Title: Tundra

Author: Journey

Rating:  PG-13? R? No sex, but it does have two naked guys rolling around in the snow...

Feedback:  Let me see what you think at Journeyds@yahoo.com

Warnings:  None, except for no sex.  That should be a warning, I suppose.





They stood side by side and looked out the windows of the observation deck. The city bustled far below them. They stood silently, without touching.

               Ray kept his hands in his pockets and watched the tiny cars move to and fro on the street. He could feel the way the denim of his jeans pocket pushed against his bracelet and made in ride up high against his arm, past the smooth part of his wrist left bare from wearing the bracelet for as many years as he'd had it. A few hairs were already caught and pulled with a sting when he shifted weight.

               Fraser stood still next to him. He stood so still; in fact, he made Ray feel awkward, unsteady and hyper-aware of his own body: the breaths that went in and out, the constant minute shifts of his weight he utilized to keep himself upright. 

               It's this building, he told himself, remembering a grade school field trip to this very tower when they'd been told that despite their appearance, skyscrapers did move when the wind blew and shifted minutely when the ground settled. 

               It must be really windy out there.

               Despite the evident wind, Fraser stood with no weight shifts, no fidgeting. Whatever adjustments he was making to compensate for the building's movement were obviously so in synch with the building itself that he appeared to be rock-like and unmoving. Ray snorted mostly to himself. It figured. Fraser was nothing so much as integral to his physical environment.  The first time Ray had seen that was on the Quest.

               On the adventure, Fraser had blended so far into his environment, had been so "at one" with the harsh climate of the frozen tundra that Ray hadn't always known where one began and the other left off. Fraser made living off the frigid land seem effortless and enjoyable.

               Contrary to Fraser, Ray was all elbows and knees. Bundled up and freezing, afraid of the cold and the dark and the weird absence of noises he was used to and the weirder presence of noises he didn't recognize. He'd done his best to hold it all away from him, to barricade himself from the cold, the strangeness and the fear by burying himself in his sleeping bag at night and under the furs on the sled during the day.

               After the fourth or fifth day of this, Fraser had started looking concerned. "Ray," he'd say. "I really think you'd enjoy this more if you justÖrelaxed a bit more."

               "Look, Nanook," Ray had answered, "I'm not you. I'll enjoy this any damn way I please." The emphatic gesture of index and pinky finger really hadn't been all that effective in mittens but Ray had persevered.

               And he'd continued to persevere. Deep down inside he'd known he wasn't having any fun. No. Everyday he'd gritted his teeth and endured. He'd left having fun to Fraser. 

               Ray leaned his head against the glass and grinned as he remembered that the seventh morning had changed all that.


               On the seventh morning, Ray woke up to find Fraser staring at him with some determination. This was disconcerting enough, but even more disconcerting was the fact that Fraser was disrobing.

               Ray blinked with astonishment and tried unsuccessfully to process this information. He wasn't given much time. Before he could figure out just what he felt, he was pounced on by a thermal clad Mountie and divested of his sleeping bag.

               "You, Mr. Kowalski, are going to get acclimated."

               "Fraser," Ray began to struggle to no avail. "That's not how it works. Acclimation is a gradual thing, not something you can justó"Ray was surprised he was able to continue talking at all as The Manic Mountie methodically peeled off all his layers save the last. "AND it does not involve nudity!" Ray finished in some confusion.

               "Yours will," was the grim reply. "Now," Fraser continued in a tone that brooked no nonsense. "It's high time you had a bath and the best facility for doing so is right outside."

               For one brief, insane yet happy moment Ray envisioned a hot spring. Fraser's next words dashed that hope.

               "Snow. You, Ray, are having a snow bath." Stunned, Ray was stripped of his thermals before he could recover the power of speech.

               Giving no time for a reply anyway, Fraser then stood up, pushed off his own thermals, reached down and hauled Ray to his feet.

               "It's bath time," he pronounced and shoved Ray out of the tent and into a snow bank.

               The searing cold knocked the breath out of Ray and rendered him incapable of movement although he was distinctly aware of Fraser rolling around like a deranged puppy somewhere nearby. Gradually, the cold faded and was replaced by a roaring in his ears that gave him sufficient energy to rise to his feet and glare at Fraser who now lay smugly on his back looking up at Ray.

               "THAT," Ray stated flatly, "was not buddies." A snowball hit him in the chest.

               "On the contrary, Ray," Fraser was feeling around for another handful of snow, "I believe it was very buddies, the epitome of buddies, in fact." Another snowball hit Ray in the shoulder this time.

               "It is not buddies, Fraser to strip someone naked and dump them in an ass-whipping cold snow bank!" He crouched down and dug up his own handful of snow.

               "It most certainly is! Your ass appears no worse for the wear for having the stick yanked out of it, as you would so colorfully put it, and your attitude has already improved immeasurably!" Fraser rolled then, neatly avoiding Ray's first attempt to pummel him with snow.

               "My ass is freezing off and my attitude sucks and you are so going to die!" Ray yelled and launched himself at Fraser, determined to shove the bastard's face into the snow. 

               Fraser was not easily vanquished, however, and the resulting tussle rolled them over and around the campsite.

               "The fire, watch the fire," Fraser muttered at one point through the handful of snow Ray had just managed to rub in his face. Then he heaved up and rolled them over to safety.

               On the bottom now and being crushed by the Mountie and his extra layer of insulating fat, the humor of two naked guys wrestling in the snow took Ray by storm and, without warning, he fell completely apart, giggling insanely in helpless euphoria.

               Fraser just stared at him until his own mouth quirked up and he began to laugh along.

               "I take it you're feeling better?" Fraser asked through his laughter.

               "You could say that," Ray wheezed.

               "I'm glad." And it was obvious that he truly was. His gladness shone through his eyes and radiated like a halo around his head. Ray was momentarily transfixed and stopped laughing just to stare. 

               For a moment, it appeared that Fraser, too, was held spellbound but then he looked away briefly before bending his head to shake the melting ice crystals from his hair in a small blizzard that coated Ray's face once more. 

               Before Ray could retaliate, Fraser sprang to his feet and reached down to assist Ray none too gently to his own. "Enough of this, Ray. Time moves by on little cat feet and it's time for us to get moving too."

               "Thought that was fog."

               Fraser turned at the tent. "What's that?"

               "The cat feet thing, I thought it was fog that came in on little cat feetÖ" Ray trailed off not exactly sure, but feeling he was right.

               Fraser just looked at him for a moment. Then he smiled brilliantly. "You're right, Ray. It is fog. I had no idea you were so conversant with American poetry."

               "Don't know about that, but I do know that poem. Had to memorize something for Mrs. Tompkins in 9th grade." He brushed past Fraser to enter the tent, absurdly pleased that he'd been right.

               "What drew you to Carl Sandburg, if I may ask?" Fraser said, closing the flap behind them.

               "It was the shortest one, Fraser."


               Things improved radically after that. Ray stopped trying to keep the arctic away and gradually learned to open himself up to the raw beauty and majesty of the land.  He let Fraser teach him about wolves and tracking and in learning, began to see that rather than a barren wasteland, the tundra was actually full of life. 


               Four months later in the Sears Tower, Ray laughed again at the memory of that morning.

               Fraser turned from his steady contemplation of the city below and raised his eyebrow. 

               "It's nothing, Fraser. Just thinking about the adventure," Ray waved an arm dismissively. 

               "Ah." Fraser went back to looking out the window. In a moment, he coughed and, Ray was amused to note, bounced up on his toes before asking, "What exactly were you recalling?"

               "Your Enforced Acclimation Program, Fraser. Think it's caught on yet?"

               "Ah. I doubt that many are embracing quite as joyfully as you did." 

               "You don't figure that greenhorns are throwing themselves naked into snow banks by the thousands yet?"

               Fraser scratched his eyebrow and tugged at his ear thoughtfully. "Aside from those in recognized and notable Polar Bear Swim Clubs, I believe the actual number of people taking snow baths would be quite small." 

               Ray was struck by an epiphany of sorts. This conversation was making Fraser nervous. The man who was so at home with his physical surroundings was starting to fidget. Eyebrow scratch, ear tug, toe bounce, Ray catalogued the nervous actions and decided that further investigation was warranted.

               "Maybe snow baths aren't such a good idea?"

               "Actually, Ray, snow baths are known to be both invigorating and helpful to those in low temperature environmentsó"and he was off explaining why exactly that was so. Ray listened with half an ear and watched with both eyes. No wiggles, nary a fidget. Whatever was making Fraser nervous it wasn't the advisability of snow baths.

               "Maybe they shouldn't actually be done naked, then?" Ray interrupted the spiel to ask. Fraser didn't miss a beat. 

               "No, Ray, nudity is actually beneficial as it exposes some of the largest heat producing areas to the snow and thereby increases the blood flow exponentially in those areas and subsequently all over the body which speeds up the body's ability to warm itself."

               Naked bodies weren't doing it. Maybe specific naked bodies? "Bet I looked like a dork lying in that snow bank," Ray ventured.

               Silence. Then, lip lick. Ah ha! "On the contrary, Ray. You didn't look at all awkward. If anything, you looked simplyÖ" toe bounce "stunned."

               This was interesting. "You didn't look at all awkward; you looked exactly like you belonged there." Ray's mouth spoke without his permission. 

               "How so?" Fraser was simply turned toward him, a polite expression on his face, but his body seemed to radiate tension. 

               "You knowóhow you look," Ray stuttered somewhat incoherently. "Nature Boy come home, that sort of thing. It's like you're programmed for it. I was allÖbass-ackwards and freezing. ëTil you loosened me up."

               Ray spared a thought that one could probably detect his level of nervousness by his increased use of sentence fragments, but forced himself back to the matter at hand. 

               Just as he drew in breath to ask Fraser something else, anything else, Fraser spoke first.

               "It's a good picture." 

               Ray's air left him in a rush. "What is?" he asked faintly. 

               "The picture I have of you in the snow. More specifically, the one I have of you standing over me telling me it wasn't buddies." 

               "It wasn't," Ray injected.

               "You were naked," Ray felt his face heat up at Fraser's words, "and cold and the first few days had justÖwhittled you down. You'd withdrawn so far into yourself, so far away, that I actually got concerned you might not," Fraser stopped,  shook his head and looked down at the floor of the observation deck. "I got concerned you might withdraw completely. Away from lifeÖaway from me. I was desperate to reach you, the real you inside this shell of toleration you'd become." 

               "So you stripped me down and threw me in a snow bank?"

               "Yes. And it worked. Metaphorically and literally. When you got up and stood there looking at me in absolute outrage I knew it was you, that you were there, that I could still reach you. And it was the most wonderful thing I'd seen the whole trip. You, laid out bare and vulnerable and far from anything you'd ever known yet still spirited and warm-hearted and ready to scrap with me over what you perceived momentarily as shoddy treatment. It's what I l-admire the most about you."

               "Ladmire? What kind of word is that?" Ray moved forward. 

               "As far as I know it isn't a word, Ray."  Ray had to hand it to Fraser.  His voice was perfectly calm giving away nothing, but his hands were now clenched behind his back. 

               Ray moved forward again. "You, my friend, unlike me, are a very articulate guy. I'm thinking that you started to say some other word that started with an ëL' but then," Ray paused for effect, "you chickened out and used ëadmire'. Am I correct?"

               Fraser actually started to back up a step before Ray saw him catch himself and move the offending foot back in place. "It'sÖa logical assumption, Ray," He answered in a strained voice. "Although, I object to the term ëchickened out.'"

               "Save it for the courtroom, Fraser. What were you going to say?" Ray cut to the chase.

               "Something other than admire."


               "A synonym, of sorts."

               "Starts with ëL?'"


               "Got two, which one?"

               "That one."



               "Me, too."

               There was a pause. "You're quite sure?" hesitantly.

               "You bet."

               "Not often."

               "You can bet on this."

               "It's a sure thing?"

               "Nothing surer." 

               Ray didn't move any closer, let the space between them continue to exist, but he stared steadily into Fraser's eyes and did not look away. And so he saw Fraser's happiness come over him, washing away the grit and grime of a city life of doubt and letting Ray see for a moment again that man who'd laid naked in the snow with him and laughed with the sheer joy of living. 

               Then the floor shifted causing Ray to stumble. Fraser's arms came around him and held him steady. An alarm sounded seconds later and then a calm, modulated voice asked visitors to please exit the observation deck as it would now be closing due to high winds. 

               "Looks like it's time to go, Fraser," Ray said, looking up from their embrace.

               "May I walk you home?"

               "That depends." Ray fell into step beside his partner.

               "On what?" Fraser asked as they neared the elevator.

               "How long are you planning on staying?" Ray asked as the elevator dinged and the doors opened.

               "What were you thinking?" Fraser stepped inside and held the door for Ray and the others.

               "I'm thinking forever's good for me. That good for you?" Ray's heart was pounding and he just knew the others in the elevator could hear it.

               Fraser made sure that last person was safely in the car and moved away from the doors. "It's good, Ray."  He smiled and stood very close. Ray let their fingers brush.

               The doors closed.