray’s body completely stiffened up and he began thrusting wildly in Fraser’s mouth.
Ray’s abandon pushed Fraser over an edge he’d already been teetering on and the bunched up bedspread at the bottom of the bed provided ample enough stimulation for him to achieve his own orgasm at almost the same moment.
In the post-orgasmic bliss that followed, Fraser pulled himself up from the bottom of the bed, thinking vaguely that someone should probably do something about the mess he’d left there but not feeling lively enough to come up with a possible list of candidates. He collapsed next to Ray who seemed to be occupying himself with gasping for breath and letting out the occasional moan.
Fraser closed his eyes and started to drift away again, when he was rudely interrupted by the man who shared his bed. “Still gonna kill you, Fraser. Soon as I wake up...your ass is mine.”
Fraser felt his mouth ghost up into what he was sure was the faintest of very smug smiles. “So...” he rasped, attempting to find his voice again. “You’ve decided to fuck me first?”
Ray made a pitiful sound. Fraser’s smile became decidedly more smug. “Definitely going to kill you, Fraser.” Rustling and the movement of Ray’s body next to him indicated that Ray had turned onto his side and curled into a fetal position. His next words were extremely faint, but Fraser’s ears caught them. “Fall in love with a Mountie and you pay and pay and pay....”
Fraser’s smile followed him into sleep.
When he next opened his eyes, he could tell from the light in the room that much of the morning had passed. He stayed still a moment, taking stock of his situation. He lay on his side facing the room. There was no indication that he was anything but alone in the bed. He wasn’t touching anyone, he couldn’t see anyone, he couldn’t feel anyone moving.
Unbidden, he found himself actually considering the possibility that he had merely...dreamed...last night. Last night’s intimate confidence seemed to have deserted him in the cold light of day. Perhaps, even now, he was lying asleep in his rental cabin creating this whole scenario in his head. Ray’s entire visit could simply have been the result of extreme loneliness and his own penchant for odd “waking-dream” type realities—
A sharp pain in his left ear jerked him out of this exceedingly distressing and unproductive line of thought. Ray had rolled over, flung his arm out and clouted him in the side of the head.
Fraser moved Ray’s arm away and sat up to stare in gratified relief at the very real, very tangible evidence of a naked, warm, sleeping Ray sharing the bed with him. Sliding gingerly, quietly he lay down again, this time facing Ray, and inched incrementally closer and closer...and closer still. Finally their bodies were touching, the long line of Ray’s shoulder, arm, hip and leg making a warm streak of comfort down the center of Fraser’s body.
But still he wanted more.
Hesitantly he reached out a hand and touched Ray’s chest lightly, at first, then more firmly, then letting his hand rest there feeling the beat of Ray’s heart. Fraser closed his eyes and nuzzled Ray’s shoulder.
“S’okay, Fraser.” Ray’s voice was slurred with sleep, but his hand came up to grasp Fraser’s tightly. “...still here...”
Tears stung Fraser’s eyes, but he did not open them to acknowledge them. Instead, he linked his fingers with Ray’s, and kissed him on the shoulder. “I’m glad,” was all he could manage.
Ray lifted their joined hands and kissed Fraser’s fingers (rather by luck, Fraser thought), stretched out the arm next to Fraser and invited Fraser in. “C’mere. Too far away.” And he wrapped that arm around Fraser and pulled until Fraser shifted all the way in and could bury his face in Ray’s neck. “Go back sleep. Dogs aren’t even up yet,” Ray mumbled and threaded his fingers through Fraser’s hair.
Fraser smiled at the reminder of their adventure and went back to sleep, close enough to know that Ray was there.
Later that morning, they awoke sufficiently to rise, shower and check out. Fraser paused on the steps leading to the parking lot and was struck by the shining clearness of the sky and the objects around him. No matter how trite, things really did look different this morning. Well, midday, Fraser corrected himself.
Ray stopped and turned back to study Fraser. Whatever he saw in Fraser’s face made him roll his eyes heavenward, and shake his head. “Sap,” was all he said before continuing on to where the Jeep was parked.
Back at the cabin, Fraser dropped his bag and pushed Ray up against the refrigerator.
“Hey,” Ray breathed when he could speak again. “I didn’t know sappy meant the same thing as horny in Canadian.”
Fraser laughed and took Ray’s mouth again. “It would appear,” he grunted and rubbed up against Ray’s thigh just so, “that my sap is rising.”
Unfortunately, this foray into combining humor with passion left his partner unable to continue participating in the passionate side of things due to the fact he was now wheezing with laughter. Fraser pulled back and eyed Ray who now leaned weakly against the refrigerator supported only by Fraser’s knee between his thighs. For a brief second, Ray seemed to get control of himself, but just as Fraser felt it was safe to lean back in and shifted his weight to do So Ray caught his eye and fell prey to giggles again.
Well, really. Fraser leaned back and crossed his arms. Then, he gently extricated his knee, bent over and pushed his shoulder into Ray’s stomach to lift him.
“Whoa! Hey! None of that! Fraser!”
Apparently Ray had finished laughing. Excellent. Fraser moved quickly and dumped Ray unceremoniously on the bed. Ray bounced in a manner reminiscent of the first time he’d arrived in this bed, but he recovered much faster.
“That,” he said sitting up quickly, “was not buddies, Fraser.”
Fraser took off his shirt. “It’s not the first time I’ve carried you to bed, Ray.”
Fraser took off his undershirt. “No.”
“Was I awake the other times?” Ray’s eyes followed every move Fraser made.
Fraser unbuttoned his jeans. “No. Well,” he cocked his head to one side. “One time, technically, you were awake.”
“Drunk as a skunk, though.”
Fraser knelt and untied his boots, loosened them, then stood and kicked them off. “You had consumed more alcohol than was your usual, yes.” He toed off his socks and then slid his fingers under the waistband of his jeans.
“I missed out then.” Ray’s voice was husky.
“Pardon?” Fraser stopped.
“Benton Fraser put me to bed and I was too drunk or too conked out to appreciate it. That pisses me off.”
Fraser felt himself flush with pleasure. “Well, you did manage to get in...what do you call it? A good grip?” Biting his lip, he slid his jeans and boxers off at the same time.
“Grope, a grope! A good grope!”
“A good grope, right you are, Ray. As I said, you did manage to get in a good grope or two, so rest assured you didn’t totally miss out.”
Totally nude now, Fraser lay on the bed on his side facing Ray, who was staring at him with a peculiar mix of challenge and arousal on his face.
“What did I grope?”
“I’m sorry?” Fraser wasn’t sure he’d heard correctly.
“What part of your body did I...fondle... while you were putting me to bed?”
Fraser felt his ears warm, his breath catch and his heart start to race. This was strangely arousing, lying naked in bed with a fully clothed Ray talking about...getting fondled.
“Tell me the story, Fraser...” Ray’s voice was nothing but a throaty whisper, as if it had been burned by the fire Fraser could see burning in Ray’s eyes.
“We were in Algers, the pipeline town, remember?” Ray nodded his eyes never leaving Fraser’s. “We’d pulled up for the night, so you could ‘get warm,’ as I recall.” Ray allowed himself a small smile, but his eyes remained intense. “We’d gone out to that tavern for dinner and beer.
“We talked during dinner, about the trip so far, about what to expect further on, about the hunting trophies on the wall.” Fraser’s hand traced the lines on the quilt between them. “I remember thinking it was easy to talk to you. That is was easier to talk now that I was home. That I was glad the adventure had brought us closer together.”
Ray moved only enough to trace one finger over Fraser’s hand.
“We talked a long time, and you had several beers. That, coupled with your physical exhaustion, I believe, served to intoxicate you rather quickly. Soon it became obvious that you were...somewhat impaired...so I paid the check and we left.”
Ray’s finger moved up Fraser’s arm leaving a trail of sensation in its wake. “Go on,” he whispered.
“You were...very affectionate...on the walk back to the hotel. It was necessary for me to hold you around the waist in order that you remain upright, but your arm around my waist and your tongue in my ear...well, those weren’t strictly necessary for your safe navigation.”
Ray’s finger had migrated up to Fraser’s shoulder and now was proving to be highly distracting on Fraser's collarbone. “But did you like it?”
“At the time, it was inappropriate...”
Ray’s finger now drew a circle that made Fraser’s breath catch and his nipple harden. “But did you like it?” Ray asked again.
“Yes. God, yes.” Fraser felt his cock begin to fill at the sense memory of Ray’s laughing, feathery voice in his ear, the breathy whispers and the hot, wetness of his tongue touching Fraser’s skin.
“Tell me more.”
“We managed...somehow...to get back to the hotel. We made it through the lobby and up to our room unobserved which was good, as your hands were wandering now in a most unseemly manner.”
“Tell me I groped your ass.”
“You groped my ass.” Fraser said obediently, feeling the hairs on his arm rise from what Ray’s finger was doing to his navel.
“I knew I had to have groped your ass. I’d had been looking at that ass for two years and I’m just glad to know that given the opportunity, my hands knew what to do.” He closed his eyes and sighed happily. “Then what?” He opened his eyes.
“Then we entered our room, I pried you off of me and put you to bed. You were asleep before I got your boots off.”
“That’s it?” Ray was comically disappointed.
“That’s it.” Fraser answered gravely. Then he made a show of remembering something. “Oh! I almost forgot, you also sucked—”
“Yeah?” Ray said eagerly.
“Your thumb. Right before dropping off to sleep, you slid your thumb into your mouth and—” Fraser stopped talking when the pillow hit him in the face.
He grappled to pull Ray’s pillow off his face and reach for his own. Ray’s body slammed him before he could push up on an elbow to return fire. The feel of Ray’s still clothed body against his own aroused and naked one drove pillow fighting out of his mind.
“Ray,” he whispered urgently and held Ray tightly about the hips. “I want you to...”
“Anything, Fraser, anything, you gotta know that.” Ray pushed his hips against Fraser’s, rubbing their erections against one another.
“Fuck me. I want you to fuck me.” Fraser had to close his eyes against the onslaught of sensation caused by feeling Ray in his arms and saying the words he’d always wanted to say. “I want you inside me. I need you. God, please.”
Ray’s groan and the thrust of his hips were most gratifying. His head dropped down to Fraser’s shoulder. “You’re sure you don’t want me to vacuum?”
Fraser managed a half-laugh. “I’m sure. Just you. And me. You inside me. Don’t...” Fraser turned to look Ray in the eye. “Don’t even take your clothes off, just...”
Ray’s eyes closed and he seemed to be concentrating very hard. “Not going hurt you, Ben. We go slow.” His voice was thready and thin with desire.
“You don’t have to. I’ve been...” Fraser couldn’t say it, but he knew his face was flushing further.
“...practicing?” Ray finished incredulously.
Ray’s eyes closed again and his face looked pained. “Look. Don’t mention that again or I won’t make it, you understand?”
“Still we’re going to do this right and that means you are in charge of how fast and how hard, got it?” Ray had rallied some bit of determination and seemed ready to go forward.
“Okay, then we need to move and I need to...” Ray pushed off of Fraser, unfastened and slid out of his jeans and unbuttoned his shirt. A small sound of protest from Fraser stopped him from taking it off completely, however. “Okay, now you sit up and move a bit.” Fraser sat up and Ray sat down on the bed with his back against the headboard. His arousal was completely, magnificently evident. “You got lube and condoms?”
“Yes, Ray.” Fraser retrieved both from his underwear drawer.
“Okay, are you ready? Are you really ready?” Ray looked at Fraser critically. “Cause you know we could still vacuum, if you want, give this place a real fall cleaning.”
Fraser was done with doubts. He knew what he wanted and what he needed and Ray was the one to give it to him. “I’m ready, Ray.” He tossed the lube onto the bed and crawled up and over to crouch over Ray’s body.
“You, uh, want to do you and I’ll do me?” Ray reached for the lube and flipped open the cap.
“Yes.” Fraser watched as Ray drizzled lube into his hand and then lightly and quickly coated his penis keeping his teeth gritted as he did so. He rolled the condom just as quickly. Ray looked up and caught Fraser watching. He shrugged. “Too much more and I’m going to go.” His cheeks got pink.
“Then perhaps you shouldn’t watch.” Fraser reached for the lube himself and wondered just when his voice had gotten so husky.
But Ray did watch. He watched as Fraser slicked up his first three fingers, watched while Fraser reached around himself and started with not one, but two fingers. On Fraser’s second pass, his fingers brushed against his prostate and he could not suppress his moan of delight. It felt so damn good. He opened his eyes again to see Ray watching and his pleasure spiked even higher.
Ray’s eyes widened at the obvious pleasure Fraser took in performing this task. “You gonna—” Ray licked his lips and started over. “You gonna teach me that?”
“Oh, yes, Ray,” Fraser answered withdrawing his fingers and moving to get himself into position.
“Good, cause I want, I want it all Fraser. Giving and receiving. All of it.” Ray took his lip between his teeth as Fraser started to lower himself.
“I do too, Ray.” He bore down hard and Ray slid almost halfway in. Once again and he was drenched in sweat and as close to Ray as he could get. “Perfect,” he murmured, no longer feeling empty.
“Perfect,” Ray echoed. “More perfect if you’d move,” he added, somewhat peevishly.
Fraser pushed up, then slid back down making both of them groan and the headboard bang against the wall. He shifted forward slightly and reached out for the headboard to brace himself. The next motion was even better due to Ray’s own upward thrust.
“Yes,” Fraser gasped. “Like that.” And that quickly they established a rhythm. “God, that’s it, that’s it, it’s so right.” Fraser couldn’t keep himself from talking. “Need you, want you, for so long.”
“Wanted you longer, need you more.” Ray gasped back his hands coming up to grip Fraser’s where they clutched the headboard.
“Why the courtship, why not tell me right away?” Fraser ground out, grinding his body down and into Ray’s.
“Didn’t know, had to know first...” Ray’s head was whipping from side to side now, his hands digging into Fraser’s painfully.
“Had to know what?” Fraser pressed on, even though his body was tightening, he could feel the obvious signs of impending orgasm.
“If you could make room for me.” Ray got out in a rush, then his whole body jerked upward again and again, climaxing inside Fraser’s body. Watching Ray, feeling Ray and hearing Ray in throes of orgasm provided ample stimulation to send Fraser careening right over the edge of the abyss with him. He collapsed almost on top of Ray, his head hanging precariously between his hands with their increasingly slack grip on the headboard.
“I’d say I just did,” he gasped out eventually.
“Did what?” Ray responded intelligently without opening his eyes.
“Made room for you.”
Ray’s body convulsed on an exhalation. “Oh God, don’t make me laugh. I’ll fall apart. Literally.”
Fraser relented and they gingerly went about the tasks of disengaging and cleaning up. Soon they were in bed again, both naked and very sleepy.
“There’s more than enough room for you, Ray.” Fraser felt he needed to make that clear.
“Not talking about living arrangements, Fraser.”
“I have plenty of room inside me.”
“Not talking about fucking either. Although that was fabulous.”
“I have room for you in my heart, Ray.”
Ray smiled and rolled into Fraser’s arms. “That’s what I’m talking about, Ben.”
And that’s how they went to sleep.
The wake-up call came hard. Standing over the brewing pot of Ray’s coffee the next Wednesday, Fraser made himself acknowledge it. He’d been hitting the proverbial snooze button for the last five days, but the alarming truth was that Ray was leaving Saturday. Saturday morning. Fraser stared unseeing at the coffeepot letting that fact drip into him like the coffee from the filter. Ray was leaving.
Warm arms around his bare stomach brought him back to awareness. “Hey, Moody Man, what’s up with you?” Ray rubbed his face against the skin between Fraser’s shoulder blades.
Fraser couldn’t prevaricate. “You’re leaving,” he stated simply.
Ray stopped his restless movements for a second, then pressed his face in harder. “Don’t wanna.”
“Don’t want to, but I’ve got to.” Ray’s arms tightened, the sigh he exhaled was warm and moist. “Can’t leave Welsh in the lurch. Can’t just dump my parents. Gotta go back and...tie up the loose ends. Then...”
“You’ll come back?” Fraser clutched the arms around him and spoke to the countertop.
“You want me back?”
“I don’t want you to go at all,” Fraser pointed out shakily. “Although rationally I understand everything you just said.” He held Ray’s arms tighter.
He felt Ray smile. “Easy. I’m not going today. We’ve got a while.”
With horror, Fraser realized he was now gripping Ray’s arm hard enough to leave bruises. He let go. “Ray! I’m sorry!”
Ray pushed at Fraser’s shoulders until Fraser turned. “I’m not. Not about any of it. You wanting me like that, that’s like a dream come true. I can wait a bit for the happily ever after.”
Fraser could not answer right away. Hesitantly, he edged closer and pushed his head against Ray’s neck. Ray’s arms came up to hold him there. “Now...” he stopped to clear his throat. “Now who’s the sap?”
So on Saturday Ray left. And Fraser stayed. Alone. And just like the last time, he felt numb from head to toe. He found that even talking to another person took more energy than he could possibly consider summoning, so he talked to no one.
Thank God for work, he thought as he and Dief entered the detachment the Thursday following Ray’s departure. He’d been back since Monday. That is to say, his body had come to work on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but he had no clear memory of what it was he had actually accomplished.
He nodded silently at Carol and trudged past her desk to his office. Once inside, he hung his coat up mechanically, racked his Stetson, and then stood motionless in the middle of the room. Dief looked up from his rug in front of the fireplace and whuffed somewhat indignantly.
Ah. The fire. He supposed it was useless to point out to Dief that it was barely October and hence, hardly to be considered cold. With the ease of long practice, he built and lit the fire -- a task made even simpler by the Outpost’s inclusion of a gas starter in each of its fireplaces.
The fire caught quickly and he sat back on his haunches to brush the ash off his hands. Dief put his head down on his front paws and closed his eyes in gratitude. Fraser found himself caught by the light and sound of the fire, and without really being aware of himself, he sank down to lie on his side behind Dief and kept his eyes on the flames.
Ray was gone. Ray was gone. It was the only thought his brain seemed to be able to hold, yet he knew that repeating that fact to himself was no more useful than it had been the first time Ray had left. And this time, Ray wasn’t ‘gone’ so much as he simply wasn’t present. But, Fraser was quick to remind himself, Ray wasn’t gone for good. He would return. Someday. Months from now.
Ray is gone....He jerked his head up at the sound of the knock on his still open door. The heat from the fire transferred itself to his face, but he forced himself to rise to his feet and greet his uninvited visitor. “Yes, Carol.” He acknowledged the secretary’s presence as if nothing untoward had occurred.
“I’m...sorry, Constable Fraser...but we have a slight problem.” Carol shifted her feet uncomfortably.
“Yes?” he encouraged her to continue.
“Your daily reports from this week...there was a little accident involving some coffee and Constable Bullard’s extension ladder, and I’m sorry to say, your reports while not unreadable, are well, not exactly acceptable for filing and reviewing purposes any longer.” Pink-faced, she handed over a sheaf of crumpled, badly stained papers. Fraser took them without comment.
“Those will need to be filled out again. In triplicate.” Red-faced now, Carol didn’t so much leave Fraser’s office, as fled from it in consternation.
Fraser looked at the pile of useless papers in his hand and sighed inwardly. He sat heavily in his chair and set about the task of re-filling out new forms with the old information. His pen moved slowly across the crisp pages. He fell into a kind of rhythm of smoothing out the crumpled coffee-stained forms, deciphering the now blurred handwriting, then writing the information again in a legible fashion. He was surprised when a glance at the clock showed him it was past time for lunch.
Dief, who had been sitting at his elbow for some time evidently, was not surprised. In fact, he was quite sarcastically communicative on the fact of his own non-surprise. “Well, honestly, why didn’t you say something?” Fraser finally snapped with exasperation, as they crossed the lobby in search of food. Dief only rolled his eyes and pushed his way ahead of Fraser as Fraser opened the detachment’s front door. Ah. Perhaps Dief had said something then, Fraser reflected as his followed the plume of the Offended One’s tail up the street. Something that Fraser had apparently missed. Well.
So this was his life now, Fraser mused and noted Dief’s right on Prancer Street. Doomed to an existence alone with only a moody wolf for company. Well, he scratched his eyebrow thoughtfully, if he were strictly honest, most of his adult life had been spent alone with only that self-same moody wolf. This existence was no different, really, than his existence before. Before Chicago. Before Ray Vecchio. Before...Ray Kowalski.
The hand on his eyebrow dropped like a stone to his stomach as if he could physically keep his guts from churning. Ray would be back. Ray would be back. He closed his eyes and clenched his fist against the pain. He would be back. He said he’d be back. This life he lived now had been lived before, it could be lived again and when Ray came back, it would be over. Then the life with Ray could start again. The life where he was happy.
He wrenched his eyes open but did not see the few people who had stopped near him to see if he was okay. He unclenched his fist and spotted Dief a few storefronts up, near Gepetto’s. Very well, Gepetto’s would provide an adequate lunch. He would eat and then he’d go back to work. He had a plan. The next few hours were covered.
And what about after that? Inquired a voice inside him that sounded suspiciously familiar.
After that I’ll make a new plan, he answered without thinking. A plan for the next few hours and then I’ll go home and eat dinner and go to sleep. Then, I’ll start again tomorrow.
And how long do you think that will last you? That same familiar voice with the Chicago accent pushed.
As long as necessary, he answered, feeling his teeth grind together. Until you’re back here where you belong.
I belong with you. The question here is, where do you belong, Benton Fraser?
But Fraser had no answer.
After work he took himself and Dief home following the familiar roads to his rented cabin somewhat mindlessly. Once inside he let the routine of taking off his uniform soothe him. Mechanically, he unbuckled, unlaced, and unfastened what was necessary before sliding everything off to lie in a heap on the floor. Clad only in his boxers and undershirt now, he flopped onto the bed and buried his face in the pillow. Ray’s pillow.
A knock at the door interrupted him. Bemused, he lifted his head up and stared at the door with some confusion. A second knock convinced him he had not imagined the first. “Just a moment!” he called as he rolled off the bed in search of jeans, sweats, something to put on over his underwear. He found a pair of khaki shorts in his bureau drawer. He grabbed them thankfully and stepped into them then moved into the living area as he was pulling them up.
It became apparent once he tried to fasten them that the shorts were not his. He stopped in front of the couch, sucked in his stomach and tried his best to slide the button through the button hole.
A second knock sounded.
In despair, Fraser chose the lesser of two evils and yanked his t-shirt out of his waistband to hang over his now painfully, and precariously, fastened shorts.
He opened the door to find Carol holding a pizza box and regarding him with some concern. “Constable Fraser? Are you all right?”
“Ah, Carol.” Fraser started to let out the breath he was holding felt the shorts give a little and sucked it back in. “No. I mean, yes, I’m fine. As you can see,” Fraser took a small experimental breath. The shorts held. “Is there something I can do for you?”
“Actually, this is for you,” she stated calmly but with a suspicious twinkle in her eye. “There’s a note inside.”
Completely confused, Fraser took the pizza box she held out to him and opened it. Inside there was indeed a pizza and a small card with what looked like a...mule?
Juggling the pizza box to his left hand, he opened the card with his right.
It took me a while to find a card with your picture on it.
Last time I looked, your ass didn’t have “Jack” tattooed on it.
Enjoy the pizza. Enjoy your home.
I’ll be there soon.
Fraser looked up blankly at Carol. “It’s from Ray,” he managed to croak out through a choked up throat.
“I know.” Carol’s smile lit up her face. “He’s such a nice boy.”
Fraser just stared at her a moment, then impulsively, he leaned in and kissed her soundly on the cheek. “Thank you for bringing this.”
Her face went pink. “You’re very welcome, Constable Fraser. It was my pleasure.” She turned to go down the steps.
Something occurred to Fraser when he looked back at the note penned in Ray’s scrawling handwriting. “And...” Carol turned back with one foot resting on the bottom step. “Thank you for...the reports.” He gestured vaguely with the hand that held Ray’s card. “Today,” he added for clarification.
Then, shockingly, she rubbed her thumb against the side of her nose and winked at him conspiratorially. “Oh, Constable, I was so sorry about that. That coffee! Who knew it could make such a mess? Thank you for being so patient about the whole thing.” The renewed twinkle in her eye also seemed to indicate she knew more than she was saying, but Fraser let the matter rest for the time being and merely wished her a good evening.
He closed the door, and crossed quickly to the table. With a bang, he set the pizza box down and without even moving to the sleeping area he unfastened Ray’s shorts and slid them off in relief. His stomach growled. Determining that the need for food outweighed the need for getting dressed to eat pizza in his own home, Fraser sat down, opened the box and started on the first piece.
The phone rang as he was eating. Wiping his mouth and fingers quickly, he rose from the table to answer.
“Hello?” He could only hope.
“Didja get the pizza?”
“Yes, Ray.” Fraser moved back to the table and sat back down, smiling.
“Didja read the card?”
“Yes, Ray.” Fraser took another bite of pizza and chewed quickly.
“So how’s your ass now? Do I need to come up there and kick it?”
Fraser wiped his mouth again and grinned outright. “If indeed you were to come up here, I sincerely hope that kicking wouldn’t be the first thing you thought of upon encountering my ass.”
“Heh. Long words. You must be feeling better.”
“You make me happy,” Fraser answered simply.
Ray gave a pleased little laugh, but made no other reply.
“Have I rendered you speechless?”
“Yeah. But not in the way I like the best.”
Fraser laughed aloud and Ray joined in. “How did you get the card to Carol?” Fraser asked wondering about the plans his partner had concocted.
“Left it with her. Told her she’d know when she’d need to use it. Told her to call me when she did. She called me today.”
Fraser shook his head and took another mouthful of pizza. He heard similar sounds from Ray’s end of the line. “Are you eating too?”
“Yeah, Sandor just brought me dinner. Thought I’d have it with you.”
The meal and the call went on a long time. At the conclusion of the call, which had stretched out far longer than the meal, Fraser lay on the bed petting Dief whose head was resting on his stomach. “I still miss you, though,” he dared venture.
“You’d better. Miss you too, what do you think? I’m down here partying?”
“Based on tonight’s evidence, I think you’re plotting again.”
“Just because you’re paranoid, don’t mean they aren’t after you Ben.”
“I’m not interested in ‘them.’”
“Well, I’m after you too, Ben. Never forget that.”
“Good night Ray.”
Fraser clicked the phone off. After a moment, he reached to the left and turned off the bedside lamp.
The next morning, Fraser and Dief were obliged to ease their way through a small crowd of co-workers to sign the daily log on Carol’s desk. The focus of the happy mob appeared to be the dozen roses in a vase that now stood proudly in the center of Carol’s desk.
“What beautiful roses, Carol! You must have an admirer,” he commented as he signed his name.
“Oh! Constable Fraser! Aren’t they beautiful? You—” She cut herself off when she noticed Fraser briefly rub his nose with his thumb and wink discreetly. “You are so right! I feel so very lucky!” she continued, flushing only slightly.
“Well, I hope you have an enjoyable day, Carol.” She winked back at him and he went to his office with a lighter heart than he had in weeks.
The days slid by more smoothly after that. His heart still ached, but he no longer felt that he was so completely alone. He and Ray talked every night when Fraser wasn’t on patrol. When he was on patrol, he’d return to find messages on the machine that were sweet, raunchy, and outrageous by turns.
One night Ray called early and caught Fraser with his hand inside his boxers, his breathing already ragged.
“Whatcha doing?” Ray asked huskily, recognizing immediately what Fraser was up to.
“Oh, you know, this and that,” Fraser replied and kept his hand moving slowly loving the erotic charge of doing this while Ray listened.
“This and that? That’s my favorite thing to do. In fact, I’m doing the very same thing just this minute. How’s it going for you?”
Fraser flashed on a picture of Ray touching himself and had to moan. His own hand began to move faster. “Very well, thank you kindly.”
Ray’s own breathing had begun to labor slightly. “You’re welcome. You’re so welcome, you know that. Welcome to fuck me, too.”
“God, Ray...” Fraser’s back arched and his hand sped up accordingly.
“That’s right, I’m God, don’t you forget it. Leastwise, that’s how I feel when you are inside me...filled up with you...ecstasy.”
Fraser closed his eyes and let himself see, hear, feel himself inside Ray, to experience the blinding joy of total connection to the most important person in his life. With a groan that made Dief look up from the rug by the fireplace, Fraser came. Dimly, he was aware of Ray’s own completion by the sounds he could only vaguely hear through the receiver.
They were silent for a few moments, both breathing heavily.
“Damn.” Ray spoke first and then, from the sound of it, stretched.
Fraser could only agree.
“So you getting out a little?” Ray asked when they could form coherent sentences.
“I go to work, out on patrol, of course.”
“Not what I mean, Fraser.”
Ah. His last name. Ray had a point to make, evidently.
“Are you getting out with other people? You know, sharing conversations? A meal, maybe?”
Fraser stretched and got up in search of a washcloth having determined that the afterglow part of the conversation had been concluded. “I did, in fact, take Carol to lunch the other day,” he pointed out as he grabbed a washcloth out of the linen closet. “We went to the new bagel place.” He propped the phone between his shoulder and ear, and used both hands to slide off his shorts. Naked, he wet the washcloth with warm water and scrubbed diligently.
“You did?” Ray’s voice was pleased. “Huh. There’s hope for you, yet. Might even branch out a little next, hmmm?”
“I’ll leave that to Dief. He’s had another offer, you know.” Clean now, Fraser padded back to the dresser and picked out some new shorts and a clean t-shirt.
“That mutt gets more action than anyone I know,” Ray groused.
“That’s hardly accurate, Ray,” Fraser pointed out logically, then paused to pull his fresh shirt over his head.
“Gets more than I do, anyway,” Ray grumbled. “Although,” he continued loudly over Fraser’s indrawn breath, “just now I feel too good to take him to task. Who’s the lucky girl?”
“One of Carol’s other bitches.”
Ray snorted predictably. Fraser smiled knowing Ray got an unholy glee out of hearing Fraser talk that way, no matter how many times Fraser explained it was a simple breeding term.
Ray wrote letters, too. In his letters he was more thoughtful and spoke of his own plans and dreams. The phone calls, Fraser realized, were mostly about Fraser. The letters were about Ray.
Seems like I’ve been thinking about you forever, Ray wrote in one. Thinking and planning ways to see if you like me, see if we could match. We seemed to match on the surface, but there’s all this deeper stuff that comes out when you’re with someone long-term. I didn’t know your deeper stuff, you didn’t really know mine. I wanted to know if we could know all that about each other and still match up. So I started to plan more. I needed to know if you could let me in.
Late in November, a knock on the door brought Fraser’s head up from the letter he was reading for the sixth time. Somewhat bemused, he stared at the door in consternation. Who on earth would be knocking on his door at, he checked the kitchen clock, seven-thirty on a weeknight? The knock sounded again.
Hastily now, Fraser got to his feet and crossed the living room to the door. He wrenched it open and stood staring in some amazement at NatalieJean, wrapped up in her parka and muffler.
“Uh, hi!” she said cheerily, if somewhat nervously. “They’re about to light the reindeer downtown, we, uh, Cyn and Molly and I, didn’t want you to miss it.” She turned and waved back at her still running car where Fraser could see Cyn in the front seat and the shadowy shape of Molly in the back.
“Light the reindeer?”
“Yeah, you know, they’ve been talking about it for weeks. Come on, you want to come with us? You shouldn’t miss it.” NatalieJean fiddled with the strings on her parka hood while speaking.
“Well, I was just...” Out of habit, Fraser searched for a polite refusal.
“Oh, wait. I’m supposed to give you something.” NatalieJean dug in her pocket, unearthed a mitten and a pack of gum before producing a stack of what appeared to be index cards. “Okay, here.” She gave them to Fraser, looked more closely at them, then took them back, turned the stack over and gave it back. “There, I mean.” Interestingly, her cheeks were now pink with more than the cold. “You’re supposed to read them.”
“I see.” Fraser looked at the stack of cards in his hand blankly. “Right now?”
“Yes. Well, first,” she pulled again at her hood strings, “let me ask again. Would you like to come with us to see the Lighting of the Reindeer?”
“Ah, I should read them now?”
Fraser put the top card (blank) to the bottom of the deck and read the writing on the next one:
(go to the next card)
Ray. Ray’s handwriting. These cards had been written by Ray. Fraser felt his face get red. “Yes,” he said. To NatalieJean and to Ray. “Yes, I’d like to go.” Said it, realized it was true.
“You would? Great!” NatalieJean blushed harder, but seemed genuinely excited. “I’m so glad, we’ve...we’ve been wanting you to get out a little more,” she finished in a rush. “Constable.” she added at the end.
Fraser looked at the next card.
Tell her to call you Ben.
(keep going, one more card)
Ray. Still looking after him. Fraser cleared his throat. “NatalieJean, we’ve known each other a long time. I would like it if you called me Ben. Especially when I’m not in uniform. It would be...nice.”
NatalieJean looked pleased. In fact, she looked downright thrilled. Fraser gestured inside the house vaguely, and muttered something about needing to get his coat. NatalieJean hurried back to the car and Fraser could here the excited voices within when she opened the door. He waved briefly and turned to go in.
Back inside again, he turned to the next card.
Go have fun. Enjoy who you are with. Carpe Diem and all that other stuff.
Wish I was there. Back soon.
Fraser ran his fingers over the words, could see plainly in his mind’s eye how Ray looked writing them, how the mischief and...affection...must have played on his face. He laughed to himself and with a somewhat watery sniff went to get his parka.
NatalieJean explained the ritual Lighting of the Reindeer on the way there. “Basically it’s simple, Ben. We start on Dasher Street. Everyone brings lawn chairs and something to keep warm,” Cyn brandished the thermos at him “and waits until the Town Council flunky plugs in the lights. Once the deer lights up, we all yell like crazy and the Council guy leads us in a round of Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer.”
“Yeah, and then,” Cyn broke in, “we move onto Dancer Drive and do the whole thing over again. Lights, yelling, song, move on to the next and repeat.”
“Do you actually get through all the reindeer?” Fraser asked.
“Yep,” answered Molly. “S’why we bring extra thermoses.”
“I see,” Fraser started, some worry creeping up on him. He truly hoped he would not be forced to contain a drunken crowd of revelers. He caught NatalieJean eyeing him in the rearview mirror. “It sounds like fun,” he said and smiled for her benefit. Taking a deep breath, he fingered Ray’s cards in his pocket and resolved to have a good time.
Somewhat to his surprise, Fraser had a very good time. By the fourth reindeer (Vixen) his spirits were high and he was singing just as loudly as anyone. On Comet Street, he was pressed into service, being, he supposed, the only basically sober person in the crowd. Although not precisely sober, he gave a good show and managed to untangle the 250 foot extension cord to successfully connect the reindeer to the electrical unit outside the courthouse. The crowd was extremely appreciative.
“Hey, back off, RoseMarie. He’s taken,” NatalieJean hissed as she pried a somewhat besotted library clerk from around Fraser’s waist.
“Ah. Thank you kindly, NatalieJean,” Fraser said in relief as he watched the girl slink back into the crowd.
“No problem, Ben. Ray said he’d appreciate it if I watched out for you. Every time I defend your honor’s worth an authentic Chicago pizza.” NatalieJean winked at him and linked her arm through his, pulling him back to their chairs.
“Well, then, let me at least pour you a drink.” Fraser fished the thermos out from under his chair and poured for the two them.
Donner Street and Blitzen Avenue passed quickly and once Rudolph himself was illuminated on his boulevard the evening came quickly to a close.
“Thermos empty, Fraser?” asked NatalieJean as they carried their stuff to her car.
“No, I don’t believe so.”
“Well, then finish it up, can’t let it go to waste.”
“She’s right,” Cyn and Molly chorused. “It’s part of the ritual,” Cyn finished.
“Ah, very well then.” Fraser stopped briefly, wrenched the top from the thermos and drank the contents down speedily.
“Yikes,” he heard Molly mutter. “He’s going to feel that.”
What Fraser felt was fine. He felt so fine, he felt like smiling. A lot. So he did. Unfortunately, that seemed to concern his friends a trifle, although, he noticed they did seem rather amused as well.
“Okay,” NatalieJean said as she turned the key in the car’s ignition. “What time is it?” The digital clock lit up and showed that it was a few minutes after ten. “Time to get moving.”
Fraser let his head rest against the back of the seat and let the motion of the car seep into his very bones. He felt very relaxed, very at peace and very pleased with the night’s activities. All too soon, it seemed, they had reached his house.
NatalieJean pulled up as close to the door as was possible. “Okay, here you are, Ben. Are you going to be all right?”
“Yes, of course, thank you very kindly, NatalieJean, Cyn, Molly” he said nodding at each of them. “I had a very nice time.”
“You’re welcome Ben. Tell Ray I’m sorry you’re late.”
Fraser stared at NatalieJean blankly, trying unsuccessfully to get that last statement to make sense. Ray was in Chicago. “Okay, I will. Thank you again.” Letting it go, Fraser got himself out of the car and up to his porch, through the door and into the house.
He shed his parka at the door, hanging it automatically on the hooks. On a second thought, he rummaged in the pocket. His bed looked very inviting so he crossed the room and flopped down on it. Curiously, the ceiling seemed to be spinning. He was still watching it when the phone rang.
“You’re late,” said Ray without preamble.
“NatalieJean said to tell you she was sorry.” Now Fraser put the pieces together.
“Hmph. Said she could take you out. Didn’t say she could keep you.”
“She hardly kept me. Although,” Fraser stretched and scratched his stomach, “you do owe her a pizza.”
“RoseMarie,” Fraser answered, knowing which who Ray meant. “Library clerk. You met her, I think.”
“Fraser. I met everyone. Those people think I’m a god.”
“Maybe, Ray, maybe.”
“You toasted?” Ray sounded curious.
“Perhaps. Singed, maybe.”
“Heh. How do you feel?”
“Revoltingly sentimental and maudlin.” He held the cards tighter against his chest.
“Heh. You are toasted. Get my cards?”
“Yes. You’re looking after me again.”
“That’s what I do, buddy. That’s what I do.” After a whispered good-bye, Fraser disconnected the phone but continued to hold it near him until he fell asleep.
A few days after the annual Lighting of the Reindeer, Fraser was called to the ice skating rink to help quell a minor disturbance. Evidently the members of two hockey teams had gotten into a scuffle during a practice game that resulted in two black eyes and a rather substantial loss of hair. After the parents had retrieved their daughters, Fraser stopped by the front desk to let Dave know the matter had been cleared up.
“Say, Constable, I noticed you haven’t decorated your house on Rudolph.” As might be expected, the festive decoration of houses during the holiday season was extremely important in this community.
“No, I haven’t.” Fraser finished filling out the incident report and pushed it over for Dave to sign, indicating the signature line with his finger.
“Looks like you’re going to need some help with that,” Dave signed the form and pushed it back. “Want me to come out on Saturday?”
Fraser thought about it briefly. He knew Dave worked twelve hours a day every weekday. Surely he didn’t need to give up his Saturday just to help Fraser string some lights on a house he hadn’t even moved into yet. He tucked the incident report into his tunic and sought out the words to say an appreciative but clear, no.
He looked up at Dave about to open his mouth, but then noticed that Dave was holding a stack of index cards in his hand. Fraser looked at them, then looked back at Dave. “Are those for me?”
Fraser shifted his feet, and nodded. “Ah. May I?” He held out his hand.
Dave handed over the cards.
(didn’t we just have this discussion?)
Fraser felt his mouth quirk up. “Yes, Dave. Thank you. I would appreciate the help.” And again, he said the words and realized that they were true.
Dave grinned. “Great! I’ll be there about ten. He’s got your number, doesn’t he?” Dave pointed that the cards and grinned wider.
“I would have to say so,” Fraser was forced to admit. He flipped to the next card.
INVITE HIM TO WATCH HOCKEY OR SOMETHING, KIND OF A THANK YOU FOR FREEZING HIS ASS OFF UP ON YOUR ROOF.
“Perhaps, Saturday night, I could treat you to...pizza and beer, and we could watch the hockey game?” Fraser put forth somewhat tentatively, not sure how Dave would receive such an invitation, but wanting to show his appreciation as Ray suggested.
“Sounds good.” Dave nodded matter-of-factly and seemed pleased to be asked. “My wife is out of town this weekend visiting her mother, so I’m kind of on my own.”
“Ah. Well, very well. I’ll see you on Saturday, then.” Fraser nodded briskly and prepared to take his leave.
“See you then.” Dave moved away. “Oh,” he said, turning back. “Whatever you do, no anchovies on the pizza.”
“I wouldn’t think of it,” Fraser assured him and left.
He walked briskly back to the station, holding Ray’s cards in his pocket. He shook his head a little in wonder at how Ray knew him, at the lengths Ray was going to to care for him, to help him unbend and learn to fit in. He’d lived here a whole year and had never felt like he belonged here. He’d lived in Chicago for three years and never felt like he belonged there. He’d lived on his own in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and while he’d been comfortable there and at ease, it hadn’t been the same thing at all. There’d been so few people there. But, he was forced to admit as he crossed back over Dancer he’d not really belonged with them either.
During Ray’s visit, he’d accepted that he and Ray belonged together: partners in every way now, mind, body, soul. He stomped up the steps to the station, attempting to shake the slush off his boots, then flung the door open and carefully wiped his still damp boots on the mat in the entranceway.
He returned Carol’s effusive greeting almost absently and went past her, still thinking. He’d been willing, he realized, to let belonging to Ray be enough. He hung up his coat and was greeted with a whuff from the rug in front of the fire. Well, he amended, he’d been willing to let belonging to Ray and to Diefenbaker be enough.
“Did you have a nice nap?” he inquired with mock politeness. Dief responded by putting his head back down and rolling over onto his back derisively. Fraser clucked but did not comment any further.
Ray, however, seemed determined that Fraser expand his horizons further, Fraser thought. While Fraser might be satisfied, read pathetically grateful, to belong only to Ray and to Dief, Ray, it appeared, had somewhat higher aspirations. And maybe...just maybe...Ray was right. Fraser leaned his head against the window and stared out at the gray December sky. Maybe Fraser could belong here. With Ray. With Dief. With friends even beyond that.
It was an interesting idea.
Saturday dawned clear but cold. Fraser dressed in layers, added his parka and gloves and then drove over to his new home. It was finished and ready for occupation. It had been finished since mid-November, but Fraser had not yet moved in.
He had, with Carol’s help and that of NatalieJean and Molly, who was an interior decorator, begun to buy furniture and other items to transform the empty structure into a livable space.
Fraser and Dief arrived before Dave, and went through the empty house turning on lights to make it look more welcoming. When they returned to the kitchen, Dief woofed softly at the back door and asked to go out. Fraser obliged him by opening the door. “Remember, we’ll be up on the roof when you get back. Don’t be alarmed.”
“He talk back?” Dave had come around to the back of the house from the driveway unexpectedly.
“Ah, yes, actually,” Fraser answered without thinking. “Although not in so many words. Would you care for some coffee before we get started?”
“Nah, already had some at home. Have too much and I’ll be making too many trips down the ladder to be helpful.” Dave clapped his hands together once and leaned back to take in the line of the roof. “Your roof’s got a nice line. Shouldn’t be too hard to get you fixed up right off. What kind of decorations you got?”
“Let me show you. Here,” Fraser opened the door wider and gestured Dave in. “Let’s go through the kitchen into the garage. I’ve got it all laid out in there.”
Dave nodded amicably and followed Fraser through the kitchen and into the heated garage. “Nice,” he said, looking around at the ample space. “Warm, too. Whatcha got here? Room for three?”
“Yes. As you can see, I’ve collected what I think are the necessary lights and accoutrements.”
“I hope you got enough. If not, we can take a quick trip into town. Let’s see what you got.” Dave squatted next to the plethora of decorative objects spread out around the floor and examined them closely.
Fraser began to sweat suddenly, wondering if this was to be some kind of test regarding his fitness to live in the community.
“Let’s see...these are the outdoor lights, how many strands you say you got here?”
“Sixteen, I believe...” Even now, days later, Fraser could hear Ray’s voice exhorting him to buy double the amount he thought the house might need. “You’re a minimalist, Fraser. Those people, one thing they’re not minimalist about is Christmas. You go to the store, look at the lights, think what you’d buy to decorate a home tastefully and then buy double.” Ray had paused then and seemed to think. “Actually,” he continued. “I think you might be better off buying three times the amount you think is necessary.”
Unaware of Fraser’s musings, Dave had continued to peruse the offered supply of decorations. “You got a coupla of nice stars, good looking tree-form, we should be able to do something nice with that...got a bow for the mailbox?”
“I thought perhaps we could string some lights on the mailbox, white, I think would be tasteful, and then add a red bow for daytime ...décor.” Fraser devoutly wished Ray was here right now: this kind of conversation would really suit him better.
“Is that your wreath?” Dave asked, pointing to a simple green circlet of pine boughs, unadorned by anything other than the occasional pinecone.
“Yes. In fact, I,” Fraser felt his face heating, “made it myself.”
This, however, seemed to be a good answer. Dave looked somewhat impressed by Fraser’s ability to cut pine boughs and twist them together. “It’s nice. Needs some lights, though.”
“Of course.” Fraser bowed to the inevitable.
“I don’t see any Santa Clauses or reindeer.” The gaze Dave directed at him was level and gave nothing away.
Fraser groped for an answer. Were lighted reindeer mandatory for every residence? He really should have researched this more completely. Finally, he came up with “I wouldn’t presume... to compete with the town’s fine display of reindeer,” and held his breath.
“Huh.” Dave scratched his chin and looked thoughtful. “You’re right. That’s probably for the best.”
“Seems a little sparse, but still it’s a good start.” Dave stood. “You’ll have candles for the windows, of course.” His arched eyebrows made it a question.
“Yes, of course.” Fraser stood up too and resolved to go get some at the earliest opportunity.
Decorating the house took most of the day. They started on the roof stringing lights around the perimeter and attaching them with the staple guns Dave had thoughtfully brought with him. After the roof was finished, Dave really wanted to outline the chimney as well. Fearing Plastic Santas would be the next inevitable step, Fraser dissuaded him by pointing out that they really didn’t have enough lights left to do the chimney justice.
“Next year,” Dave said sadly, fingering the rough bricks.
Around one, Fraser left Dave happily threading a strand of mini-lights through the wreath and went into town to pick up sandwiches. While he was there, he purchased a number of electric candles suitable to stand in the windows of his new home and then, on impulse, purchased a number of real candles to warm the interior.
Back at the house again, they ate quickly at the new kitchen table and then went back out to start the projects on the ground. The wreath was finished and hung on the door. Then, while Dave attached lights to the larger of the two stars, Fraser worked on the mailbox then, when that was finished, decorated the smaller star.
Together they hoisted the large star to hang over the garage door. They hung the small one over the front door. In the increasing darkness of mid-afternoon, Fraser could see that the full effect was going to be very pretty indeed.
Lastly, Dave walked to the road and peered down the driveway back at the house to determine the best place for the Christmas tree. Based on his recommendation, Fraser stood the now lighted tree at the corner of the driveway and the front walk. Plugging in everything took another hour, but the final result was quite breathtaking.
Fraser stood with Dave on the driveway and just gazed at the house. He tamped down a sudden fierce longing for Ray, and thanked Dave for all his hard work.
“You’re welcome, Constable.” Dave shifted his feet and continued to look at the display.
Fraser felt a twinge. All anyone knows is the Mountie. No one knows Benton Fraser. “You can just call me Fraser, if you like, while I’m not on duty. That’s what...my friends...in Chicago call me.”
Fraser could hear the smile in Dave’s voice as he answered. “Your cards tell you to say that?”
“No,” Fraser answered honestly.
“Then I’d be happy to call you Fraser. And I’d be even happier,” Dave nudged Fraser with his shoulder and started toward the house “to call you Fraser while eating pizza and watching hockey.”
“Right you are.” Fraser hopped to it and made it so.
For the first time in many years, Fraser found himself looking forward to Christmas. Ray would be there. Whether he could stay for good or not remained to be seen, but he had promised to spend Christmas with Fraser in St. Christophe.
Thanks to Dave, the house was decorated to Fraser’s satisfaction. Although it was true that Dave managed to work the unlighted chimney into every conversation the two of them had in the next few weeks, Fraser remained firm but polite and the chimney remained undecorated.
Since Ray evidently had no compunction about enlisting others to aid him in plotting Fraser’s emergence into the town culture, Fraser felt justified in taking Carol into confidence regarding his Christmas present for Ray. He called her into his office to ask for her aid. She listened carefully as he outlined what he was looking for and then nodded wisely.
“Your timing is just right. I know just the one, too. No problem, Constable Fraser.” Indeed, she seemed delighted to be part of the fun.
“Thank you very kindly, Carol.” As she walked away still smiling, Fraser reflected that she had become a good friend. He should remember her at Christmas with a gift. He pushed his chair back from the desk and rocked a moment, thinking. NatalieJean, too. And Dave and his wife Flora, who had had him over for dinner not once, but twice this month. Probably, he should get Molly a little something since she’d been so helpful with the decorating.
That night on the phone he mentioned his need to go shopping to Ray.
“Christmas shopping, yeah, that’s right, I’ve got to get mine done, too,” Ray replied. “Who all are you buying for?”
Fraser told him the list of names he’d come up with in his office.
“That’s cool, that’s great. Uh...” Ray hesitated.
“What, Ray?” He was curious as to what might be making Ray hesitate.
“Do you want to go in with me on Frannie’s and Welsh’s and the Duck Boys gifts?” Ray rushed through the question and then added, “And my parents?”
“Do you need money, Ray?” Fraser asked, puzzled.
“No, Fraser, that’s not what I’m asking.”
Fraser winced, hearing his surname. What was Ray asking? The silence on the other end provided no clues. Fraser’s mind whirled. “Go in with me” normally meant to share the expense, but in this case it wasn’t money Ray wanted.
A gusty sigh interrupted his thoughts. Ray had gotten tired of waiting. “What do you want me to write on the FROM part of the tag, Fraser?”
And it clicked in. Ray wanted to know if they were giving gifts together. Like a couple. “From ‘Ray and Fraser’ would probably work down at your end, I imagine,” Fraser answered readily. “Up here, I’ll write your name and Ben or Fraser depending on whose gift it is.”
Relief was evident in Ray’s voice, but he smarted off just the same. “Both our names? We’ll look like a couple of fags, Ben.”
“I’d say that would certainly be likely.”
“That don’t bother you? Us looking like a couple of fags?”
“As long as we look like a couple,” Fraser replied. “That’s the important part.”
“Freak. How’d I get hooked up with you?” Ray’s voice was warm and affectionate and Fraser wanted to crawl through the phone wires to find him.
“That would be attributable to your good fortune, I imagine,” he managed instead.
“Well, I got lucky this time. Hey, what are you going to get everybody?”
“I hadn’t decided completely...but I was thinking of perhaps a nice poinsettia plant.”
“Coolness, for who?”
Fraser cleared his throat. “I must admit, I was thinking of giving each of them one.”
“Give everybody the same thing? That’s very efficient.”
“Exactly and it would be very easily accomp—”
“Christmas ain’t about efficiency, Ben.”
“I...suppose not,” Fraser allowed.
“Think about it. You’ve got a great brain there, use it. Figure out something that matches. My name’s on there, too, you know.”
“Honestly, Ray, I don’t believe—”
“Do I have to bring up the walrus, Ben?”
Tell someone a few stories about your childhood and you pay and pay and pay.
“Good. I didn’t want to have to bring it up, Ben.”
“Well, you don’t have to.”
“Enough said, then.”
“I should say so.”
“Night, Ben.” Fraser could hear the smile in Ray’s voice.
“Good night, Ray.” And he couldn’t help but smile back.
Ray came home four days before Christmas. Although, Fraser was quick to tell himself, it was a little presumptuous to be thinking Canada, well, really, St. Christophe, was home for Ray the way it would be home for Fraser as soon as Ray got there. But still, there was hope.
The plan was for Ray to drive up from Chicago. Fraser and Ray had expected the trip to take five days. An unexpected cold front played havoc with that plan and Fraser’s outwardly calm demeanor covered a seething worry for Ray’s safety. The GTO was a fine car and Ray kept her in fine shape, but still ice was ice and there was only so much even the 5 Ps could cover.
He was distracted again at work. Although, he hadn’t quite taken to lying in front of the fire with Dief, his worry was becoming noticeable. Carol kept finding paperwork, which she considered soothing, for him to do. Dief remained within touching distance and often nosed Fraser’s hand asking for attention. He frequently found himself at his window, head leaning on the glass watching the sky outside. Waiting.
Ray did call each night, his voice tired and stressed, although he never wanted to talk about the drive. “Going a little slower than we expected,” was all he’d say. Instead, he’d ask about the presents Fraser had found, Dief’s social conquests, the latest in the world of crime. He’d ask after NatalieJean, Carol and Dave, and always wanted to hear the latest gossip. Fraser did his best to answer, to keep the conversation light, to keep from Ray his worry, his fear that something would happen, that something would keep Ray from him.
White-knuckled—that’s how he was living life lately. Solitude, he decided, pacing in his rental cabin the fourth evening after Ray had left Chicago, might actually have its benefits. After all, he’d never experienced this gut-churning, soul-scarring anxiety when he was alone. He stopped at the front door and willed it to open and reveal Ray.
It remained shut.
He rolled his eyes at his foolishness. His gaze fell on the battered Stetson that hung on its hook next to the door. His hat brim bore mute testimony to the fear that had consumed him lately. Growling, he snatched it up and stomped over to the kitchen to get the ironing board. The wind outside howled in a macabre accompaniment as he unfolded the legs and retrieved the iron off its shelf above the washer.
He plugged it in and turned it on. Standing still for a moment, he braced his hands on the board and let his head hang down between his shoulders. He closed his eyes. He could hear the clicks and hisses of the iron as it warmed. The wind continued to howl. And then, faintly, he heard what could only be sound of a car door slamming.
Suddenly his heart was thundering in his ears. He watched the door and held his breath, straining to hear some other sound that might further indicate that...was that the scrape of a boot on the step? Dief lifted his head by the fireplace.
The door opened. Ray was here.
It was time to go home.
Fraser’s initial greeting was short. “Thank God,” and a hard hug. Dief woofed at their feet.
Ray hugged back just as hard, and pulled back to say, “Thought you didn’t believe in any of that. Remember? That old cause and effect theory you’ve got going on?” He grinned, dropped one hand down to ruffle Dief’s fur without dropping his eyes, and wrapped his arms more firmly around Fraser.
“Shut up,” was all the response Fraser allowed himself. That and one kiss and a searching look. That Ray was grubby, travel-stained, and unshaven was unmistakable. Holding him this closely, Fraser could feel tremors of fatigue and stress throughout Ray’s limbs. He was undoubtedly at the end of his rope. What needed to be done, needed to be done quickly.
“Now. Don’t sit down. Don’t unpack. Do you need to use the restroom?”
Ray shook his head.
“Then, let me-” he released Ray and stepped back, “-grab my bag,” he hightailed it to the sleeping area and picked up his rucksack that leaned against the bed, “and....this...” a dash into the bathroom to pick up his toiletries bag and a few other items, he put the strap of the rucksack in his mouth and used both hands to shove the smaller bag into the top. “Turn off the iron,” he was mumbling to himself now. He unplugged the now hot iron and left it to cool on top of the washer. He placed his pathetically out-of-true hat on his head, his pack on his back, quickly folded up the ironing board and he was ready. “All right. Shall we?”
Ray blinked. He gave a good impression of a man who hadn’t blinked for quite a while. “Absolutely. Where are we going?”
“To the house, Ray. Of course. It’s ready, you know.”
“Yeah. I heard that, Fraser.” They were moving toward the door. “What I hadn’t heard was that you had actually moved into the house yet. Which was sort of surprising, it being ready and all.”
“Yes. Well, there’s a reason you hadn’t heard that, Ray,” Fraser answered, opening the door, shepherding Ray and Dief out, and locking it behind them all.
“Figured there was, Ben. What’s the reason?”
“You hadn’t heard that I’d moved in because I hadn’t, in fact, moved in yet.”
Ray turned and blinked at Fraser again. “Oh,” was all he said.
“Right. See you at home, then.” Fraser moved away to get into his Jeep.
Fraser followed Ray to the house, watching worriedly as the GTO, muscle car though it was, slipped and slid on the packed ice. He was very thankful when they arrived unscathed.
The driveway was a welcome sight. The garage, even more so. Once inside, Fraser sat for a moment and indulged himself. Ray was here. Ray was safe and unhurt and all in one piece. And in just a few more seconds, Fraser was going to get a piece of his own. He laughed inwardly, but his groin had already started to respond to the thought and he knew little more than the primal urge to claim his mate.
Ray opened his own door and got out of the car. He stood quietly in the alcove created by the door and the side of the car and seemed to be enjoying the warmth of the garage. Watching him, Fraser opened his own door and got out of the Jeep. Dief jumped down behind him.
Ray looked up and turned toward him at the sound. Placing his hands on the roof of the car, he ducked his head briefly between them. “Whew! I am so glad to be here. You have no idea.” Ray looked up but continued to lean against the car.
“I think I do.” Fraser didn’t even try to keep the intensity out of his voice. He slammed his car door and walked around the front of Ray’s car.
Ray met his eyes squarely then and smiled ferociously, turning his head to follow Fraser’s stalking motions. “We should probably unload the car first.”
Fraser did not slow his advance. “It’s heated, Ray.” He stood behind Ray now, crowding him into the open side of the car. Dief took one look and walked away.
“I might have perishables,” Ray countered.
Fraser grasped Ray’s hips and leaned on him. “Do you?” he whispered and licked Ray on his right ear.
Ray sighed and let his head fall back on Fraser’s shoulder. His eyes were closed. “Oh, yeah, you can do me all you want.”
Fraser didn’t need to be told twice. He let go of Ray to dig briefly in his pockets. Efficiently, he slapped a condom and a small bottle of lubricant on the roof of the GTO, then dropped his hands to Ray’s waistband. He made short work of Ray’s buttons while Ray stared in apparent stupefaction at the items on the roof.
Fraser pushed Ray’s jeans, thermals, and shorts down. His own quickly followed. Finally, there was skin against skin.
Feeling Fraser’s bare skin against his own seemed to break Ray out of his momentary trance. He recovered enough, at least, to push back against Fraser, to brace his hands against the roof of the car.
“Since when you carry a pharmacy in your pocket, Ben?” Ray gasped and rocked back harder.
“Proper preparation....and...and...all that, Ray.” Fraser’s own breathing was heavy, he was fighting the urge to just plunge in and take what he needed. His hands shook as he reached for the lubricant. One finger, then two. Ray was sweating now, and the sounds! God! Fraser had almost forgotten the sounds Ray made when he was penetrated, opened up. Little gasping moans of desire and need, Fraser heard his own name repeated like a mantra. “Benbenbenben God, need you, need you need you, now...please...inside me.”
“Yes,” Fraser growled and grappled first with the condom and then to find a suitable grip on Ray. Finally his slick fingers caught, his hold was strong enough and he began the slow, steady slide into ecstasy.
Ray’s mantra had changed now, “Come on, come on, come on, that’s it, that’s it, God that’s what I need.” His head was thrown back, the muscles in his neck stood out in sharp relief. Fraser closed his eyes, hooked his chin over Ray’s shoulder, shifted his feet and pushed up at the same moment, evidently, that Ray bore down.
They slid together as if they were meant to fit this way. Fraser knew he was totally in, all the way inside, completely a part of Ray just as Ray was completely a part of him. He moved in Ray and felt an almost spiritual answer in the dimness around them. It felt right to hold Ray like this, to say his name, to feel the hot clasp of his body holding him tight, pulling him in still farther, farther now, until he tumbled into the sheer light of joy realized.
“Alleluia,” he groaned weakly into Ray’s shoulder.
“And Amen. You got that right,” Ray whispered back, his body holding Fraser up and still holding Fraser inside. “God, I missed you.”
“It was not the most sanguine time in my life, either, Ray.” Fraser nuzzled further into Ray’s shoulder and seriously considered drifting off to sleep.
“Sanguine? Sanguine? Any guy’s who’s using words like that gets to go get the towel, you hear me?” Ray shrugged his shoulders pointedly, making Fraser’s lax head bounce slightly.
“Right. Okay.” Fraser lifted his head and looked around blearily. “I believe I have some rags....” Fraser spotted them on a shelf by the kitchen door and braced himself for the arduous walk over there. With great reluctance, he pulled out of and off Ray’s body. He dealt with the condom and then, moving at the speed of one of the slower glaciers, he bent and pulled up his boxers and jeans and started toward the shelf.
“Clean! They better be clean rags, Ben. You made me shoot into my car, here, buddy. And I’m not cleaning that up with some dirty, smelly, greasy garage rag. Oh.” Ray stopped mid-rant and stared at the pristine white towel that Ben handed him.
“Why on earth would I have dirty towels, Ray?” Fraser kept his face straight with an effort. Ray looked from the rag to Fraser and narrowed his eyes, but didn’t say anything else.
Eventually, they did manage to get the GTO unloaded and get themselves, and a long-suffering Dief, into the house.
Fraser led the way to the master bedroom, carrying his own bag and one of Ray’s. Ray followed with his other bag more slowly, looking all around him.
Fraser dropped the bags he carried by the foot of the bed.
“A king-sized bed?” Ray stood in the doorway and stared. “You got a king-sized bed?”
“Yes. It seemed—”
“Practical? I don’t know, Fraser,” Ray entered the room slowly and spoke thoughtfully. “First indoor plumbing and now this.” He dropped his bag by Fraser’s and put his hands on his hips still steadily regarding the bed.
Then, with a whoop, Ray launched himself through the air and landed spread-eagle in its center, making a Ray-shaped dent in the navy comforter. “I love it. I absolutely fucking love it.”
“I’m glad you approve, since I had you in mind when I purchased it.”
“You did, did you? I can’t tell you how happy that makes me,” Ray grinned and wiggled himself more firmly into the mattress for a moment, like a bird making a nest. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, then, as suddenly as he’d launched himself onto the bed, he pushed himself up and off of it. “I want a tour of the house.”
“You’ve seen it,” Fraser stalled, face still warm from the whole bed discussion. He wanted nothing more than to slide into bed with Ray. He was tired. His knees were still weak. He wanted to feel Ray’s body warm and hard against his own. He wanted the security and comfort Ray provided by simply being there.
“I want to see it again,” Ray answered simply and left the bedroom.
Fraser sighed but followed.
The traversed the small hallway and entered the common areas of the house. “Kitchen,” Fraser pointed out dutifully. “Eating area, den slash living room,” he went on, pointing in a desultory fashion. “Entertainment area,” he said, indicating the empty wooden floor in front of the fireplace between built-in bookshelves, which contained a stereo in addition to a great many books. “Hall,” he went on, turning to point behind him. “Guest bedroom, master suite. There,” he finished. “Are you content now?” he inquired politely, hands behind his back, head tilted.
Ray slanted a glance at him and grinned, evidently recognizing the pointed nature of the inquiry, but didn’t respond. Instead, he moved to the slick, wooden floor in front of the fireplace, seemingly lost in thought. “What did you call this area?”
Fraser felt his face heat again. “The entertainment area.”
“Feels like a dance floor to me,” Ray slid his feet somewhat experimentally.
Fraser bobbed his head up and down and shrugged. “Ah...”
Ray looked up sharply then and stared at Fraser with his brows knit. Then he suddenly spun on the ball of one foot and went to the bookshelves, where he stopped, staring at the stereo.
“How big’s that garage?” he asked, out of nowhere.
“It’s a three-car garage, Ray,” Fraser answered evenly.
Ray nodded. “So if a guy needed a new car for winter, but had an old one, he’d have room to store it here, in the garage, and still have room for the new one.” Ray had the look of someone putting the pieces of a puzzle together.
“Yes.” Fraser felt somewhat short of breath.
And suddenly, Ray was moving again, down the hall and into the master suite. Fraser followed. He found Ray in the master bath, staring at the double sinks.
Fraser stopped behind Ray and watched him in the mirror. Ray’s face gave no hint as to what he might be thinking. While he watched, Ray spun around and walked directly up to Fraser until they were almost, but not quite, touching.
“Still got those blueprints, Ben?”
“Yes.” Fraser left the bathroom, walked down the hall, into the kitchen area and retrieved the now battered roll of plans from the top of the refrigerator. He turned to find Ray literally on his heels.
Without speaking, Ray took the plans from him and spread them out on the kitchen table in the bay window. Again, as before by the side of the Jeep, he turned the pages past the front and rear elevations until he reached the floor plan itself. With his finger, he traced over the small, yet clearly outlined rooms. “Entertainment area,” he read. “Open area, wooden flooring,” he said, reading the smaller type out loud as well. His finger moved to the master suite. “Double sink vanity,” then over to the large garage area, “three car garage.” His finger folded into his fist and his head dropped. He stayed that way for a few seconds.
Finally, he lifted his head and Fraser saw with relief that he was starting to smile. “Thought I was the Man with a Plan, Ben.”
“It would appear that you weren’t the only one,” Fraser ventured, still unsure of how Ray might be reacting.
“Who did you build this house for, Ben?” Ray was up and in his space again, chest against Fraser’s, fingers looped through Fraser’s back belt loops.
“You.” Fraser answered, his heart in his eyes, and in his throat. “I built it for you, Ray.”
“What about your theory of cause and effect? How did building this house ever fit into that?”
“I built it. And you came. That’s all I need to know. If there’s more than that, then...”Fraser cleared his throat. “I’m grateful. But if there’s no more than that, then...I’m still grateful because I have you in my life.”
Ray just looked at him and Fraser could see the tears in his eyes. “Well, however we came to be here, I’m just glad we are here. And from now on,” he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, “we’re together. Whether we plan it or not, that’s just a given.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way, Ray.”
Ben and Ray’s first party in their new home was a success. Dave and his wife, Carol and her husband, NatalieJean, and Molly all came to share in a bit of Christmas cheer. Beatrice had provided the desserts, but Fraser and Ray, drawing on two lifetimes of bachelor existence, created their own appetizers.
Presents were exchanged and Fraser was pleased to see he had chosen well. Dave seemed particularly touched by the full-size wire rendering of Santa, suitable for lighting and lawn use. Carol and her husband looked thrilled with the gift certificate for a night’s dinner and lodging at Bea’s B and B and promised to take advantage of a night free of dogs at their earliest convenience. NatalieJean loved her new rollerblades and Molly seemed happy with the bottle of fine wine that Fraser had procured over the Internet.
Their guests stayed late, but eventually Ray and Fraser stood on the front porch waving good-bye to Carol and Jack, the last to go.
“Good night,” Fraser called as Jack unlocked Carol’s door.
“Good night!” Carol trilled back. “Let me know how he likes his present!”
“I will!” Fraser answered, not looking at Ray. The car started and backed slowly out of the driveway.
“What was that about?” Ray asked curiously. “She know what you got me?”
“There’s hardly enough evidence to determine that, Ray. She may merely want to hear how you liked what I gave you, whether she knows what it is or not.” Fraser moved into the now-clean kitchen (Carol had insisted on helping clean up) and turned off the lights. Dief looked up from his bed under the desk, and woofed a short good night.
“Uh-huh.” Ray flipped the switches for the outside lights. “So whadja get me?”
Fraser just smiled. “Would you get the garage lights before you come to bed?” he asked and moved down the hall toward the bedroom.
Ray just hmphed, but headed to the garage door.
When he heard the door open, Fraser tiptoed noiselessly back up the hall and waited just out of sight.
There was the click of nails on the concrete floor and then excited barking. “What?” Ray voice rose at the end of the word. “Hey, there, where’d you come from?”
Fraser moved to the door to watch Ray greet the newcomer. Dief rousted himself up from his pillow and came to sit next to him.
“Fraser?” Ray turned from where he crouched by a fluffy white puppy with blue eyes. “What’s this?”
“Merry Christmas, Ray.”
Ray, for once, appeared speechless. He sat silently looking from the puppy to Fraser and back again. “Mine?”
“She’s all yours,” Fraser agreed. Then had to backtrack. “Well, yours and Dief’s, since technically, he’s her father.”
“A Dief puppy?” Ray looked at Dief, who rolled his eyes and went back to bed. “For me?”
“Mmm-hmm.” Fraser leaned on the doorjamb and let himself thoroughly enjoy the sight of a completely flummoxed Ray. “What are you going to name her?”
“I...” Ray looked down at the puppy again. “I have no idea.”
“Well, while you’re thinking, you may want to fill her water bowl and...”Fraser sniffed delicately. “Police the garage, so to speak.” Fraser pushed himself off the doorjamb and started to turn away. Before he could complete the motion, he found himself with an armful of his partner.
Ray wrapped his arms, and one leg around Fraser. He used his chin to hitch them even closer together and held on tightly. “Thank you,” he said into Fraser’s neck. “I...I...I’ve always wanted a dog.”
Fraser closed his eyes and grasped Ray even tighter. “You’re welcome, Ray. I love you,” he said through a throat that was thick with unshed tears.
“Love you too.” Ray held on a minute more, then pulled back slightly. “Hey, I’ve got a present for you, too.” He let go of Fraser and went into the bedroom. Fraser could hear the closet door open from where he stood bemused. Then he heard the thump of Ray’s suitcase hitting the bed, the unzip and zip of its side pocket. Then, Ray was back.
“Here, I didn’t wrap it, but I hope you like it.” He handed Fraser a simple manila file folder.
Fraser opened it, confused. It was full of...documents. Immigration documents. Signed, sealed, and approved immigration documents. Fraser was speechless.
“Merry Christmas, Fraser. Guess who’s going to be a Canadian?” Ray’s grin was pure Ray, his delight completely infectious.
“Ray. I...never expected that it would go this fast. Are you serious?” Fraser was incredulous.
“You bet. We’ll have to work out more of the move later, but the paperwork’s done, it’s all approved and I get to live here permanently. If that’s what you still want.”
If that’s what he wanted. Was Ray serious? “That’s all I’ve ever wanted. Ray, this is the best Christmas present I’ve even gotten.” He gathered Ray up into a hug, wrapping his arms, and as much of his legs as he could around the man that made his life complete.
And Ray hugged him back just as hard. “So I don’t need to be afraid of any passing walruses then?”
Fraser shut him up the best way he knew how.
“Hey, I got a name for her, a nickname, anyway,” Ray said later over sandwiches and chips.
“What’s that?” Fraser asked, reaching for the mayo.
Fraser froze mid-reach and thought about it. “Short for...blueprints? A reference, perhaps, to the best laid plans—”
“That get us laid. You got it, Fraser.”
And Fraser had to laugh.
Now it’s the end. ;)