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Fading Into Red

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<Jen> Start with Diner this way nothing is nutty in Amber
scene later

Fading Into Red

By Jennifer and Cerise (wndhvrno60@aol.com and)

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski

Disclaimer: We don't own 'em, it's all Paul Haggis and Alliance Atlantis and a bunch of people who obviously don't have as much fun with them as we would ;)

Spoilers: COTW

Cerise's Notes: I don't know what the etiquette is for dedicating a fic to the co-author--but oh well :) This is for Jennifer, who got me into DS, who's sent millions of tapes, and has just done so much more. Wonderful gal, and a true, true friend. And thanks to mike for the killer beta, with big love and smooches :)

Jennifer's Notes: I just want to thank Cerise for finally sticking her neck out to write with me and for being a kickass partner. Also thanks to our beta boy, Mike, whose Canadian-ness always kicks my ass.

-----

Fraser took the steps to his, no, *their* house, he corrected himself with a smile, two at a time.

His father might have snorted at his unseemly eagerness, but then, his father had never had Ray Kowalski waiting for him at the end of a long day's work.

He had his key out and ready to fit in the lock when he was surprised by the door being flung open and strong arms dragging him inside.

Not that he resisted. Not that he minded at all. Especially when he found himself pressed back against that same door, being greeted in what was fast becoming his favorite method of all... Ray. Kissing him. Licking him. "Helping" him out of his uniform.

Ray had new reasons to appreciate the senses of a deaf wolf. It didn't matter what time of day it was... what day it was, or what the weather was outside, cold, windy, snowing... didn't matter. Dief had Mountie radar... Fraser radar.

Made it easier to devise a plan of attack on how to welcome the Mountie, *his* Mountie home.

Ray wasn't a particularly fancy guy -- grab and pull pretty much worked for him and now that the uniform was the only substantial layer of clothing that separated him from Mountie skin, surprises got that much easier. And Ray quickly adjusted to the buttons of Fraser's brown uniform rather than the zippers of goose down coats and sleeping bags.

Fraser's lips were a little cold against his, they usually were after the mile walk from the post. "Hmmm, cold Fraser, let's warm you up... c'mon..."

The sound of Ray's voice, as ever, set Fraser's heart racing, and he leaned in to catch Ray's lips, to change his nips and quick licks to a deeper connection. Fraser's hands lifted naturally to hold Ray's head, to slide and caress his slightly scruffy cheeks, to twine his fingers in Ray's hair, to tilt and move and get close, close, closer...

His tongue, his mouth, the scent of him-- intoxicating and energizing at the same time. Fraser shifted his feet to get a better balance and Ray moved too, almost in sync, he slid his mouth down to Fraser's neck, to trace his adam's apple and taste the hollow at the bottom of his throat. Fraser gasped and tipped his head back, reaching blindly at the same time, fingers seeking the worn t-shirt Ray had on, and tugging it out of his jeans. Skin, warmth, he had to have it, had to touch it, he'd been dying for this all day.

Fraser was rewarded with a shiver and then a little laugh against his skin, and then the movement of Ray's clever fingers toward his belt, and he couldn't help it, couldn't help himself, he whispered, "Oh yes, ah, Ray, yes..."

Ray smiled against Fraser's skin, pausing for a moment to inhale everything that was Fraser, just starting to heat up. The sound of Fraser resonated in his head. The catch in his voice, the hint of pleading, and the sheer need urged Ray's hands to move more quickly, to learn faster, to get good at this... and quick.

The belt, the buttons... jacket off and then to work on the smaller buttons on the shirt inside. Some days, and this was especially true when Fraser's mouth was doing it's thing, it was hard not to tear the damn thing off and risk a lecture once it was all said and done. Just once, once, Ray determined himself to do it, just to see how Fraser would react.

But not today. Today his fingers worked fast enough for them both, and aside from a button ripping from the cuff at his wrist, the shirt came off in one piece before it was tossed to the floor next to the jacket. Ray's fingers moved down the soft cotton of Fraser's undershirt, before they dipped into the waist of his trousers. He tugged at Fraser then, walking backwards himself, pulling Fraser with him. "C'mon Fraser. I got a fire goin'..."

Fraser followed Ray willingly, letting the strong hands at his waist lead him, taking a quick second to pull his undershirt off. The sight of his naked skin brought Ray back to him, his hands sliding up Fraser's sides and around to his back. Fraser leaned in and kissed Ray quick and hard, using the moment to grab his partner's shirt again and this time drew it over his head just as he pulled his mouth away, getting the skin-to-skin contact he craved.

When Ray was bare to the waist Fraser exhaled sharply. The sight of his partner's golden skin, the lines defining his muscles, fanned the want that was roaring inside him. He reached, he pulled, and he dipped to suck and lick Ray's light brown nipple. Instinctively his fingers moved, sliding down to the fly of Ray's worn jeans. With ease that came from much practice, Fraser slipped one hand inside, his knuckles brushing the wiry golden hair there, protecting the delicate skin as his other hand slid the zipper down. Fraser slid the inside hand down even further, and yes, yes, yes, 'commando' was definitely his favorite American expression.

He heard Ray's hiss of breath as he curled his fingers around the hardness there, and then Ray's small whimper when Fraser removed his hand. Fraser felt the rocking of his hips still when he started tugging at Ray's jeans, starting to slide them over his hips and down....

Already anticipating tracing his fingers over the tightness of Ray's ass, lost in a thoughtless sweaty eager hungry haze, it took more than a moment for Fraser to hear the chirping ring of his RCMP-issued cell phone.

And the exclamation he bit back as he backed away from Ray and went to find his phone would have shocked almost everyone who knew him as the proper and buttoned-down Mountie.

Ray followed closely behind Fraser, watching the movement of fabric as it ruffled against the other man's hips, hugged the curves of his ass. This was not the best time for a phone call. In fact, of all the times for a phone call, this could be the worst, and Ray made sure, from behind a frustratingly calm Mountie, that he made his feelings known. "C'mon Fraser... don't answer it... it cannot be as important as what we were about to get down to."

Fraser sighed and spotted his phone by the door--it must have fallen off his belt right after he got inside. "Ray, as much as I agree with you, and you have no idea just how much, it could be work. I have to answer. The sooner I do, the sooner we can..." His voice trailed off as he leaned down and picked up the phone.

Before he could press the connect button, he felt Ray move up behind him. The feeling of Ray's hardness against his back, his hands sliding across his torso and down underneath the opened snap of his trousers--when had that happened, he wondered idly--were almost enough to make him drop the phone. For a moment his head dropped back and he rested against Ray's shoulder, feeling the tantalizing whisper of hair against his ear, feeling long fingers slide down his groin, just reaching the line of hair and then venturing further, yes, yes, yes, that was what he wanted, what he needed.

Another insistent ring pulled him from his moment of indulgence and with regret, he lifted his head and took the call. "Constable Fraser."

To know Fraser was to love him... and Ray knew Fraser was going to answer that phone no matter how much be begged, pleaded, touched, and kneaded. Sometimes, Fraser was just too... too... Canadian. Oh yeah, one big, surprisingly pliant bundle of Canadianness that Ray wrapped himself around and began to tease mercilessly through the haze of Fraser's obligatory greeting.

Ray's lips curled over Fraser's ear, tongue slid between parted lips and over soft skin... the mere taste of Fraser eliciting sounds that should be outlawed north of the 49th... *Fraser, Fraser, Fraser, just hang up the phone*

Oh yeah, Ray knew he was a goner, reduced to begging in his head and with his fingers... fingers that kept dipping, causing Fraser's hips to buck in little answering thrusts... *Oh, yeah, Fraser... just hang up the phone and...*

And then there it was. Fraser straightened and his hips stopped moving. Ray didn't encounter any resistance from Fraser per se, just a slight tension before a more complete relaxation and a surprised, yet happy...

"Ray!"

At first, it hadn't occurred to Ray that Fraser hadn't been talking to him. But then the other man continued to speak, his free hand reaching across his body to rest on the wrist Ray had not fully buried in the Mountie's trousers. He continued to speak, asking about Florida and the weather.

Ray Kowalski felt his stomach drop and an old familiar lump form in his throat. *Vecchio.*

It was Vecchio. What the hell was he doing calling here and how did he know they'd be here? Never get away, never... away... his hands slipped out from underneath Fraser's, away... arms retracted back to his own body, now wrapping around his own chilling skin... away... feet stepped back from warm, happy Mountie... away from the voice that faded into muffled whispers as Ray retreated to their bedroom.

*****

The unfamiliar noise coming from the phone in his hand finally worked into Fraser's awareness. He looked down, confused, and realized that Ray Vecchio had long since disconnected, and he had been standing there for god knows how long, lost in a fog. He absently clicked the button and put the phone down, struck at once by the silence in the room. It was still, and he knew before he turned around that he was alone.

Bedroom. Ray must be in the bedroom. Fraser assumed that he would have heard Ray open the heavy front door--and the clothes they had so recently discarded were still there. He leaned over and retrieved his undershirt and put it back on. He shook his head. The eagerness, the frenzy of their kisses--had that only been scant minutes before? It seemed so distant now.

Fraser moved to the door to his and Ray's bedroom and resolutely put his hand on the knob. Somehow, he couldn't. Just a moment, just... oh, this was too hard. He rested his forehead against the smooth cool wood, eyes closed, searching for the words to tell Ray, at the same time trying to process this news, this... thing, and let this change into his awareness. He sighed and straightened. He knew his duty. He had to be strong for Ray.

Ray was sitting on the corner of their bed, legs straddling the corner, and Fraser noticed that he too had put on a shirt. A bit puzzled that Ray didn't turn when he obviously heard him enter, Fraser stepped closer. He cleared his throat, trying to find his voice, the words to say. "Ray." He said--and he noted with surprise that his voice sounded remarkably close to normal. "There's... Something's happened. I have some bad news."

Ray turned fast and stood, and with instant understanding of the panic in his eyes, Fraser tried to reassure him. "No, no, it's not Stella. It's... Lieutenant Welsh. He, ah, he had a heart attack. The doctors were unable to revive him."

The news froze Ray for a couple moments. Welsh, dead? No, couldn't be. They had only left--how long had it been? Two weeks? A month? Seemed like no time at all. And yet, now, hearing this, the initial relief that it wasn't Stella and the almost indiscernible catch in Fraser's voice, the catch Ray knew no one else could possibly have understood.

Ray took a step towards Fraser but then thought about it and stopped. He then stepped back and sunk back onto the bed. Dead. Welsh dead. He was here because of Welsh. He had this life... this Mountie, this clarity because of Welsh. But now... Ray could see his Lieu, seated at his desk, cup of bad station house coffee in one hand, a file in the other. He's not smiling, but he's not unhappy either. Just Welsh. And now he was dead and Ray choked on the lump that formed in his throat. "When... how... where was he? What did Vecchio tell you?"

His last sentence came out slightly more harshly than he intended and he looked down at his feet to hide the flush that had risen to his cheeks.

Fraser cleared his throat. This, he could do. Facts. Information. Report. "Yesterday morning at almost noon, Lieutenant Welsh was in his office. He stood to leave for lunch and fell to the floor. Francesca saw him fall and rushed in. She began CPR and the paramedics were there within minutes. He never regained consciousness. The doctors attempted to revive him, he was defibrillated twice, but it was no use. Lieutenant Harding Welsh was declared dead as of 12:32 pm. The funeral is day after tomorrow."

Ray could feel it in his hands as they balled into fists and then straightened again. How could Fraser be so calm about this? How could he just stand there and tell him Welsh was dead with so little, emotion? Even if Welsh wasn't anything special to Fraser, Welsh was something to Ray and to hear Fraser say it like that... like it was anybody, some John Doe...

"Oh yeah, Fraser, that's rich," Ray barely recognized his own voice. He hadn't heard this tone in a while, not during the last month, when they were either too damned cold to open their mouths or their mouths were otherwise engaged. "*LEFtenant* Welsh died at 12:32. What is that in metric? Hmm?"

Ray fell to his knees and started reaching under the bed for his pack, the one Fraser had helped him pick out before they went looking for the hand-- the hand. He needed a hand so damned bad right now, it hurt, but he couldn't reach out. He was too angry and sorry to even reach out.

Taken aback at the mockery in Ray's voice, Fraser stuttered, distracted. He began, "Metr--" and then stopped, knowing without being told that that wasn't the point. He knelt down next to the bed, carefully keeping his distance from this angry Ray, this harsh and cold person he hadn't glimpsed in so long. "Ray. What are you doing?"

Ray looked up from the hard wood floor below him and caught Fraser's gaze for a moment. "What does it look like I'm doing, Fraser? I have to pack. I have to go... be there for it, for him." He shook his head slightly and resumed his futile reaching. "Where the hell is my pack?"

Fraser stood and left the room and then was back, carrying two packs, which he tossed on the bed. He turned his over and opened the top compartment, then stepped to the closet. Fraser removed his red serge, then laid it on the bed next to his pack. He moved to the dresser next, picking up the various accoutrements for his dress uniform, and placed them next to the pack as well.

Frustrated by the Mountie's calm and the fact that he had moved his pack, Ray clumsily got to his feet and almost glared at his lover. "Fraser, *what* are you doing?"

"Packing, Ray." Then something occurred to Fraser. "I'll call and ask, but I really don't expect any objection if I take more leave. They weren't expecting me to report so early and I suspect that Sergeant Gordon will be happy not to come up with busywork for me until the man I'm supposed to replace actually leaves." Fraser turned and left the bedroom, and just a moment later the electronic beeping of his cell phone on speed dial was the only sound in the quiet house.

'Packing, Ray.' So simple, so straightforward, so... so Fraser!

Ray stared at the uniform laid out neatly on the bed looking as polished as Fraser was when he told him the news. He wanted to rumple it-- wanted Fraser to be anything but calm. And the feelings overcame him as he stalked over Fraser's side of the bed, where the uniform lay, and he lifted it into his hands. He balled it up and then flung it out. He repeated the process three more times before he was satisfied with the wrinkles and set it on the bed again.

But it didn't make him feel any better. There was too much, and it wasn't just Welsh. How would it look if he and Fraser showed up together? Welsh had been the only one who knew, the only person in Chicago that he had told. What the hell would Vecchio say if he knew? It was too soon... or not soon enough. And Welsh was dead.

Fraser set his phone down. He exhaled sharply and stood silently for a moment, still trying to absorb the knowledge that Welsh was gone. Welsh... dead. The big gruff bear of a man was--gone. When he pictured the 27th, it always, without question, included Harding Welsh behind his desk. How could it no longer be? How could... Fraser shook his head and gave himself an extra mental shake. *Get yourself together. You've dealt with loss before. There are things to do.*

The stern reproach helped, he was able to blink back the rush of moisture that had treacherously welled up at the image of the 27th Precinct. He walked back to the bedroom, already mentally cataloging the things that would have to be done before they left. "Ray, do you want to call the airline, or shall..."

Fraser's voice trailed off at the sight of his uniform on the bed. He'd given it a cursory glance when he laid it on the bed, and it had been fine--a quick once-over with an iron when he unpacked and it would be acceptable. But this--this was wretched. He glanced over at Ray, who had his back to him. He was in front of the dresser, and were it not for his clenching and unclenching fists, Fraser would have thought he was deciding what to pack.

Fists. Clenching. Crumpling. Wrinkling. Fraser knew, he just knew that Ray had done this. What he didn't know was why. In a low voice, he began... "Ray, did you, why, ah..." and then it struck him. It was obvious. Ray was angry at him for just *assuming* he should accompany him. He hadn't verbalized it, but he'd struck out at the most obvious symbol of Fraser himself in the room. Of course. "Ray," he began again, trying desperately to steady his voice. "Do you... that is, do you not want me to go to Chicago with you?"

Ray clasped his hands together in front of him to stop their nervous movement. Why was this so hard? But he knew what it was. It was the return of Mr. Upright Mountie Man. This wasn't the same guy who yelled out his name when he came. This wasn't the guy who cuddled up to him at night and told him how he felt about him. No, this was cold. This was... was... Canadian...

"Go with me, Fraser? How are you going to go with me? They don't even know where I am. I show up with you and..." his voice trailed away. "Our timing sucks. Welsh's timing sucks, dammit! How did he just... he died alone, Fraser. By himself, in his office. Not with his wife. Not with anyone who cared about him."

Fraser didn't know what to say. After long moments of silence, he moved behind Ray, close, but not touching, just--near. He needed that, now as much as ever. The ache in Ray's voice wounded him, and he put aside his own insecurity for a moment. "He didn't, Ray. Francesca was right there, immediately. She--even after it was clear that it was doing no good, she was with him. Lieutenant Welsh had barely started to fall and she was at his side. And you know she cared very much for him. Ray Vecchio said--" Fraser choked for a moment and swallowed hard. "He said that the ER had... what was his phrase? Blue walls. Inside. Cops, everywhere. For Welsh."

Cops everywhere, Ray thought. But not this cop. He wasn't there. Not now, not then. Hands unclasped and palms flattened before striking down several times on the dresser before him. "What else did... Ray Vec-chio say?"

Fraser frowned for a moment. "He said, ah, that he was about to get on a plane for Chicago, and that he would see me there." Fraser couldn't help it--he had to ask. Ray's inexplicable actions on his uniform, and yes, Fraser knew it was silly to think of it as The Uniform, and even sillier to be personally offended, to feel that in some way it had been desecrated, but he did. Ray's teasing in the past had never reached this level of disrespect. Why had it now? Fraser felt compelled to ask. "Ray, why did you--" he gestured toward his crumpled tunic. "Why did you do that? Would you rather I didn't accompany you?"

Ray turned on the heel of his foot and finally faced Fraser. His hands pulsed from the beating he administered to the dresser, and he found himself clenching them again just to stop the throbbing. "No Fraser. I would NOT rather you didn't accompany me." He looked at the uniform, still angry but now a little sorry. "That... I... I'm sorry. I don't know what I was doing."

Fraser let out a breath he didn't know he was holding. It took him a moment to sort it out, but he understood, at least the important part. They would go to Chicago together, that was what Ray wanted. And it went without saying that that was what Fraser wanted too.

This... the anger, the emotional outbursts scared him. He'd lived a life of orderly solitude for so long, had been isolated by both choice and fate, and it was difficult not to withdraw. Yet it took only the sight of Ray's eyes, clouded with pain and doubt and sadness, and Fraser forgot his own discomfort.

Fraser slowly reached out and clasped Ray's tight fists, using them to pull Ray toward him. Gently, slowly drawing him in, letting Ray resist if he wished. Fraser felt no resistance, and then released Ray's hands and slid his arms around his friend, his lover, his partner. He inhaled the sharp and indefinable scent that was Ray to him, and simply held him close.

Ray accepted it for a minute. He accepted the closeness and comfort of Fraser. He didn't want to feel so detached from him but his partner's lack of a reaction bothered him. Bothered him so much that he found himself pulling away again. Pulling away and straightening himself out. "I'm hungry, Fraser. Let's call the airport and then eat."

*****

The living room was cold. Ray had let the fire dwindle and fade, allowing a chill to surround him. Cold fingers slowly turned the pages of the book he had been only half-heartedly reading. Fraser had given it to him before they left to find the hand. Something about whales.

The house was quiet without Dief. The wolf wasn't a party animal or anything but the sound of his claws clicking against the hardwood floors was always oddly comforting. And Ray found himself missing it. It wasn't bad enough that he and Fraser had said nothing through dinner or their newly acquired habit of cleaning up together. It wasn't bad enough that Dief had given his face a tongue bath before Fraser whistled him away to stay with Maggie while they went off to pay their last respects and say their goodbyes to Chicago.

Goodbyes.

Ray knew it would eventually come down to that. He and Fraser had begun making decisions and plans that had pretty much sealed that deal. But with Welsh gone, all leeway Ray had with putting off his next career move had pretty much gone with his former Lieu.

Goodbyes.

Chicago was always inevitable. He had to square things with his dad. Reassure his mom. Give up his car. He'd have to try and explain things to Stella. See if there was anything there that was salvagable... friendship, mutual caring, whatever.

Goodbyes.

Yeah, goodbye to daylight savings time and so many things he loved that made being an American pretty damned cool. Sure, they had baseball in Canada. TV too. Knowing his luck the Cubs'd win the pennant the first year he was away. And no one did deepdish like they did in Chicago.

And what was it all for? Ray knew. Getting his life back. Leaving Vecchio behind. Getting out of Chicago and learning who he was again. Giving it up to take a chance on a bear-wrestling freakish Mountie, who, when all was said and done, kept him warm. Inside and out. Even now, when the only word he'd gotten out of him since dinner was 'goodnight'. Ray knew that he was still curled up in their bed, keeping it warm.

And suddenly, Moby Dick wasn't as interesting as it had been before.

*****

Fraser shifted in the bed. He turned again and smoothed his pillow, trying to will himself to sleep. Maybe it was trying not to think about Welsh, and the grief that so many people he knew and cared about were feeling. Maybe it was knowing Ray was out on the couch. Maybe it was the fact that he'd grown accustomed to certain... activities in the past six weeks that made sleeping afterward very, very easy. He sighed.

What he wanted, well, what he would have gladly settled for, was to get outside. To walk and inhale the night and then pick up the pace and run, and run, and lose himself in sheer physical exertion. But Fraser didn't want to go back out of the bedroom, didn't want to disturb Ray if he were sleeping, and if Ray were awake, he didn't want Ray to know he himself was having trouble sleeping. And he didn't even have Diefenbaker here to use as an excuse.

What a contradiction. He wanted Ray next to him. He was glad to be alone. He wanted to be outside and lose himself in activity. He was grateful for the quiet and solitude so he could think.

Walking home from Maggie's, Fraser had felt something missing. At first he thought it was Diefenbaker, but no, that wasn't it. Then he of course thought of Ray, since they had made this trip together many times already, and Ray had taken great delight in encouraging him in shockingly public displays of... affection. Fraser shook his head. That wasn't it either, as pleasant and well, invigorating as those activities were. It was...

He'd looked around again. It came to him then that it was, or would have been a typical time for his father to show up, even though Fraser'd known that that wasn't going to happen. Now, lying in his bed, he thought again of his father, and his mother-- how precious and bittersweet seeing her had been. He relived the few moments he'd had with her, for the millionth time trying to imprint the image of her face and the love in her eyes indelibly into his memory. He missed her now as if it were new and fresh. And knowing that his father was finally with her was, yes, some comfort, but not enough. Intellectually Fraser knew that his father was gone, and he could even be glad that his parents were together. But his heart grieved both losses over again, deeper and closer because of what he'd learned of both his father and mother.

Fraser was surprised to find that he even missed his father's sometimes inappropriate advice right then. However misguided and inane, he'd had his father at his side during some very difficult times in the past few years, and he wondered what his reaction would be to Welsh's death. Which, of course also opened up a whole other realm of possibilities, and he was glad for a moment that Ray wasn't there to see him look around the room, on the merest possibility that he might catch a glimpse of a red-clad Mountie and a gruff, dark-haired Chicago cop. He was being ridiculous, he knew. Fraser shook off his venture into mystical possibilities and tried once again to concentrate on getting to sleep.

It struck him again, the need to be outside and moving. Run--he'd wanted to run.

To run.

It would almost be funny if it weren't so obvious. Fraser didn't know how to reach Ray, to help him, to fix what was happening between them, to fill the silence that had fallen. All during dinner, and after as they cleaned up together... nothing. Ray had called the airline and given him the information, and Fraser had called his sister and then asked Ray if he wanted to go to Maggie's with him, and Ray had said no.

And then once he returned--nothing. Finally he'd been unable to stand any more of the uncomfortable quiet, and had headed to bed, getting only a grunt in response to his quiet "Good night".

And ever since he'd wanted to run. Out of their house, away from Ray. To... distance himself, to protect himself from this new uncertainty, the pain he was ashamed that he was now anticipating, to regain a small measure of control.

Ray's open grief stunned him, and unaccustomed and still unfamiliar with dealing with emotional outbursts, Fraser's first tendency was to shy away. Was it discomfort, he wondered, because that didn't seem quite right. Or was it... envy?

That Ray could so clearly express such strong feelings, feelings he shared, but was as ever unable to release. Just like when his father had died. Just like when he'd lost him this second time.

No. He was NOT going to run. Fraser didn't know what he could do for Ray, what his lover wanted, or needed. But he knew that he could be here for him. He *would* be here for him.

That decision made, and some difficult headway gained through the quicksand of his own emotions, Fraser turned and finally found a comfortable position. He didn't expect to be able to sleep without Ray, but at last, he could finally relax.

*****

Their bedroom was dark when Ray opened the door and stepped inside. He wasn't used to moving around the room in the darkness since he and Fraser always... *yeah, we're always falling into bed together, not apart, not one after another, together. I suck.*

He knew he did.

Knew it as he unbuttoned, unzipped, and slipped out of his jeans. He knew it as he pulled his T-shirt over his head and tossed it on the floor next to his jeans. *Too dark for the laundry hamper anyway.*

Ray knew he sucked as he pulled the blankets back and slipped into the bed he shared with Fraser-- Fraser, who slept, on his side with his back to Ray.

Ray moved closer to his lover, close enough to feel the heat radiating Fraser's body, and propped himself up on his elbow. He rubbed his hand roughly over his own cheek and chin, before he reached out and ran his fingers along the smooth skin of Fraser's shoulder and down the angled plane of his back.

He exhaled sharply and then sighed, his emotions building inside of him once more. He had to get this out... had to apologize, had to make Fraser see. He needed to understand Fraser too. It didn't work any other way.

Ray inched closer again, until he felt himself spooned against Fraser. He inhaled and pressed his lips to the Mountie's shoulder and finally forced a whisper. "Fraser. Fraser, I... you awake?"

At the feel of Ray's warmth nestled against him, Fraser sighed deeply. He'd watched Ray come in, heard him undress, and had waited warily to see what he would do. He was almost undone by his tentative touch, and gladly turned when Ray spoke.

"Yes Ray, I'm awake. I couldn't sleep without..." Fraser trailed off. Not angry, just confused, and trying desperately not to show it. He hadn't been able to sleep without Ray beside him, especially knowing that something was wrong that he couldn't fix. He didn't know how to do this. This uncertainty, this worry. It was unfamiliar territory with Ray, scary and wrong, but he had no idea of how to bridge the gap. So he waited.

Shifting only slightly, Ray remained propped up on his elbow as he faced Fraser. He was usually good with this. He could always come right out and say things and more often than not, it got him in trouble or made things worse. But now was different. He had been silent all night, shutting Fraser out, trying to understand the changes that were going on everywhere.

"We're partners, right Frase?"

Without a second thought, Fraser answered, "Of course."

Ray nodded slowly. Mounties don't lie... or at least Fraser wouldn't lie to him, not about something like this. Not about any of this. "Why'd you stay with me, Fraser?"

"Stay with you?" Fraser considered this. He'd wondered why Ray had stayed with *him*, in Canada, until they were together. But when had he stayed... "When, Ray?"

Ray sighed and shifted again, this time to his back. He stared off into the dark room, listening to the wind outside as it rattled the windows. "For all of it. The beginning. I mean, I wasn't Vecchio. You probably coulda gone home then. Why'd you stay and accept me as your partner?"

Fraser considered his words carefully. Smiling at the memory, he answered, "Well Ray, on our first day working together, you stepped in front of a bullet for me. Even had I known you were wearing a vest, it would have still been impressive." He considered for a moment. "Then when the lieutenant finally explained everything, he simply told me that you were a good cop and to give you a chance. I value, I..." Fraser sighed. Changing tenses, yes. "I valued his opinion highly."

Ray raised a hand to his mouth in an attempt to hide his trembling breaths. "Guess saving your life would kinda bond you to me, huh?" He tried to be humorous but knew his voice would betray him. It was back to Welsh. Back to Welsh and Vecchio and the day that changed his life, the day he got the undercover offer. "Welsh said that?"

Fraser nodded, and when Ray didn't answer, he realized the room was probably too dark for him to see. He said, "Yes. Actually he said you were a 'real good cop'. As he was, ah, rather stingy with praise, this struck me as significant. You quickly gave me ample opportunity to share that opinion, though I did wonder later how he knew."

Ray shifted again, his anxiety leading to discomfort. Coupled with his need to be closer to Fraser, Ray was facing the Mountie once more as he turned on his side. "Welsh and me... we got history. It wasn't... it wasn't an accident that I was the one protecting Vecchio's cover."

Fraser digested this information. He'd had no idea. No clue whatsoever. He didn't know what to say to keep Ray talking, but he very much wanted to encourage him to do so, and suddenly, he had to see his face. He moved and halfway rolled, reaching the switch on the small bedside lamp and clicking it to its lowest setting. "Do you... will you tell me about it?" he asked quietly.

Ray could see Fraser's face and he could see the Mountie's sincerity as well as feel it as they faced each other.

Ray had an urge to reach out, to touch Fraser but with the way his emotions were dancing around, he knew he'd never stop and he just needed to talk. He needed to tell Fraser what he had tried to tell him that first day. Maybe he wasn't telling him all of it then, just the outline. Just the getting away from his life part.

"It's kind of funny, actually. I got called in to meet with Commander Murphy. I really thought I was in some deep sh... trouble. She'd been commander for three years and in those three years, I met with her twice. Both times she reamed me out for uh... what did she call it? Unorthodox methods. Yeah, that was it. So, I figured she was there to read me the riot act again. Yeah, I had just gotten through working a case with Vice. We didn't get along too well but that's definitely another story. Anyway, I get called in to this meet with Murphy and she gives me the lowdown on Vecchio. Asks me if I want the job. Things weren't going so good for me. And I figured, what the hell,

change of pace, get outta my life for a while. So sure. I'd go for it."

"She seemed pleased and let me know Lieutenant Welsh would also be pleased. It hadn't dawned on me I'd be working for him. And I guess Murphy, she picked up on that and told me Welsh expressly asked for me."

"So you knew him before?" Fraser asked. "How?"

Ray kept his eyes fixed to Fraser's face as memories of both Fraser and Welsh overcame him. "You remember that day... the day in the crypt when I was waiting for Ellery? You were talking to me about being a good police officer. Talked about my citations?"

The memory brought a smile to Fraser's face. Images flew through his mind--Ray in the shadows, in the shaft of light through the window of the crypt. 'Do you find me attractive?'. Ray had opened up to him that day, and that, more than anything had been Fraser's undoing. Well, that, and those glasses hanging from his ears. Trying to convey all the warmth that those memories brought him, Fraser looked directly at Ray. "I remember that day very clearly Ray. It was... it was a good day."

A slight smile crossed Ray's lips as Fraser met his gaze. Yeah, he could tell... he could see what was there inside of him, the stuff he needed to see more of just a few hours ago.

He reached between them and took hold of Fraser's hand and held on for a minute, taking just a little bit more from him. "Welsh initiated the second citation. The jewelry store and the three gunmen. I was there to pick up something for Stella."

"We had a stupid fight the night before and I wanted to surprise her. It was a spontaneous thing, which is kind of funny 'cos that's why Welsh was there. Tiff with the Mrs. and all. Welsh and I had met briefly during the Botrelle thing. I got to know a lot of guys during that whole mess. So anyway, we're there and talking and Barry, that's the jeweler, he knew me from when we were buying Stella's engagement ring. So Barry calls me back and shows me some stuff he had special."

"I go into the back room with him and he pulls some stuff out of his safe. Don't know why he was getting stuff out of the safe for me. I wasn't planning on blowing a month's paycheck on a makeup bribe." Ray allowed his smile to broaden just a bit before he continued.

"So Barry gets everything back in the safe and I lead him back out to the front. By the time I get out there, these three guys got Welsh and two civilians on the floor and they're working on them with duct tape. I don't have much time to react and I got the uniform on so two of 'em are all over me. They take my gun and tape me up good on the floor away from Welsh. My mind is working a million miles a minute and I'm trying to figure out how to get Welsh and me out of the tape and subdue three guys carrying .45's. They start going on about the time and I figure they know some alarm has gone off and they only have a short time before the street is lined with blue and whites."

"They start shattering the glass cases and quickly stashing anything they can grab. There's glass everywhere and I was able to get a handle on a piece behind me and I got working pretty quick. Did a number on my hands but I eventually got them free. I was looking at Welsh the whole time, trying to let him know what I was doing and he understood. Shit, he totally got it."

"The guy giving the orders grabs Barry and shoves him the back room with the safe and starts yelling at him to open it. So we only got two guns to worry about. One of 'em, he's so preoccupied with watching the front for blue and whites that I figure we got a small window to take one down before the other gets it."

"It happened kind of fast then, Welsh edges over towards the one watching the hostages. As I get to my feet, I give him the signal, thumb across my nose, and he's kicking the legs out from under one and I'm jumping the guy at the door. Me and the guy go through the glass door and I'm shoving this guys head into the pavement when I hear a

gunshot. I got this sinking feeling in my stomach and I knew I took too long but I'm up and I got the guy's gun in my hand. I'm there, watching this guy take aim at Welsh again but he's got two of the patrons so damned close and I don't have my glasses so I can't take a chance at shooting. I make eye contact with Welsh again, who just nods and I throw the gun at the guy's head and he goes flying. I'm on the guy and I am so ready to jump Bogart on him it's sickening."

The room was quiet again, and it took Fraser a moment to realize that Ray was done. The story Ray had told was so vivid and real, it had been like he was watching it, like he was there, and he blinked, adjusting to dim room, and his strangely quiet partner. While he'd known the bare bones of his second citation, this... this was more. This was like being there. Yet again he was moved with pride at the abilities of his partner, wishing that he'd known him then, wishing that he'd been there to back him up. But Ray hadn't needed backup, he'd done amazingly well, thinking lightning quick, and taking charge.

"I wish I'd known you then, Ray. You... you're an admirable officer." Fraser said, reaching across and gently squeezing Ray's bicep.

"Welsh was shot, Fraser. I wasn't fast enough and Welsh was shot. If it wasn't for the boot gun he carried, which by the way after that, I saw the practical uses of a boot gun, but if it weren't for his boot gun, I wouldn't have gotten the other guy. I figured I'd get some notoriety out of it, but not a citation. But as it turns out, I wrote my report and talked up Welsh and he apparently did the same. He initiated the citation, stating my competence and bravery as reasons the gunmen were apprehended. I didn't get it, Fraser, but I never forgot it either."

"And obviously, neither did he, Ray." Fraser answered. As usual Ray Kowalski downplayed his actions. As usual he saw only the lack, when he had done everything humanly possible. He could argue, try to convince Ray that he'd clearly saved Welsh's life, that he had done exactly the right thing, but he knew it would do no good. How a man could put himself down when he had done so much was beyond him, but it didn't surprise him, either. It was Ray. It was undeserved and nonsensical, but it was Ray.

"I guess not. And I knew when all was said and done and I had taken on this job of being Vecchio... I knew it wasn't going to be anything resembling normal. They *warned* me about Vecchio's Mountie partner and I read all the files. I knew Welsh needed a lot from me and I was ready to do it for him."

Yes, Ray would do that. Go all out, for someone who'd done what Welsh did. Then something occurred to him. He'd always accepted without question that their personal relationship had been a natural thing, that it had begun with a real impulse and had continued from there because of their connection, their chemistry. But perhaps that

wasn't the case. "Is that--is that why you hugged me that day? They'd warned you... about me?" Fraser asked quietly. It didn't make any difference, he told himself. It changed nothing. They were together now, that was what counted. But he wanted to know if the beginning was as he'd always thought.

"Nah, Fraser, that was instinct. Hadn't thought about that until after I did it. Why d'ya think I started walking away? Didn't want to give you the creeps or anything."

Fraser grinned. How could he have even tried to convince himself it made no difference. That hug, that gesture of warmth and outreach--that, he knew, was the beginning of everything for him. When Ray had begun to be completely necessary. "Well Ray, perhaps if you hadn't walked away, we might have reached... ahh, a certain stage in our relationship quite a bit sooner."

Ray couldn't help laughing a little at that. And it felt good. It felt good to be in bed with Fraser and laughing after the last few hours of silence. "You were missing Vecchio, I know it. You don't have to hide that."

"Of course I was Ray, he was my friend. But even Ray Vecchio wouldn't have given me a hug in the middle of the squad room." Fraser answered.

"Guess he wasn't the uh... demons...demonstrative type, huh?"

"No, no, definitely not. Which is surprising, given the cultural stereotypes of his Italian background." Fraser mused.

Ray grunted a little at that. "He hugged you at the Hotel California. Called ya Benny too. That's sort of you know..."

"Did he Ray?" Thinking for a moment, Fraser shook his head. "Yes, you are right. That surprises me. Not that he called me Benny, though. He used that name often. I've never been particularly fond of nicknames, really, but it seemed a small enough thing to overlook."

Ray couldn't decide if Fraser was deflecting or if he truly didn't understand the implication. They had never talked about it. Ray Vecchio hadn't exactly been his choice of campfire talk but now, after the call, and seeing Fraser's face when Vecchio called. "You didn't seem to mind him calling ya Benny. I mean you had that silly grin plastered on yer face, just like the one when we dropped onto that ice field... Fraser..." His voice trailed off then and he shut his mouth, afraid to overstep any boundaries that might still be between them.

Fraser turned and looked closely at Ray. "No, I have to say that I didn't mind, it had been a long time, of course. I was happy to see him, relieved that my rash actions hadn't hurt him, or you. Is that what you mean?"

Ray sighed heavily, wondering why he always had to work to get these kind of answers out of Fraser. "No, Fraser, that is *not* what I mean. I mean, how happy were you to see Vecchio? I mean... oh Christ," he sat up quickly and flung the blankets off. "What the hell are they gonna think when we go back? I mean, it'll be a surprise, right,

Fraser? You and me?"

Understanding dawned. Fraser touched Ray, making sure that he was looking in his eyes when he answered. "Ray Vecchio was and still is my friend. He helped me in more ways than I can say when I first came to Chicago. I depended on him, and I like to think that he came to depend on me. But there was never anything more than that between us. The idea never crossed my mind. And yes, while I expect that the new development in our relationship will come as a surprise to many, Ray Vecchio will not be one of them."

"A surprise? Seems a kind of understatement, doesn't it Frase? I mean, Frannie is gonna go ballistic and Stella, I don't know what the hell Stell will do. And Vecchio, I mean how is he gonna take it? Welsh understood." and there he was back to Welsh and he found himself clinging to memories again.

Fraser froze. Stella. He hadn't thought... oh my. "Ray, I'm afraid I owe you an apology. Oh dear. I hadn't considered the ramifications, obvious as they may seem, and I'm afraid I may have overstepped my bounds."

"What are you talking about, Fraser? Ramifications... bounds... what?"

"Ray, I'm terribly sorry. Tonight, when Ray Vecchio called, I, ah, made him aware of... the change in our relationship. However, I hadn't considered that telling him was in effect telling Stella as well, and that is what I'm apologizing for. I'm sure you wished to be the one to let her know, and I deeply regret my intrusion."

It didn't register at first, the whole picture of what Fraser was saying, and Ray ran his fingers through his hair once and then twice, before he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood up. He faced Fraser, who had sounded sorry but looked oddly... unaffected. "You told Vecchio? About us being par... lovers?"

"Yes, I did. He asked if I knew how to reach you, to pass on the news. I told him yes, and he asked where you were. I told him that you were in our bedroom. The conversation... well, I can't say that it flowed from there, but I think he understood, and though he was shocked, he accepted it." Fraser said. "But Ray, about your ex-wife. Is... are you all right with that?" Fraser watched him closely, trying to gauge his reaction to his words. Ray wasn't in a combative stance, but he certainly wasn't happy either.

Ray shook his head, not quite sure if he was okay with that. He wanted to be the one to tell Stella, when he was ready. He definitely didn't want it to come from Vecchio. "Fraser, I don't know if I wanna kiss you or pop you, you know that?"

"Understood Ray. But if my vote counts for anything, you know which would be my choice."

Fraser told Vecchio. The implications of that were really kind of mind boggling. It meant Fraser didn't care who knew. He was outing them completely and while the thought scared the hell out of him, it also filled him with something else, filled him with a sense of security that only Fraser could give him.

Ray climbed back into the bed he shared with the Mountie and slid close to his lover. "I'm gonna kiss you, but not yet. I wanna wait a bit. I want... how did you feel when you told Vecchio, Fraser?"

Fraser relaxed. Ray was back, physically and mentally. He wouldn't have gotten back into their bed if he were still angry. Relieved, he didn't have think about his answer. "It felt good Ray. I'm proud to be with you, proud to be your partner. Yes, I was worried, and I was afraid that Ray's first reaction would overwhelm his natural kindness and affection for me. It, well, he did say that it wasn't as much of a surprise to him as you might think."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ray felt oddly flushed. "It's not like we were obvious or anything, I mean... took close quarters in an ice crevasse to... to... you know."

Fraser smiled at the memory. "I think Ray mentioned something about getting 'sick and tired of hearing how freakin' inseparable the new Ray Vecchio and the Mountie were'. Apparently our close friendship did not go without comment at the precinct."

Ray threw himself down on his back and stared back up at the ceiling. "I kind of wanted to tell Stella. She shoulda heard it from me, not him."

"You should have had that chance, Ray, and I'm deeply sorry that I've ruined that for you. It was thoughtless of me. I know it won't make it better, but would you like to call her in the morning?" Fraser considered further. "There may be other calls you'd like to make also, now that Stella knows. I know we can count on Ray's discretion; I think his discomfort with the idea will keep him from speaking about it, but I can't say the same for Stella. Perhaps your parents...?"

 

Fraser rolled to his back and closed his eyes. He couldn't help it, he rubbed his eyebrow with his thumb, considering. As rash as he'd been in that hotel room with Ray Vecchio, he'd been equally thoughtless of the repercussions of his conversation tonight.

Ray noticed Fraser's retreat and curled up on his side next to him, swinging one leg between the Mountie's. "Nah. Stell wouldn't. She's not one for gossip. But I'll call them in the morning. I wanted to tell them in person but I think I'll be better off handling one hurdle at a time when we get to Chicago. Saying goodbye to Welsh won't be easy."

"And it's okay, Frase. The Vecchio thing. I'm glad you told him. I was afraid that you... that you might not feel good about it. Guess that's why I walked away today, when he was on the phone."

Fraser sighed at the feel of Ray, touching him, entwined with him, where he belonged. He half turned and wrapped his arm around Ray in a loose embrace. "Thank you Ray, for not being angry. I'm sorry if I gave you the impression I would feel anything less than pride at being your... being with you. I've had very little opportunity to learn how this, how these things are supposed to work, and I, just--I just wanted him to know." And Fraser thought guiltily that there really was no need to tell Ray about the small and shameful part of him that had enjoyed shocking his former partner, that had taken some small measure of recompense for the pain that his involvement with Stella Kowalski had caused Ray.

"Don't apologize, Fraser, please. It ain't a pride thing. Hell, I'm probably the luckiest guy alive to be with you. Pride definitely is *not* an issue. It's more of what we stand to lose, you know, coming out and all. I mean, I don't know how my folks will take it. Being a cop... or whatever I'm gonna be once we got this figured out... it's not easy for people like us. Maybe it will be here, but we still got the down there to deal with and I don't think it's gonna be pretty. So, just coming out with it was a surprise. Especially since Vecchio was your pal and I know you don't wanna lose him any more than I wanna lose what little bit I got left with Stella." Ray had an urge to roll over again, avoid the look in Fraser's eyes but he fought the urge and continued to stare at his lover. "You know?"

Fraser used even more than his usual care in choosing the words to answer Ray. "Yes, I suppose I do. I--Probably I should have given this more thought. We should've discussed it... I don't know. I honestly hadn't considered that we'd act any differently than we have been. I know we've only been well, back in civilization a short time, but I assumed that we'd continue to do what we've done here." He searched Ray's eyes, praying that he would understand, that he wouldn't think that Fraser was ashamed. "That we would maintain our privacy, not because we were embarrassed or afraid, but to... keep what is between us, between us. That those closest to us would naturally be aware of the true nature of our relationship, but that those who have no need of that information could assume whatever they wished."

Fraser sighed and moved to lay on his back again, and after a moment, continued. "Perhaps Maggie's acceptance of us has made me too optimistic. I do know there could be... real problems, but they simply hadn't occurred to me. Apart from my sister, I have no family to consider, and the Canadian Charter of Rights protects me from repercussions in regard to my career. But I shouldn't have made any assumptions about how we would live without talking with you. What do you want to do, Ray?"

"First, Fraser, I want you to cut this rational Mountie crap out." Ray twisted his body and then sat up, noting that his voice was a little shorter than he intended but Fraser was doing the logic thing again. Feelings aside and all thinking. "I wanna know what you really feel. About all this. About coming out in Chicago. About Welsh being dead. About us going back there after the way we left. What do you want to do Fraser? I mean, I just wanna curl under the covers with you and forget the cold and all this stuff that keeps me from touching you."

Fraser closed his eyes. Ray always did this. He... forced him to dredge up everything he'd taught himself to lock away. To be--real. He wouldn't let him hide. And Fraser knew it was the only way it was going to work, and he was grateful to him for doing it, but it was just so hard. The words... to force the words.

"Ray...." Fraser sighed. "There's so much--it was easier to just worry about you, to concentrate on what needed to be done. I... This is... very difficult. You want to know how I feel. I don't know. One thing I do know, though, I don't care about 'coming out' in Chicago. We don't have to tell anyone if you don't feel it's appropriate. I've never felt the need to broadcast my romantic interests before and I feel no need to change that now. For any other reason, I guess I wouldn't have minded visiting Chicago, but... I had no real desire to, unless you did." Fraser took a deep breath. "To have to go back for this... yes, I feel--too much. I'm sad, for you, for everyone who cared for the lieutenant... I'm angry that Welsh's health had deteriorated so far that this could happen, I'm angry at myself for never telling him that I respected and admired him, that I obviously learned nothing when my father..." Fraser trailed off. "I'm afraid I'm not very good at this Ray."

"You're doing just fine, Frase. Don't stop now. Don't you dare stop now. What about your father?" Ray turned and faced Fraser then, his voice soft again.

"After my father... was gone," Fraser said, "Every memory I had of him was tinged with... regret. We could have been closer. I said that was what I wanted, yet I... did nothing. I could have *tried*. We had *years* Ray, after I joined the RCMP, and yet we rarely spoke, and even more rarely saw each other. Whether or not he would have accepted it, I should have tried, for me. But I obviously didn't learn a thing."

"Frase, the distance with your dad... you gonna let something like that happen again? I mean, I know we're not in the market for... kids or anything but, there's still people that you care about and who care about you. Look at us, here, where we are, coming here to be close to Maggie. You're not letting it happen again."

"No Ray," Fraser answered. Then he too sat up and faced Ray. He glanced at his face and then reached for his hands, clasping his fingers around Ray's. Without looking up, seeing only their entwined hands, Fraser said, very low. "I won't let it happen again, not... especially not with you. Where, where it matters most."

"Then you have learned. And the stuff with your dad, I mean," Ray's voice quieted further, thinking of the distance there was and always would be with his dad, especially with him in Canada. "You learn. And you got his journals and keeping talking to him. I know you talk to him every now and then... I've heard ya doing it. Keep doing it. Just cuz I'm here... I don't mind that you do it."

Fraser exhaled heavily and turned toward the foot of their bed, leaning his head slightly down and away from Ray. He pressed a knuckle against the bridge of his nose, hard, for just a second, reaching for control. He turned back to Ray and smiled. "Oh Ray. It's... I don't think you'll have to worry about me talking to my father anymore. It's difficult to explain. For, for a very long time, I would feel him very near, and it was only natural to speak to him. But now, since we resolved, since Muldoon was captured, I... he's not here anymore, if he ever was. I, ah, I know it's silly, but I find I miss him more now even than I did before."

"It ain't silly, Frase. I already knew you were a freak and all so it wasn't anything I worried about." Ray's lips turned into a smile. "He left with Muldoon, huh? Guess with Muldoon being the one to kill your mom and all and you solving the case..." his voice trailed away again as he reached for Fraser's hand and squeezed it lovingly.

Fraser squeezed Ray's hand in return and nodded. "His last case." Fraser agreed. "I shouldn't have been surprised. I just thought," Fraser said, "that he was... permanent."

"He's as permanent as you want him to be, Fraser. Maybe you can't see him or nothing but..." Ray shook his head. "I don't know what the hell I'm talking about, do I?"

"Ray, as usual, you're more right than you know." Fraser smiled. "Thank you."

Relieved that they had begun getting these things out in the open, Ray shifted and then crawled up into Fraser's lap. His arms wrapped around the Mountie's neck and their lips met briefly. "I told ya I was gonna kiss you. And I wanna do a lot more cuz I don't sleep so good when I don't. But I want to get something straight here and now, Fraser."

Fraser rested his forehead against Ray's, resting his hands on his hips. "What's that, Ray?"

Ray breathed Fraser in, inhaling deeply, and loving every tingle that shook through him. "We are NOT going to do this silent thing again. It's not good for us. I know we can always come to this... get down to sex... and it'll usually be great, cuz we just are... but I do not want to ever stop talking. And that means you gotta talk too. Got it?"

"Yes Ray." Fraser answered. He knew that Ray knew what he was asking him, how much he was asking him. That he'd have to force himself to talk, and sometimes even have to get Ray to do it when he didn't want to either. That it would take both of them. But he knew what was at stake, too. And for that, he could do it. He would do it. Relief and warmth and love flooded through him. This was what they needed. This, together, connected. Talking, touching, it was everything. Nothing else mattered without it. He smiled, and then he couldn't help it, he laughed. "Though I think... I never thought I'd see the day when you'd tell me that I don't talk *enough*."

"It's what you're talking about Fraser. If you're gonna tell me how the Inuit track snowshoe rabbits across ice fields by smelling their turds, then, well, I'm gonna listen, though I might snap just a little. But if you're telling me what's inside you, every twist and turn, well," Ray's ran his hands through dark thick hair and trailed soft fingertips down his neck to his back. "I'm still gonna listen and I'm gonna love ya till you can't see straight but you'll wanna keep talking."

Fraser arched back into Ray's hands, wanting more of that touch, those hands on his skin. "So you're talking about bribery, basically, then?" Fraser asked with a smile. "I... talk and you... ahhhh, do, for example, ahhhh, *that*."

Ray smiled, Fraser's reaction just perfect. They could do this. They'd always be able to do this. The talking thing, Fraser'd get used to it, especially with this... the easing of Fraser down, flush on his back, with Ray straddling him. This, lips and tongue tasting Mountie skin, making Fraser moan as he descended further, leaving smooth wet trail over angles and plains. This... breathing through the cotton of Fraser's boxers, mouth covering through cloth... yeah this. "Talk Fraser... I want more talk..."

Oh god. This was... the heat of his breath, the tantalizing touch but not touching feel of Ray's mouth, his lips and his tongue clouded by the thin cloth barrier... too much. Not enough. Distantly Fraser realized Ray was talking to him, low and sensual, and Fraser knew, knew he had to say something, there was an answer somewhere... "What... what do you want me to say Ray?"

Ray's fingers reached into the waist of Fraser's boxers and tugged just a little. "Talk about anything, Fraser... except musk ox and scat..."

Fraser lifted his hips obediently and his shorts were gone, down his thighs, lift his feet, and Ray had tossed them away. Talk. Words... Ray wanted words. Hard to think, let alone talk. But then, not so hard... opening the gates, saying the things his heart had whispered on all the nights alone, words he never expected to get a chance to say. "This... ahh, Ray, oh god, it's so good. You, oh you're... so good. I can't believe I went so long without this, without you."

Ray grinned then. "That's it Mountie. The more you talk the more I use my mouth. You know what that means, dontcha." Getting comfortable in the cradle between Fraser's thighs, Ray descended over Fraser's cock, mouth open, then closed over the head. "Oh yeah, Frase, don't wanna stop, so you don't stop." Lips over teeth forming a seal around him. His hand came up and around the base of Fraser's shaft. Rhythm, yeah, Ray had it down...

It was true what they said, Fraser thought, almost hysterically. All it takes is the proper motivation, and you can get a man to do anything. And at this moment, he'd have done anything, *anything* to keep Ray's mouth on him. Moving like that. "Oh god, yes, Ray. That, that, that is wonderful. It's perfect, oh... oh yes. I dreamed about this, I imagined this, oh god, but oh you were never as good as this even in my wildest... oh, yes, yes, yes..."

Seal broken for a moment, just long enough for Ray to huff, "Whaddid you dream about, Frase? I wanna know..."

Then down on him again, sealed up in his mouth with his tongue dancing to its own beat... hand pumping at the base and Ray could taste him on his tongue, oozing life...

"This. You. Oh... yes, your mouth. Your skin, your..." Fraser reached down and took Ray's free hand from where it was resting on his hip. "Your fingers..." he panted, as he tugged Ray's hand to his mouth. He dragged the pads of Ray's fingertips against the slightly rough edge of his bottom teeth. "Touching me..." nip "Holding me..." lick "Inside me." Fraser took Ray's index and middle fingers into his mouth, "Then my hands... my mouth... on you."

"Inside, Fraser... hmmm... tell me... I wanna hear you say it..." Open mouth and hot breath, Ray was almost panting, his own arousal begging for more of Fraser's voice, for more of the catch, of the need. "Come on Fraser..."

Fraser couldn't help it, the loss of Ray's mouth, the cold air instead of hot wet sucking tightness--he almost whimpered. Responding to the spell, god, yes, this had to be a spell, Ray was bewitching him, he groaned. "Yes, oh please, Ray, Please, please-- I need you, need this, need more..." Fraser's voice trailed off to a pant and a moan.

Ray groaned, almost choking on any further demands for Fraser's voice. He needed it too. Needed it so bad he felt his entire body shake and tense. No more words then. Just Ray's tongue finding its way home again over Fraser's leaking head, taking him in, tasting. Hmmm... tasting Fraser. Sweet, heady... love. Always good, was always good at this, but it was never *good* like this. And Ray sighed as he pulled Fraser's cock deeper, into his throat, swallowed against him and heard him groan. Slight smile, before tightening his mouthy seal on him again. His mouth slid upwards, giving his hand room around the base once more.

All lips and tongue and suction, hand moving in synchronicity. God, he needed this. Ray knew there was no silence here. There was no silence when Fraser came and that was part of what made it so satisfying for him... loud, crazy, undignified Mountie screaming out his name. Yeah. He. Needed. This.

Fraser groaned. Wanted this. Wanted this feeling. It was too much, not enough, it was everything. He rested his forearm against a suddenly sweaty forehead, eyes closed, oh yes, breath, ok, in, out, frantic for the slightest sliver of control. He wanted this to last... "Oh yes, yes, don't stop. God, I'll... oh Ray, Ray..." Fraser tensed, trying not to push up, trying not to move into Ray's mouth, into his hands, settling his hands on his thighs, clenching his fists, god, he would *not* grab Ray's head, he would *not* thrust, he would *not*. This... couldn't go on, had to last, had to keep this. He'd do anything to keep the feel of Ray's mouth on him, his tongue working, licking, sucking. Fraser shuddered and groaned and reached down to clench the sheet below him. "God! Ray! Don't... don't stop!" Fraser gasped.

Ray hummed slightly in response to Fraser's plea. *No stopping, not ever Benton Buddy. Gonna go down on you forever.* And he would, knew he would. Felt so good, Fraser's cock in his mouth, long and thick and so damned responsive.

He could feel the pulse, the throb against his tongue and he loved it, relished it, let it urge him on and on, till he could feel Fraser's hands fight against the sheets underneath them, feel them lose then gather in his hair. Yeah, he knew Fraser, knew what went on in that Mountie mind. The hands were the last thing to go, the last line of defense before Fraser let go.

The little vibration against his cock broke through the last of Fraser's resistance, and he felt the release curling up, shooting fire along every nerve ending. He arched up and shouted as he felt himself let go, felt the answering tightness in Ray's mouth, taking it, taking him, taking everything he had and more... Fraser convulsed, and shuddered and *came* so hard he felt it in the top of his head.

Panting, dying, he found his fingers in Ray's short blonde hair, and gentled his grasp immediately, moving to caress and scratch lightly for a moment on Ray's scalp. Fraser sighed and managed to croak out the only thing that made sense to say. "Ray..."

The sound of Fraser saying his name, saying it after he yelled, writhed, and shot deep into his throat, singed the edges of Ray's ears. The feeling and heart that one single tone Fraser took, tingled and almost hurt. He never had it, never like this. Never wanted it like this again, with anyone else. Just Fraser. Ray knew this was the end all, be all.

Loving a Mountie. Being loved by Fraser. Everything else pretty much paled and the sex, this salty thickness that settled in his throat before making its way deeper into him, that was just the bonus, the prize behind door number three. Because the first two doors, they were where it was really at. Partnership, where everything meshed and clicked into place. Friendship, where love rooted itself and grew.

Yeah, gotta walk through the first door to get to the second, then the second to get to the third. And Ray knew he'd walk. Walk anytime, anywhere for Fraser. Take him to Chicago to say goodbye to Welsh. Face the family and say goodbye to the life that wasn't his anymore, not with Fraser in Canada.

Ray pulled the blankets up from the bottom of the bed and pulled them up along with him as he curled into Fraser. "I like that, Fraser." Ray smirked as he ran his tongue quickly over Fraser's hot skin. He knew Fraser wouldn't leave it here, nor did he want him to, but... "But no more talking now. Sleep, now."

Fraser moved his arm so Ray could move in closer, his head on Fraser's shoulder, lying close. He had to smile. "Sleep, eh?" He whispered as he trailed his hand up the arm Ray had resting on his chest. Sliding up, then over and tracing Ray's chest, a quick caress to a nipple and then down, down, fingers cupping long warm hardness through soft knit boxer briefs, rubbing and tracing lightly with his nails, then up and inside Ray's shorts, moving down, down, finding fine golden hair and then grasping the familiar heat and hardness. Fraser curled his fingers and stroked down once, then again, sliding his thumb quickly over the tip, then down again. "You're sure you're... sleepy?"

Ray groaned at Fraser's *insistence* but thrust instinctively into the firm hand stroking his cock. "God, Fraser, don't you just wanna sleep after you come? I know I usually do. You don't gotta... ahhhh..." Another groan as Fraser's grip tightened slightly and changed rhythm. "Hmmm, Fraser, kissmekissmekissme..."

Fraser laughed, a low rumbling in his chest, and moved to cover Ray's moving lips with his own. Imitating Ray, speaking against Ray's mouth, "I know I 'don't gotta, but oh, I wanna..." With those words he angled slightly and deepened the kiss, sucking Ray's tongue, caressing it, moving and sliding and learning for the millionth time every fold and nook of Ray's mouth. He mimicked his hand movement below, stroking and sliding and then brought his other hand down--the caress interrupted for only a moment with a quick pull at the elastic at Ray's waist, then tugging the material down hard, Ray wordlessly lifting as Fraser practically tore the undergarments from his body. Quickly he brought his hands back to Ray, stroking again, using his other hand to move lower, lifting Ray's testicles, gently holding and rolling before moving his fingers back beyond for just a moment. Fraser brought his

hand back to caress the head of Ray's cock as his other hand moved in a firm downstroke, retrieving some of the moisture that was released with every stroke, and he returned his touch to that strip of skin behind Ray's balls. Sliding, circling, touching, he pressed gently as he kept a steady stroke with his other hand.

"Oh yeah, Frase," Ray groaned but then smiled against wicked Mountie lips. "Ya know what I like... yaknowyaknowyaknow... oh yeah." He was babbling almost incoherently, hips grinding with the hand Fraser had on his cock, body responding to the pressure of curious fingers. Heady? Oh yeah. Look that word up on the dictionary and find Fraser's hands and tongue next to it. "You keep that up," more lips and tongues. "And I'm gonna come all over you," Licking and sucking, soft lips, freshly shaved skin. Drunk on Fraser's scent, soap and menthol, the stuff in his shaving cream that cooled his skin. "That what you want?"

Fraser shuddered. If he hadn't just come, the sexy slur in Ray's voice, giving in to the need, the desire, that alone would have been enough to tip him over the edge. "Yessss!" He growled, and *dove* down, had to taste, had to feel... He took Ray into his mouth and imitated the motion of his hand, but faster and wetter and tighter, moving his tongue, rubbing the slit at the tip, circling, working the vein along the underside. His hand slipped up, up high and pressed against the small of Ray's back, pushing at him to rock further into his mouth, to let him have it all.

"Damn. Crazy. Mountie." Ray's voice broke as his back arched, urged forward by Fraser's hand and mouth. He thrust his hips in rhythm with Fraser's mouth, his body tightening, wringing from the inside out. The heels of his feet dug into the soft fabric of the sheets for further leverage.

His hands reached for Fraser's shoulders, needing skin contact, needing more torque, more energy. He needed for Fraser to match him, make feel it building inside of him. "Send me over, Fraser. Need you... Come on, yeah..."

Fraser, lost in the taste and feel, god, the fullness, the hot strength pushing into him... His hand on Ray's back slid down a little from the sweat and the movement, and his fingers trailed into the cleft below. He moved down further to the opening and did just a quick trace-touch, and Ray jumped, pushed back against his hand, and so he did it again.

Small circle over the muscle, and yes, it was a good thing, Ray was groaning. Tentatively Fraser pressed in, and his finger was encased in warmth up to the knuckle, and then as Ray *shoved* back onto his hand, Fraser followed his movement, sliding in, back out, then in just a little further. Fraser reached and crooked his finger a little, seeking, searching, that small gland that was... ah, yes, *there*.

"Fraserrrr! Fuck, yeah!" Ray grunted with the pressure, stiffened, tightened and felt it shooting through his body. Fraser's mouth, an unbelievable pleasure in itself, wet and throaty. But the fingers, knowing where to go, seek and destroy, hell yeah. Any and all control Ray had was gone, in those few seconds between contact and shooting his load. Body convulsing, fingers tightening in firm Mountie skin. Mouth open, whimpering, sounds unbecoming any sane human being sputtering forth.

Fraser waited him out, holding and licking until the goodness started to change to discomfort, and then with a last swallow he released him and straightened and moved back up into Ray's boneless embrace. He knew he sounded smug, he couldn't help it, he just got so much satisfaction out of making Ray feel this, feel what he felt...

He'd waited for this tonight, embarrassed to admit even to himself how much he'd wanted it, how he needed it. Not just for the release, as astounding as that was. He wanted Ray, to know with all his senses that his mate, his lover, his partner was back with him in every way. That's why he hadn't let Ray stop after loving him, why he *had* to reciprocate. Reconnect.

From the start, from their first kiss, Fraser had welcomed this between them. There'd been no awkwardness. The touching, the moving and coming together, it was new, but familiar, and instantly, a necessity. Initially, he'd wondered at himself, at his hunger, at his body's immediate open acceptance of the change in their relationship. The constant need to touch and feel... the wordless knowing of each other, of when to turn and meet a kiss, when to lean back and rest against warm welcoming strength. He thought that of course it was because both of them had been without affection for so long, but it was more than that. More than just simple need for contact.

This, as much as the words, was how they communicated. It wasn't just the hunger that raged in him without warning when he'd see Ray cock a smile at him over whatever his restless hands were doing, it wasn't just the fire that flared when he moved up close behind Ray and stretched his hands over his chest, his thighs, his groin, everywhere he could reach. It was... connecting. Saying with their hands what neither of them had ever been given words for. They were learning the words, now, slow and inexpert, but their hands and lips and tongues were sure and true, no doubts and no faltering. Slide of hand along a stubbled jaw--I love you. Quick nip at the neck--how did I ever live without you? Fingertip tracing an ear--it's us, together, always.

Fraser smiled to himself. Maybe that's why they'd always been so comfortable with touch, even before. Their bodies were already saying what their hearts weren't ready to. "*Now* we can sleep Ray."

Ray snuggled limply into Fraser. Now Fraser was ready to sleep. Good thing. Smartass."

*****

Fraser inhaled the steam rising from his mug of tea. Sitting out on he porch like this, enjoying the quiet morning... it was a rare luxury. Most days he'd be out running with Diefenbaker, or getting ready for work. But just for today he could enjoy this, the quiet, the empty horizon before him. Time to think, to reflect. To savor the satisfying change his life had taken, and at the same time to grieve. Endings and beginnings, the circles and cycles and the inevitability of change.

He checked his watch. He could let Ray sleep for... well, no, they had a lot to do still this morning, and he really ought to go get him up. Fraser closed the door on his introspection and moved toward the real door, careful to avoid the nails protruding from the railing on one side, and the two boards that had broken at some point and then been

shoddily repaired. That was definitely on the 'to do' list for when they returned.

Fraser did a quick turn before heading toward their bedroom and went to the kitchen instead. Quickly filling another mug, Ray's mug, with the coffee that he'd set to brew before he went out, he then dropped in a few candies from the small jar of Smarties from the end table by Ray's spot on the couch and headed in to wake his lover.

Ray was tangled in the covers, and Fraser smiled to see that he'd moved over to his side of the bed--he'd missed him even as he slept.

"Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray!" Fraser said, increasing his volume slightly with each repetition.

A mixture of scents tickled Ray's nose as he heard Fraser's voice saying his name. It was a voice he knew as well as his own and the smells, hmmm... Fraser and coffee. A perfect way to start the day, especially if it wasn't dark. Yeah, the odd number of hours of daylight was definitely something to get used to in these parts of the world. And Ray knew he would, eventually. It was just going to take some time. He'd been around life long enough to understand, such an adjustment wasn't going to come with a snap of his fingers, or a Mountie's for that matter. It was going to take a while to obtain that layer of sub... extra fat that Fraser was always talking about. It was going to take a while to adjust to the cold, the lack of good Chinese takeout, and elements that sometimes knocked the wind right out of him.

But this, opening his eyes to the sun filtering through the blinds behind Fraser and taking in the smell of Mountie and coffee just the way he liked it, well, this was no adjustment at all. This was just greatness. Perfect.

"Morning, Fraser. You bring that for me?"

Fraser smiled and said, "It's all yours, Ray. After you answer just one question."

Ray had begun reaching for the mug but pulled back at the twinkle he saw in Fraser's eye. Not good. That gleam was never good. "Come on, Frase. That's not buddies. Hand it over and I'll answer."

Fraser shook his head and moved back just out of arm's reach. "No, I'm afraid I have to insist on an answer first."

Ray grunted and folded his arms in front of him. "Bribery will get you everywhere, Fraser. What is it?"

Fraser leaned in, carefully keeping the hand holding the coffee away from Ray. He moved a bit closer, just a bit, and then grinned. "You shoot a gun. Who the hell throws a gun?"

Ray felt a sudden burn in his cheeks as he watched Fraser's lips curl into that drop dead gorgeous Mountie smile. "You're really enjoying this, aren't you?"

"Immensely, Ray." Fraser answered. Then he relented. He bent in and gave Ray a quick hard kiss and then handed him his coffee and sat back on his heels to simply look at him.

Ray took several sips of his coffee before facing Fraser again. "Welsh said the same thing, you know? Asked me who the hell threw a gun." Ray sighed, almost sadly, before trying to retain the playful air Fraser had started the morning with. "Didn't have my glasses."

Fraser paused. Then he brightened. "Ray, where are your glasses now?"

Slightly confused and still a little off from just waking up, Ray quirked an eyebrow at Fraser. "Dresser. Why?"

"You always know now, don't you?"

Ray nodded slowly. "Yeah," he mumbled. "I always know."

"Well, there you are. Lesson learned. Time to move on." Fraser said. Then, furrowing his brow, he went on. "Ray, all teasing aside, you do know that you did the right thing in *not* discharging your weapon, don't you?"

Ray shrugged sloppily but then nodded. "Yeah, Frase, I do. But I still coulda missed... and Christ, I gotta take a leak." Ray handed his mug back to Fraser. "Be here when I get back?"

Fraser took the mug and then immediately handed it back to Ray, but held it, keeping Ray from moving for a moment. He wasn't going to argue this endlessly, but he had to make sure Ray knew this, that he wasn't borrowing from him and 'deflecting'. "Ray. Not endangering civilians was the right choice. You have to be aware that that's what Lieutenant Welsh would have done as well. He was sworn to serve and protect just like you, and just like you he'd rather have given his life than have innocent people lose theirs."

"I know, Fraser, I do. Lives were saved, our duty done. I know. You don't gotta pound it into my head."

"Are you sure? Because you know, I'd be happy to..." Fraser worked hard to keep a straight face.

"Har de ha ha, Fraser. Funny guy." Ray shook his head good naturedly and handed the mug back to Fraser. "Will you please lemme take a whiz and then I'll let ya do whatever you want with my head."

Fraser waited until Ray was in the doorway before he answered. "When you make offers like that Ray, it's not your... head that I'm interested in."

Ray grinned in Fraser's direction. Nutty Mountie. "Yeah, Fraser? Well, why don't you come and get it?"

Fraser cocked an eyebrow at Ray and in a flash had the coffee cup down on the bedside table and was after Ray.

Ray could hear Fraser's heavy footsteps following him as he slipped quickly into the bathroom and shut the door behind him. He listened for Fraser as he started to relieve himself, and hearing the thud of Fraser's hand against the door, stopped, midstream. He groaned out loud then yelled. "Go pack, Fraser. I can't do this with you standing right there!"

Fraser thrummed his fingers against the door for just a moment, and then, with a quick rap, called to Ray. "I'll do that, but I believe that your actions indicate that you are what is known as 'a tease', Detective Kowalski, and I want it duly that you owe me one. And believe me, I intend to collect."

 

**********

Ray looked down at the two packs sitting side by side each other at the top of the porch stairs. There was a garment bag settled atop the two packs, hanging slightly over both sides. Fraser's uniform. The only uniform hanging in their closet. Rough thought that Ray had a hard time shaking.

The sky was overcast, fitting kind of day for the mood he had slowly slipped into as they packed for this trip. Closer to Chicago and closer to Welsh. Closer to truth and decisions. It was easier when it was just an adventure, the hand of Franklin, no major things to think about other than snow and cold. He could look out from their broken down porch and still get lost in the snow and cold, but the implications of this being their house made things different. A different cold. A different snow. He missed Dief. A new layer of snow had covered the wolf's tracks.

Ray sat back, sighing, trying to look through the clumps of trees just a short distance from the house. "We gotta fix this when we get, Frase. I mean, it's not real safe."

"You're right Ray. There's quite a bit to be done." Fraser said, looking up at the gaps in the roof of the porch.

"Gonna take us a while, which is okay." He paused, looked out towards the trees again. "Is there any Canadian laws limiting the amount of trees you can cut down, Fraser?"

"Well Ray, there is a perfectly good lumberyard..." Fraser stopped, realizing yet again that Ray'd been baiting him. He smiled and then tried to play along. "Actually I think we'd have to work very hard to reach the limits set by the various codes and laws governing conservation. We'd definitely have to extend past the half acre included in our lease."

Ray chuckled softly and nudged Fraser with his elbow. "You're too smart for my own good sometimes, Fraser. Think that's why I like you?"

Without turning to look at Ray, keeping his eyes on the horizon, willing a calm expression on his face, Fraser answered, "That, yes. Along with my incredible sexual prowess."

Ray quirked his brow at the Mountie, shaking his head. "Was that a joke I just heard, Fraser?"

"Either that, or an incredible imitation, Ray."

"Tell you what, Frase, when we get back, maybe we try that out some... your sexual prowess stuff. Whaddya say?"

Fraser grinned. "I'd say... definitely."

"Good." Ray said seriously, nodding as he turned back to the landscape. "Plan A when we get back: Lots of sex. Plan B: porch repair."

"Far be it from me to distract you from Plan A, Ray, but from the looks of this place, we're going to probably also need Plans C, D, and EFG to get this place into shape. I knew it was a fixer upper, and I *am* grateful that Greta was kind enough to bend her no pets rule, but there really is a lot to do."

"Fraser, we can have plans up the wazoo for all I care. As long as plan A has priority. Besides, I got time. Lotsa that." Ray sighed and shoved his hands into his pocket. He felt around till his fingers met with the solid warmth of his badge.

Blushing, Fraser turned to Ray. "It does, Ray, ah, it's definitely my um, top priority."

Ray kept looking at the trees. He never realized how much he liked trees until they took this place. He always liked trees. Just never thought to *like* them. "Good, that's greatness, Fraser. Buddies, partners, we gotta be on the same page and all. I'm behind that."

Fraser let out the breath he hadn't known he was holding. "Yes. Yes, me too," Fraser said quietly.

They sat there in the quiet, watching the sky and the trees for a moment. Fraser turned his wrist to check. Plenty of time, as long as their ride got there fairly soon.

"Have you thought about any other plans for after we get back?" Fraser asked. He'd wondered, he'd worried, and he hated to ask, but his curiosity finally won out.

Ray snorted, fingers still resting on his badge. "Maybe I can be a Mountie or something. I know I can wear the uniform." It was supposed to be funny, but somewhere, the very big part of him that was a cop was not laughing. "I dunno, Frase. Not trained to do much. There's cars here. I can rebuild engines with the best of 'em. I'm pretty good with my hands."

Fraser thought for a moment how to phrase his thoughts correctly. "What is it that you *want* to do, Ray? I don't mean what you can do, because you can do many things, anything you set your mind to. But what would you really *like* to do? We... it's not that we can live like kings, but we're perfectly comfortable on my salary for the time being. This could be... an opportunity for you, to find something that you really want to do."

Ray looked to Fraser then, removing his hands from his pockets. "I'm a cop, Fraser. It's what I've always been."

Fraser nodded. There seemed to be no answer to that. "And that is what you want to remain." he said, the words a statement, but bringing so many questions inside him. If Ray were to remain a cop, it couldn't be here in Canada. That fact was obvious. Would that mean that despite their--permanence, their partnership, that Ray would have to leave him? Would he have to choose to leave his home again in order to be with Ray? He reminded himself of the one certainty, that they loved each other, that they were, indeed permanent, but the murkiness of the future was almost overwhelming.

Ray shook his head as he caught sight of the official RCMP vehicle pulling up the drive. He wished he could give Fraser the assurance that he, himself, needed, but couldn't really find when looking at clumps of trees. Instead, he simply placed his hand on the Mountie's thigh and squeezed gently. "Chicago's waitin', Fraser. Pitter patter..."

 

*****

They'd gotten into O'Hare late the night before. The long cab ride from the airport to the apartment had begun reacquainting them with the city, and the further in they drove, the more Ray realized how much he had missed it. He knew it would be a rough transition, especially being here... packing up, getting rid of the apartment. But here they were.

Stella's visit had been a surprise. He didn't exactly know why but guessed with Fraser palling around with her new husband that she'd avoid being a third wheel. Not that stuff like that ever bothered Stella. She was always cool enough with herself to let the common personal issues many people had slide off her back. He guessed that came with being a lawyer... and more recently Ray Vecchio's wife.

Ray had called in for pizza and they sat on the couch and threw a movie in for old times sake. They devoured a large deep dish and a six-pack of Pete's in two hours. Stella did the beer thing sometimes. Not often. Just when she was loose. And she had been loose, comfortable around him for the first time in three years, happy that he had come back with Fraser. Relieved almost. In another dimension, that would have bothered Ray. But he was no longer a stranger to the used to be's and could have beens. And through his undercover stint as Vecchio he had learned and began to understand. 

Sure, having Fraser helped. Having Fraser helped a lot. But Ray really had to give himself some credit. He couldn't have done it unless it felt right inside and it did, the whole letting go thing, the self-realization thing. And besides, it wasn't until the ice crevasse that he allowed himself to really give into his feelings with Fraser. Yeah, Stell got a kick out of that story. After she had gotten over the initial horror that came with knowing how close he had been to death, her eyes had twinkled in laughter and the sound that she made... it was as close to heaven as he'd ever gotten with her. It was such acceptance and a kind of understanding he had needed from her. And more than that, she was Stell again. Not afraid to show how much she cared for fear of fueling the hope he used to have of winning her back.

For two hours all was well with the world. Fraser was lunching with his buddy, probably telling him about Canada and somewhere in Ray's hopes, telling him all about them, again. For two hours, Ray could forget about packing in this life and making the hardest decision he'd ever faced. For two hours Welsh wasn't dead and could maybe help

him out a bit, offer some Welsh-like sage advice along the lines of 'give up your badge, I break your head' or maybe something corny like 'home is where your heart is'. He had shaken off that last one with a laugh but still carried the sentiment with him. Carried it with him as he said goodbye to Stella and turned back to the clutter that was his life. Pictures, music, papers. Piles upon piles of junk that just didn't seem as important as it had before he left.

None of it was real, not anymore. Not like ten-foot snowdrifts and miles of trees and wilderness. None of it was as real as learning to speak 'Canadian' in a matter of weeks just so he didn't end up with a day's worth of kibble for Dief rather than a week's. There was no piece of paper here that held as much meaning as the lease he and Fraser had signed together. This stuff just added up to a bunch of reminders of what hadn't worked out.

Everything, that is, but the diploma, the one from the Police Academy. It was validation for something he was good at. Being a cop. It was the one thing he was smart enough and tough enough for. It was the one thing he was truly good at by himself and he couldn't help doubting his ability to truly start over. He was thirty-seven years old, a cop for a lot of them. What the hell would he do in Canada? Sure, they'd made all these arrangements, taken the house. He supposed no matter how hard any of this was, there was a part of him that saw no decision at all. Fraser had been in Chicago for three years too many. There was no way after seeing him on that ice field could he believe Fraser could be happy anywhere but there. And when all was said and done, Ray knew, there was no way he could believe that he could be happy without Fraser. Things like this, they happen once in a lifetime. He had been lucky. He'd had something with Stella. Something special. But Fraser, he was greatness. His greatness...

*****

"Hey Mister, we're here." Fraser turned and looked at the cab driver, having to wait a moment for the words, and then a few seconds later, their meaning, to penetrate his brain. Yes. Here. At Ray's apartment. Exactly as he'd done so many times before. Of course, during his time in Chicago he'd rarely allowed himself the luxury of a cab, not that that was really an option when he was accompanied by Diefenbaker. Fraser pulled the required bills from his wallet and handed them to the driver, and with a quick word of thanks, got out of the car.

He paused out on the sidewalk. It was all so much the same and yet so very different. The city was the same, but closer and louder than he'd remembered. Ray Vecchio had been much the same. Calmer, more tanned, clearly happier than he'd ever been. Fraser wasn't sure what had prompted his old friend to choose to stay at the Hotel California, but that too had been odd--going there again, this time without Ray, his Ray, and but this time having some idea of what to expect. He'd gone up to the room--elevator this time--and had been enthusiastically greeted by Ray Vecchio, and welcomed with not as much vigor but with real warmth by Stella, which he had to admit surprised him.

It was just a simple lunch between friends, but rather than Chinese, or a diner, Ray had suggested that they stay in the hotel and eat there. Something new. Good, but new. Fraser had a chance to really observe his friend as they were seated and their orders were taken. Ray Vecchio looked good. Healthy and rested and at ease. Calm. It was good. Good to see him, good to see him like that. Ray Vecchio had been the one to bring up his relationship with Ray Kowalski. Maybe it was his own happiness, maybe it was his newfound clearness, but Ray had reacted with surprise more than anger, with concern, not prejudice. Fraser told himself he shouldn't have been surprised, that his friend was, above all else, just that, his friend, and he only wanted his happiness. But Fraser was a realist and had prepared for the worst, and for once, had been gratified that that was not the case. They'd parted with a quick embrace, knowing that the next time they saw each other it would not be a happy occasion.

And now Fraser looked at the door to the apartment building. He moved resolutely forward--he needed to get ready. He hoped--no, he knew Ray wouldn't have reached a decision yet. He knew that. He did. He couldn't stop a small part of his brain from wishing--but he firmly squashed that down and focused on what needed to be done before they left for the funeral.

Ray sat comfortably on the floor with his legs spread in a V and looked at the two piles of compact discs before him. The keepers and what was expendable. His expendable pile had grown since Fraser had left for lunch. A lot of this was easy to throw away but some of it...

Ray held Sinatra in one hand and Lhasa in the other. Some of it just stayed with him, would always be with him. And it made him smile. Smiling was good. Good to know where you came from... better to know where you're going. Going.

Ray tossed one of the CDs into the keeper pile and shifted to his knees before the CD player. He flicked a few switches and placed the disk into the player. After pressing the 'play' button, he slid down, this time on his back and let the music wash over him.

He knew he should be getting ready. Shower, uniform. But his mind settled on this... one more song. And a smile.

Quiet strains of music met Fraser as he walked down the hall to Ray's apartment door. He paused, half-listening, and half thinking. Trying to decide, really. A little thing, but--should he knock, or go straight in. He had a key, of course. But before, when he'd lived in Chicago, he wouldn't have dreamed of just walking in. Now, of course, with Ray and he... knocking seemed... *Ridiculous!* he told himself. *As usual, thinking far too much.*

He fit his key in the door and gave it a quick rap as he opened it. "Ray?" Fraser began, as he entered. He stopped. This song. Yes--that night, the boat, dancing, with Stella, and later Ray in her apartment... this song whispering down the hall as Ray took *so* very long to come to the door... Fraser controlled a wince at the bittersweet memory, turning his head to locate his partner. And there he was, in front of the stereo, lying there, basking in the music, bliss lighting his face.

Fraser's heart sank. He didn't think of himself as jealous, no, but, Stella. How could he compete with true love, first love, with 'The Stella'. How could cold and snow and ice and uncertainty fight a lifetime of memories, and for that matter, a career, a life? Fraser ducked his head and managed to say something about getting a shower, not waiting for an answer as he moved to the bathroom as quickly as he could.

Ray opened his eyes just in time to catch Fraser's denim-clad legs hurrying towards the bathroom. Scrambling to

his knees, Ray pressed a finger to the 'stop' button and called out to his partner.

"Fraser, what is..." Cut off by the thud of the bathroom door closing, Ray got to his feet and followed in Fraser's wake.

A million thoughts went running through Ray's mind. Something was obviously up. Fraser didn't just... Another thought hit him. A kick in the head. A jolt. Vecchio. He'd just seen Vecchio. Stell told him that Vecchio was taking the news with... what did she say... in stride. But, who knows once Stella left. Who knows what the hell...

Ray heard the water running but knocked on the door anyway. "Fraser... hey, Fraser, come on. Open up."

Fraser heard Ray's voice and he froze under the water for a moment. He cleared his throat and called out, "I'll be out in a moment Ray." He hadn't locked the door. Maybe Ray would come in anyway, maybe he'd slip in behind him and wrap his arms around him. Maybe...

Tempted to just go in anyway, Ray grabbed the doorknob and began to twist. He hesitated a moment and listened to the sound of the water as it hit the bottom of the shower and he stopped. No conclusions. Not gonna jump to them. Ray let the knob click back into place and returned to the CD collection on the floor.

Fraser was listening so hard he could almost see the doorknob turn through the frosted glass... the click, and yes, yes, Ray was coming to him, it would be all right. It was fine, everything was fine.

He waited. No rush of cold air from the open door. No bright grin leering into the shower. Fraser was alone.

He quickly rinsed and got out, towelling his body roughly and efficiently, and then wrapped the damp fabric around his hips. Fraser stopped for a second, finding his composure before leaving the hot humid enclosure. All he wanted was to get to the bedroom, to get to his clothes, to button and close and buckle and get something, anything, to cover him. He opened the door as silently as he could, and then padded silently into the bedroom where his uniform hung in the closet.

Ray had been standing there, tossing off disk after disk into his pile of "used to be." Fraser was usually quick in the shower. Efficient was what Fraser once told him. Conserving water and a bunch of other crap Ray had just sort of filed away. But then, it's funny, how a person gets used to that kind of stuff. How a person depends on the constant. Ray flipped on the music again before pulling up behind Fraser as he made his way into the bedroom.

Ray watched Fraser fiddle silently with his uniform, white towel wrapped around solid hips. Soon Fraser would be starched, pressed, and bottled. Too soon.

"Nice view," Ray leered from behind Fraser, stealing close enough to finger the towel. "Mind if I borrow this?"

Not knowing what to say, how to deal with this, this return to what had only recently become the norm between them, Fraser retreated behind the formality that was second nature. "Certainly Ray," he said evenly. "Though there are dry towels in the bathroom." He walked to the side of the bed where he'd placed his clothes and picked up his boots, looking them over, doing an unnecessary inspection of their shine. He chanced a quick look at Ray. "We need to leave soon." Fraser said pointedly, then looked back down to pick up his boxers. He didn't want to examine why he suddenly felt so modest, he could only think of how strongly he needed to *be* dressed, and that putting his clothes on in front of Ray right now would probably kill him.

Ray watched Fraser closely as he crossed the room. Fraser was bottled up already and looking more tense than Ray had seen him in a long time. But he was also right. Ray pulled the damp towel up and tossed it over his shoulder, taking in the lingering scent of Fraser, freshly showered. "Yeah, right. Leave. I'll just be a couple minutes."

Fraser turned quickly, both to maintain some small remnant of modesty and to avoid seeing Ray walk out the door. A sight, he firmly told himself, that he would probably see again, very soon, and with much more permanent results. *You should get used to it* Fraser reminded himself. *You should already be used to it. You were used to it. You will be again.*

Fraser shook off his self-recrimination. Time enough for that particular abyss later. His whole life, probably. He heard the shower start and reached for his uniform. Get dressed, get out of the bedroom, be ready when Ray was ready to go. Ready for Ray to leave.

Ray couldn't get the water hot enough. Or maybe he was just too cold. Weird that spring in Chicago didn't hold near as much warmth as it did in Canada.

Circumstances, Ray told himself. And Vecchio. The name rolled over his brain several times. Fraser had been fine this morning. He had practically skipped, yeah Fraser had skipped, out the apartment to meet with Vecchio. To spend more than five minutes with him. And what for? What happened?

And the hell wouldn't Fraser tell him? The ringer they went through before they left the safety of their bed hadn't been enough? Bullshit. And Ray wasn't going to let it happen again. Out of the stream of water and into the steam of the bathroom, Ray toweled himself off with Fraser's damp towel. Didn't do him much good, but then drying off in a steamy bathroom never did much good. Air dry. That was the way to go.

Out of the bathroom and towards the bedroom. Same song still playing. On repeat?

"Fraser, what is going on?"

"What do you mean?" Fraser answered, keeping his back to Ray. He'd heard the door open, heard bare feet walking on the bare wood floor, and had been surprised when Ray had come out here instead of going into the bedroom. He stared out the window he stood before, no longer seeing the skyline obscured by clouds and pollution, seeing a horizon that had seemed blessedly empty but was now simply isolated, lonely.

Waiting for Ray, Fraser had purposely set the cd to repeat this one song. This song of longing and love and smooth rhythm... he needed to grind it into the surface of his brain like grooves in an old wax record. Over and over, over and over. The image of Ray with a pliant blonde in his arms, moving in sync, the connection between them a tangible thing. Burn that into his brain too. Maybe then he'd remember. Maybe then it'd get through to his heart and he'd stop hoping, and maybe, eventually stop hurting.

Ray frowned, almost sneered, as he moved further into the room and eventually killed the music. "I mean playin' that song over and over. It's a good song and it's great to dance to but ya know, Frase, it can start to play on your nerves after the twentieth time."

Fraser cast about in his mind for a suitable, innocuous answer. "Yes, I imagine it would," seemed to fill the bill.

"Then why the hell were ya listening to it?" Ray tried to make light as he nudged his partner's arm. "Come on, Frase. I got lots more work to do here and I haven't worn my uniform in a year. Don't even know if it's gonna fit right. Shoulda tried it when we got here, huh?"

Fraser nodded. "Perhaps, but I think it'll be suitable." He paused for a moment. "What... is there anything I can do to help?"

"Help?" Ray forced a laugh. "Yeah, Frase. You can help me with a buncha things. But those'll be later. I'm sure you can do wonders with a tie though. C'mon." Attention on the bedroom and away from the off-kilter expression on Fraser's face, Ray made his way into the bedroom. His uniform hung primly in the closet and he pulled it out, thinking of the last time he wore it. He wondered how much he'd think of how he wore it this time. He tossed it onto the bed and slipped into a pair of boxer briefs... thin white cotton t-shirt over his head... light blue dress shirt, starchy material, itchy. He slipped into the blue trousers. Wouldn't miss these, not much. Starched definitely did nothing for him. "Come on Frase... tie time..."

Fraser almost automatically raised the strip of fabric and slid it deftly under the collar of the uniform shirt. He adjusted so that one side was slightly longer, and then concentrated on folding over, knotting the tie just right. Ray smelled... so good. Soap and shampoo and still that underlying 'Ray-ness' that made his knees weak. Ok. He could do this. Keep his hands *on* the tie, not sliding across Ray's chest, not up his freshly shaved smooth jaw. No. No, just the tie. Just this. Concentrate.

Finally he finished. Fraser pulled the knot to just right snugness at the top button of Ray's shirt, and cocked his head to make sure it was straight. Satisfied, he took a step back and checked one last time. Yes, perfect.

And Ray looked wonderful, Fraser noted to himself. The navy blue uniform was, of course, designed to flatter no one, but the color did things for Ray's eyes, set off his hair, and the contrast of the dark fabric against his golden-pale complexion was so striking that Fraser blinked. Then he nodded quickly and managed, "All right then." before walking out of the bedroom.

"Hey, hey, where are ya going?" Ray asked, yanking his jacket from the hanger before he pulled up behind Fraser. This was too much, getting to be too much. He couldn't concentrate on Welsh if he was worrying about Fraser.

"Fraser, remember the silent thing... did it too long with Stella. Not with you. Talk to me."

The silent thing... oh dear lord. Just, what, less than 48 hours before he had promised, he had given Ray his word that he would talk to him. Fraser turned back to Ray slowly. "I'm... sorry Ray. I know. I--I don't know what to say."

"You've been off since ya got back. Did Vecchio do something? Say something? Cuz I'll pop him if he did... I swear."

Fraser shook his head. "No, no... Ray was, he was fine. Surprisingly so. I just..." Fraser stopped and took a breath. "I came in, and the music, and you were, you were happy, listening. And I thought, it was that song, with Stella, the same song, and, I just-- I know she came to see you while Ray and I had lunch..."

All the time, he figured on it being Vecchio. Vecchio not getting it. Vecchio saying something stupid to set silent Mountie off. Never thought...

"Geez, Fraser, why didn't ya... shit." He huffed and grabbed onto his partner's arm. "You were... I'm sorry, Frase. Didn't think it would... I mean, yeah, was thinking of Stella but different. She gets it. And I understand more and I was gonna throw it out. Say goodbye. Just listen one more time. And yeah, I was happy."

Fraser could only repeat dumbly, only half-understanding. "You understand... more?"

Ray sighed and tossed his jacket on the couch. "Yeah more, Fraser. I understand more of what I got inside. And why I loved Stella and why I love you... and Christ, Frase. Sometimes, when things go bad, you don't remember the good stuff. Push it down so far, you forget it was there at all. Stella and me had something good and special and it was right for a time. And her telling me that you were good for me, well, made me remember all that and understand why we weren't right now. Why you... why you and me are. I could probably say it better if you weren't lookin' at me like that, but this is the best I could do right now." A small grin crossed his lips as he released Fraser's hand and moved to the stereo.

"One more time. You and me. Whaddya say?" He shuffled his feet, one hand out to his side, the other across his chest.

Fraser felt... thick. The words Ray was saying washed around him, over him, finally into him. Into his head. He... wanted him, loved him. He had misunderstood, his insecurity had led him away from what was more real than the earth beneath his feet. Ray's arms were open to him, waiting. All he had to do was walk into them.

And stifling a gasp that was almost a sob of relief, Fraser did just that.

Ray's arms wrapped around him, pulled him close, urged him to follow. His feet kept a beat while his mouth nuzzled Fraser's cheek. "Just lemme lead, Frase. Trust me..."

Fraser leaned into Ray with a hard exhale. He followed Ray's movements, listening to his hands on his body, telling

Fraser where to move and when. Fraser rested his forehead against Ray's shoulder. "I do Ray."

Ray closed his eyes against the time on the stereo clock behind them. Welsh was being buried soon. So many goodbyes at once and yet, so much of him was at peace, here, with Fraser. He really did understand more. And maybe things wouldn't be as hard as he thought. Another door maybe. Or maybe, just closing the ones they'd already gone through. And trust was the ticket. "And I you, Frase." he mumbled before pressing his lips to Fraser's cheek. "C'mon. We gotta head out."

Fraser nodded, but didn't release Ray. "Just, oh. One more... second?" His arms tightened reflexively around his partner. He needed to hold him. Let his warmth and light and energy burn out the doubts and the fears. This was what he could count on. No matter what else happened, he knew he had this, them, the us-ness and togetherness.

It was there, no matter where they were.

Finally Fraser relaxed his hold. He backed away just enough to see Ray's face and he smiled. "You're right. Let's go."

*****

Ray stood before the coffin, now covered in red roses, and thought how fitting it was that it was raining. When was there ever a funeral when it didn't? He'd never been to one and he had grown accustomed to the sound of the drops bouncing off the brim of his hat. He didn't understand how Fraser could always wear a hat. Made him hot. The uniform made him jittery. Probably since the only reason he ever really wore it was to bury someone.

There hadn't been a dry eye today. Lines of blue and black had held their heads up but openly grieved. Ray knew the deal. Welsh touched a lot of people. He was a natural leader and had an understanding few men could claim. Pity that only in death that people realize these things. Then maybe Welsh would have known... or maybe he had. Maybe he had known. Ray hoped that the loyalty Welsh inspired had been enough, had shown him what none of them could have when he was alive.

Ray shook his head against the rain and the grief that was still consuming him. Welsh should been honored by more... by more than an American flag and a 21 gun salute. It made him shiver and shake and he pushed his hands into his pockets to help steady himself. Welsh had always known and in his head, he could hear him telling him to go with his gut for he always trusted it.

He could see him... thumb across his nose and nodding. Ray fingered his badge that rested deep in his pocket. He fingered it before he pulled it out. He held it out in front of him and stared at it for several long moments. There was only one man who could take it from him, who Ray could give it to.

Ray Kowalski sighed heavily and ran the back of his hand across his cheek and nose, wiping away errant tears. It was a leap and he knew it. But it was one his mind had already wrapped itself around taking.

Ray stepped forward, his boots sinking slightly into the mud surrounding Welsh's coffin. His hands shook at first, but eventually calmed as he slowly set his badge amidst the sea of red. Red was good. Red was greatness.

Fraser found himself slipping naturally into parade rest while he looked down the slight rise at his partner standing by the covered coffin. The funeral had been... difficult. Memories of past loss and present grief had combined to threaten his composure for long moments, and he'd been glad when the service finished and they'd moved on to the graveside. Then afterwards, he'd walked Ray Vecchio and Stella to their car, taking his time, greeting familiar faces, stopping to speak briefly to a few of the many friends who had gathered. He'd purposely taken his time, wanting to give Ray the privacy he needed without feeling rushed.

He watched Ray, standing so silent and still in the grey, his dark figure a blaze against the hazy sky and the flower-covered coffin. He waited... he knew Ray had to do this, make peace, and he could wait.

Standing, watching, waiting, all things he'd taken pride in being especially good at. He shook his head again over his panic in the apartment that afternoon. He was ashamed of his lack of... steadfastness. Of his instant willingness to accept the end of what was now the central fact of his life. His partnership. If Ray was not

physically *with* him, if they couldn't live together, it made no difference. No matter how far apart they were, no matter *what*, they were partners. If he were back in Canada and Ray were here, well, it wouldn't be ideal, but they would manage. What mattered was that they'd finally made their way to each other. Everything else was mere details.

Fraser's attention was caught by a quick motion of Ray's hand across his face and he was distracted, realizing his partner was wiping away tears, and only belatedly noticed that Ray had taken a step forward and then--what was that? He'd... he'd dropped something? Then he saw him straighten a bit, and without thought, Fraser crossed the short distance separating them and joined Ray beside the coffin.

Fraser stood next to Ray, copying his position, looking down at the roses heaped there, not looking at Ray to give him the chance to regain his composure, and trying at the same time to see what Ray had dropped. Then he spotted it--something shiny. A... badge? Yes. His eye for even the slightest detail told him, yes-- that was *Ray's* badge--yes, the number was right, that was it. He turned to Ray.

For a man known to be so good with words, he was surprisingly monosyllabic. "Ray, what..."

Ray didn't get it at first. Fraser asking, but not finishing his question. It wasn't like Fraser to leave anything hanging in the air like that and it gave Ray an outlet, a way to lighten things. Something he needed. "Finish your question, Fraser. I think somebody famous once said an incomplete sentence is a sign of going nuts."

Fraser started. "What did you say?" Then he shook his head. "No, no... you're right." He took a breath, tried to find a way to break into the thoughts whirling in his head. "Ray. That's your badge, isn't it?"

Ray followed Fraser's gaze to the coffin. To his badge fading into red. Did Fraser think he wouldn't do it? Shit. He must have. Explained a lot. "Yeah, Frase. What good is it gonna do me in Canada? 'Sides, felt good to give it to Welsh. Gave him my best time. And he have me a lot, ya know? Gave me trust. Gave me Vecchio. He should have it."

Fraser swallowed. He blinked. He grinned. And he couldn't help it, he chanced it, he dared to reach out and take Ray's hand in his. "No Ray. Just your best time, before now."

Ray curled his fingers around Fraser's and squeezed. "You ready? Cuz I'm ready. Got some doors to close."

Fraser squeezed back. "Some to open too, I think. I'm ready."

Ray shook his head as he smiled. He took one last look at the coffin, silently thanked his Lieu, and turned his back. "So I was thinking, Frase, you know that doughnut place over on Market? Gotta raid it. Can't go home to Dief empty handed..."

The End