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These Boots (The Ahead By A Century Remix)

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Ray moved smoothly through the gymnasium, shaking hands and clasping shoulders, laughing and making small talk in that easy way Fraser had always admired about him. He was in his element here, and Fraser marveled once again that Ray Kowalski, Chicago cop through and through, had found himself a place he fit so well here in the North. Finally, Ray reached the stage, and the audience and participants settled into their seats as he stepped up to the microphone and began the introductions.

Back when he first took over the RCMP detachment in Inuvik, Fraser worked every day of the Muskrat Jamboree, taking extra shifts so all of his officers could get some time off during the Festival.

“What about you?” Ray had asked.

“While the civilian staff are primarily locals, Inuvik is policed by officers from all across Canada. They cannot police a community they are not part of, and attending community events builds connections. You may recall that when I was in Chicago, I took it upon myself to attend as many community events as I could, during my time off.”

“And now that you’re an Inspector, surely it’s more important than ever.”

“Well, of course, but I have many other opportunities to attend community events as part of my duties, whereas the men and women under my command--”

“It’s one day, Frase,” Ray had interrupted. “All I’m asking for is one day to experience our new community with my husband.”

Still, then, after a decade together and almost three years of marriage, he’d been hesitant to make demands of Fraser, so Fraser knew this must matter to him. Since then Fraser has made sure to at least schedule himself a full day off during the festival, even if he can’t always take it.

(But really, the Swedish moose cheese smugglers using last year’s Jamboree as cover for their operations could not have been planned for, and Fraser still maintains Ray should not hold that incident against him.)

Most years, Fraser tries to schedule some time to attend, or even participate in, one of the outdoor events -- before missing last year’s festival due to the aforementioned smugglers, he’d been on the winning Tug of War team three years in a row -- but he always makes sure he can attend on Sunday night, because Sunday night is the Talent Show.

Their first year in Inuvik, a freak laryngitis outbreak a week before the Muskrat Jamboree led to Ray being recruited to MC the Sunday night Talent Show. By the end of the night the job was his for life, or at least for as long as they stay in Inuvik.

Fraser stood against the wall and watched Ray turn his charm on everyone who came onto the stage. Nervous teenage girls smiled, sullen teenage boys laughed, Mrs. Barlow called him a “charming devil” as he helped her carry her cello off the stage. Everyone in the room seemed to love him, but when the final applause died down and Ray stepped off the stage, he only had eyes for Fraser.

“A fine evening once again,” Fraser said as he met Ray at the bottom of the stairs. “That last musical number in particular was inspiring. The time it must have taken to translate--”

Ray smiled and leaned in as if expecting a kiss on the cheek. “I need you to get me out of here right now,” he muttered, still smiling, although this close Fraser could see that the smile was somewhat strained. “These boots are killing me.”

Which is how they ended up crowded into a janitor’s closet, Ray sitting on an upturned mop bucket while Fraser eased the boot off his right foot.

“Go ahead and say ‘I told you so’, I know you want to.”

“I would never suggest that you not know your own mind, Ray, but I did think you’d regret spending all day today on your feet. Especially in new shoes.”

“Just say ‘I told you so’ like a normal person, Fraser. I won’t mind.”

“Well, indeed, Ray. I did in fact tell you so,” said Fraser, but he was smiling as he said it, thumbs rubbing gentle circles into the skin of Ray’s swollen ankle. “Now, do you want to go back in and congratulate the winners, or should I help you to the car?”

“I’m not going to run off without saying my goodbyes. Just find me a crutch or something.”

Or something turned out to be Mrs. McClarsky’s cane, borrowed for five minutes while she held court in a corner, cooing over her newest grandchild. Ray made his rounds, congratulating winners and losers alike, and deflecting all questions about the source of his limp. “I’m not going to tell everyone I tripped over one of Dief’s grandpuppies,” he’d said that morning. “I do have some pride.”

The borrowed nature of the cane offered a good excuse to make their parting a hasty one, and it wasn’t long before Fraser was returning it to its rightful owner with a “thank you kindly, ma’am” and helping Ray to the parking lot.

Back at their little cabin on the edge of town, Fraser soon had Ray settled on the sofa, ankle slathered with Fraser’s home-made herbal ointment and propped up on a pillow.

They’d only had time for a quick supper earlier, so Fraser busied himself at the stove reheating  the last of the caribou stew out of the freezer, but he couldn’t stop watching Ray, who was now making a show of shooing away a particularly intrepid puppy attempting to climb onto his head. Watching Ray at the community centre earlier had made him smile, but seeing Ray like this was when he loved him the most. Tucked up in their cozy cottage surrounded by mementos of their life together, glasses laid aside, not trying to charm or distract anyone, just comfortable in his skin -- this Ray was for Fraser alone, for Fraser forever.

When he’d been assigned to Chicago, Fraser had already resigned himself to never finding a love like this, a life like this. Ray had been a surprise, the best kind, and Fraser planned to hold on to him for as long as they had.