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Fraser's been trapped with the Mounties for hours. Ray's seen him three times, looking so professionally polite, ruler-straight back and blank smile, that Ray found himself wincing well before someone found Fraser a fresh uniform. It should have made him less conspicuous, not more, but he's like a skyscraper in a suburb--you just can't not see him. To anyone else, he'd look as polite and helpful as he always does; to Ray, he looks about three seconds from snapping and finding his inner Clint Eastwood--to wit, justice be served quickly, with a rope, a tree, a horse, and a strong sense of personal vindication.

It's been a long-ass day.

Not like Ray wouldn't help either, which is probably why so far, there's been a hundred questions Ray needs to answer and explain while being kept carefully away from the Mountie whose personal debt against Muldoon runs most deeply. Ray's not Fraser, though--they'd left Ray alone when they'd pick up he was perfectly capable of being dangerous even without his gun and didn't have any problem explaining why, in detail.

Muldoon's arrest isn't any kind of ending, not for anyone but Ray. Someone a lot smarter than they'd looked had surrendered a carafe of coffee and a cup and left him alone with a tent, Dief, and nothing to do but wonder what the hell he's supposed to do now.

Dief, curled up on his feet, gives Ray a worried look. Rubbing his ears, Ray fights the urge to hunt Fraser down himself. "I know, they won't let me see him neither."

Ray knows that eventually he needs to find out when he can leave, though hell, he might need to be around for the trial, too. That doesn't sound too bad, and after all, with Vecchio back, his job description just vanished but good. Welcome back, Ray Kowalski.

"Kowalski," he says, testing it on his tongue, trying to apply it to himself. "Kowalski. Kowalski. Kowal--"

"Detective Vecchio!" a heart voice rings out cheerfully, and Ray looks up with a sense of doom as Frobisher appears only a few feet away, tramping through the snow enthusiastically in his direction.

"Kowalski," Ray corrects; it still doesn't feel right. The skin he wore for most of his life fits awkwardly, the worn spots rubbing against new places that had almost healed. He can't imagine how the hell he's supposed to deal with snow, a depressed wolf, losing his partner and his name without adding talking to Frobisher to the mix.

Frobisher pauses on the other side of the fire, studying him with sudden, surprising intensity. "I wondered why you looked so much less Italian these days," he says, and the look's gone like it was never there at all. Circling the fire, he sits down on one of the abandoned rug-things everyone uses and smiles with irritating cheer. "How are you doing, Detective?"

Ray's tempted to actually tell him; Frobisher's nuts. This shit would probably make sense to him. "Cold." Since they brought in Muldoon, come to think, sinking into his bones like maybe he'll never be warm again.

Days ago, he stood on a mountain and realized he was going to live through this, and for a second--just a second--he knew, knew he could do anything. Anything at all.

That's gone. Figures.

"How's Fraser?" Ray asks quickly. Frobisher's nuts, but Ray has a weird feeling he's nuts in that way that's like Fraser's nuts. Just--escalated. Weirder. Ray puts down his cup, wondering if Fraser has fucked up his sense of normal so much that even Frobisher doesn't seem all that weird.

"Benton? Good boy." Frobisher smiles fondly, and Ray has this irresistible vision of Frobisher patting Fraser's head and calling him a good boy for bringing in a murderer. "Been rough, eh?"

"'S okay," Ray answers warily. Frobisher's just sitting there, all crazy and happy and not telling him a goddamn thing. "You letting him go soon?"

"Ah." Frobisher scratches at his chin. "Well. As you know, Muldoon's capture is quite an achievement. For the RCMP--"

"RCMP got nothing to do with it." In fact, Ray would say that the RCMP had shit to do with anything Fraser had done in the last few years. In fact, if they asked Ray, and Jesus he wishes they would, he'd say the RCMP hasn't done shit for Fraser, period.

He just can't imagine saying the word 'shit' in front of this guy. It's like sitting with his grandfather, if his grandfather had been a Mountie and seemed permanently stuck at "happy". Which Lez Kowalski had never, ever been by any stretch of the imagination.

And wait, the guy had avoided the question. "Where's Fraser?"

Frobisher hesitates. That can't be good. "We've offered him leave," Frobisher says, and it wasn't Ray's imagination at all; Frobisher's here, no matter how much he acts like he's on another planet half the time. "He's insisting on returning to duty and his new assignment."

Ray's stomach clenches. "So he's transferring?" He can't hide the crack in his voice and doesn't bother trying to. "No exile no more?"

"He's been offered whatever post he wishes to take." Frobisher clears his throat, like maybe he realizes he's not being weird anymore. "Of course, he's been thinking it over. Despite circumstances, there are still some--hard feelings regarding his actions in pursuit of--"

"The killers of his father, whom he brought to justice," Ray drones, hands clenching on the cup. Dief growls softly against his knee. "For which the Mounties fucked him over and left him to die in Chicago. Which is what you do when someone does their job."

Frobisher's eyes narrow. "That, Detective, you do not need to argue. Not with me."

Ray blinks. Something old and raw stares back at him for a second, and he abruptly remembers what Fraser had said about him and Robert Fraser. Partners. Friends. Something even time and distance couldn't touch. Robert Fraser's been dead for nearly five years, but for this man, it's as close as yesterday, a hurt that maybe ain't never gonna heal.

Ray licks dry, chapped lips, tasting blood. "Sorry."

He wonders if this will be him, someday, if he'll get a call, read a letter, five, ten, fifty years from now. If he'll look like that after, like something's missing that he won't ever get back.

Frobisher leans back and it's gone again: zero to crazy in four seconds. Ray wonders how the hell he's doing that. "I'm putting him on indefinite leave," Frobisher says, smiling his crazy again, but Ray knows what's beneath it now: a lifetime of duty and the weight of age and experience, like the older cops Ray's seen over the years, the ones who've done and seen it all. Fraser, sideways, escalated--Ray realizes he's looking at the man Fraser could be one day, who's stopped caring what other people think, stopped worrying what other people will say, who acted like he didn't know enough to figure out the time of day because what the hell, life's short, have fun.

I want to see this, Ray realizes, startled. When Fraser can finally let go. Maybe not like this--though Ray kind of likes the idea of Fraser honing his sense of humor into a weapon of mass confusion--but in a place where he can be this easy in his skin.

Then, "Indefinite leave?" Ray puts his cup down before he drops it. "Uh--"

"Some time to relax," Frobisher goes on blithely, like they're talking about someone normal. "Usually, Constable Fraser's leave tends to err on the side of--"

"Arresting people and chasing them across the tundra."

"Exactly!" Frobisher beams like Ray just said something insightful. "So you already understand the problem. Excellent. I'll leave it in your hands, then."

Ray opens his mouth, Leave what?, but Frobisher moves fast for an old guy, leaning over to pat him on the head. "Good boy," he says fondly, and Ray forgets what he was going to say. "You'll do."

Do what?

"You boys have fun!" Frobisher says merrily, wandering out in the direction of the open snow. Ray almost tells him he's going the wrong direction, then stops himself, because really. Really.

Ray stares at his cup, then at the empty rug; to be sure, he touches it. It's--warm? Maybe?

"That wasn't--wasn't a hallucination, right?" Ray asks Dief. He still has some weird memories of a voice muttering about partnerships, which luckily can be blamed on hypothermia, but he's fed, not dying, and as far as he knows, no one's slipped him drugs in his coffee.

Ray's still studying the carafe suspiciously when vivid red appears behind it. Ray looks up at Fraser.

"Think I'm having some kind of psychotic break here," he says, indicating the rug, and hell, the entire Mountie brigade. Rubbing a hand over his face, he pours more coffee.

Fraser sighs. "I believe I am having a similar experience." Taking the space Frobisher (maybe?) abandoned, Fraser sighs again, hands limp in his lap, glancing up long enough for Dief to lick a welcome before curling up between their knees. Fraser looks as exhausted as Ray feels, laced with something that in anyone else, Ray'd call bitterness. Then Fraser glances around with a frown. "I thought I saw Sergeant Frobisher come this direction."

Not a hallucination. Maybe. Ray points toward the wilds of the untented areas of snow. "He went thataway."

"Ah." Rubbing one eyebrow, Fraser fixes him with an apologetic look. "I understand this is tedious. I'm working to see that you're released as soon as--"

"S'okay. I needed some time off anyway." He can't remember the last time he took time off--before Fraser, now that he thinks about it. Not for more than a day or two, anyway.

"Hmm." That hmm, Ray knows. It's the thinking hmm. "I don't suppose--never mind."

Ray would kick him if he could get his legs to unbend. He settles for a glare. "Spit it out."

For once, Fraser doesn't say anything about his language, and that alone gets Ray's undivided attention. "I was thinking--it seems I've been--ordered to take leave." Fraser somehow makes it sound like a dirty word, and not one of the fun ones neither. "It's been suggested I find some way to relax that does not involve the pursuit of criminals."

Ray hides his smile behind his cup. "That's called a vacation."

"Hm." Unhappy. "However, if you are going to be--" Fraser breaks there, obviously searching for just the right word. Ray's tempted to let him flounder, but he's not stupid.

"I'm in," Ray says and is rewarded with a look of gratitude that almost makes up for the fact he's freezing his ass off. "Whatcha have in mind?"

By the startled look on his face, Fraser didn't have anything in mind; the question of Ray is as far as he got and he hadn't expected to get that at all. Ray keeps his eyes on the cup and swallows hard. If there's anything, anything Fraser should be sure of, if there's one single thing that should be absolute, it should be Ray. It shouldn't even be a question.

"Well, I have a place--" Fraser checks him, like he expects Ray to suddenly mention a burning appointment elsewhere. "We could go. It's--a bit isolated," so in the middle of nowhere, "and there's not a lot of company," really, really in the middle of nowhere, "but we could decide there. If that's acceptable."

Ray puts down his cup, fighting not to grin like an idiot. "Can we leave now?"

Fraser's tempted, he can see it. He gets the impression Fraser is balancing trying to get out of here at night and to wherever they're going against the possibility Ray will wake up suddenly wanting to take off to Mexico (not exactly unprecedented) or more Mounties asking more questions.

"We'll need to wait until morning," Fraser says, giving hope up with reluctance. Five in the morning, is what he means, so Ray'd better save the coffee. Even the Mounties here don't get up that early.

"Cool." Ray picks up his cup, glancing at the sudden activity going on across camp. Dinner, probably, and Ray realizes abruptly he's starving. Relief does that to you. "Hungry?"

From the look on Fraser's face, the answer is yes, but qualified with something else. Ray takes a second to think about it, then works it out. People. People who have been around him for days, and don't leave him alone, and he'd thought it himself; Fraser's a skyscraper, and not one universally popular, neither. Attention everywhere, all the time, and here especially, and maybe, maybe not always the good kind.

God, Canadians are stupid.

"I ain't fighting the politeness brigade," Ray says before Fraser can answer. "And you look like shit. Don't argue," he says when Fraser opens his mouth, obviously to say he's not tired, not at all, and he can face dozens of people just fine, thank you kindly. Distraction is in order. "Wait until it clears up a little. Anyway, I was wondering about that Hand of Franklin thing."

Fraser's expression lightens. Getting up, Ray backs toward the tent, noticing Dief on Fraser's heels, just in case.

Good Mountie. Nice Mountie. Come in the nice warm tent away from all the stupid people. I'm asking for a story, here. And you can't resist that.

Like a magnet drawn north, Fraser follows. "Well, Ray, it's a fascinating mystery. Often in the Depot, we'd spend the evenings discussing the events surrounding the disappearance and probable fate of Franklin's crew." Once inside, Ray finds his sleeping bag by touch, pulling it as close to Fraser's as he can get before he sits down.

Leaning on an elbow, Ray fixes his very best "I care about what you are saying" look that had Stella fooled through no less than twenty-two separate explanations of real estate law. "You don't say? Tell me more."



The thing is, the entire idea is so stupid it works; Ray'd always suspected that comic books got closer to reality than reality ever did. If there's one thing he's finally figured out, it's that everything he ever needed to know about dealing with the life and times of Benton Fraser could have come straight from Marvel.

Or DC, maybe, but only when he's able to admit that while he's never met an English class he couldn't sleep through, there's something to be said for symbolism if you take a long look at Fraser's affinity for the Arctic and the color red.

So yeah--stupid and crazy, sure, bizarre, yes, really inexplicable, Christ let him count the ways, but that's what makes it (the idea, Fraser, them, everything) work. It's why he could sit in the middle of a camp of Mounties, eating a bowl of God-is-this-polar-bear-stew and say, hey, buddy, got an idea. Let's go get that Hand of Franklin. I cannot think of anything more unlikely, so I'm pretty sure we'll find it.

Fraser had lit up like a fucking bonfire, Ray had finished his stew, and then everything went to hell.

One week and two days late, after two hours of what has to be some kind of Fraser-type revenge, Ray gets what he's always heard about how adversity makes you--what's that word?--assess your priorities. Put your life in perspective. Ray's down to exactly three things he wants out of life these days:

1.) beer
2.) more beer
3.) death

Secret option 4.) kill Fraser, currently sitting a few feet away, perfect posture and all, watching in interest while Ray--chops wood.

Chops. Wood. From trees the man actually chopped down.

Putting down the axe, Ray pushes sweat-soaked hair from his eyes and squints blearily in Fraser's general direction. "This is payback for telling Turnball you'd told me you didn't know what you were going to do without him, isn't it?"

"Not yet, though I thank you for the reminder of why I received a fascinatingly worded email expressing hopes of an expansion of our relationship in the future." Smile, all teeth. Ray winces. "We can only hope he means in a professional capacity. No. You said you wanted to make yourself--how did you put it? Ah. Useful."

Revenge, he means. "Do you do this to all your friends?"

"Actually, yes. However, that's not the point. We have several weeks before we leave. Acclimatization will make our journey a great deal easier. In any case, this is a very valuable skill." This with a glance at the axe.

"In case of a tree attacking me. Real Canadian problem, I've heard." His heart's not in it, though. He'd asked for this, after nearly a week of sleeping, eating, napping, and exploring the wilderness that was Fraser's natural habitat. Ray had woken up this morning just as Fraser was leaving to do whatever he did in the mornings and said, quote, "Hey, you need any help?"

What Fraser had heard was, "I wish to be put to hard manual labor to amuse you." It's not that Fraser's wrong exactly, at least about the acclimatization thing; city-fit, and this Ray knows from mountain-related hypothermic experience, does not equal the great outdoors fit. City-fit means Ray knows where to find a pizza or dim sum within a three mile radius of anywhere he happens to be and can get a cab in under a minute. Frozen tundra will not have either takeout or cab service, unless trappers count as cabs and caribou as take-out, and he really, really hopes they don't.

The week off has done Fraser good, though; the sharp tension that had followed them from the Mountie camp has eased away, and while his back still looks like someone shoved a broomstick up his ass and left it there, he's stopped carrying himself like he's bracing for a blow. The evening Inuit stories are starting to be less about miserable, revenge-fueled lives ending in some kind of ice-related death and more about heroic, lonely lives ending in ice-related deaths that save villages from certain destruction. Ray counts it as progress.

He's only thinking of Stella twice a day and only dreamed of Vecchio's miserable ice-related death once. Okay, maybe a few more than that, but it doesn't count if he's awake.

Like he said. Progress.

With a sigh, Ray picks up his axe with arms that are starting to feel like Frannie's pasta, staring at the wood that will eventually be turned into something that goes into a fireplace and is burned for heat. Central heating, Territories-style. "Do you have to watch? I know you can do this faster. Don't need to rub it in."

When he glances at back, Fraser's mouth is curving into a faint, pleased smile, reminding Ray of every time Ray had ever made fun of lumberjacks. "The view is fascinating from here, Ray," and Ray really, really hates him.


Back in the good old days before the 2-7, when undercover work was prostitutes (arresting, not fucking, though he won't lie and say it never happened), drug busts, adrenaline rushes, and the proving he was the best shot in the department, Ray had a certain--reputation. Sure, people wincing when they saw him could be irritating, but also deeply and profoundly motivating, in that way that getting a rep for being a crazy asshole equaled bad ass. Then he discovered the 2-7 and Fraser and it all went downhill like a flash flood.

Those were the Pre-Fraser days, and it says something how he thinks that. There was Pre-Stella, Stella, then Post-Stella that suddenly became Pre-Fraser, because while being married might be called a life changing experience, Fraser was a force of nature, like an earthquake or a meteor hit. Something huge. On a day like any other, Ray got up, got dressed, went to work, walked into the station, turned around, and boom, done, finished, this is how the first movie ends, this is how the sequel starts, with red serge, startled blue eyes, and a burning car crashing into Lake Michigan.

Fraser's his sequel, his do-over in a new movie that involves hypnotism, voodoo, deaf half-wolves, leaping roofs, submarines, and singing Mounties. Surprise box-office hit: Ray doesn't regret a thing.

Fraser and Ray, Post-Chicago (working title) is still up in the air. Critical reviews are mixed. Ray's body, at least, is seeing some flaws in the plot.

Ray doesn't even pretend beer is on the list anymore as he collapses on the couch; he really just wants to die. Dief noses his head curiously, and Ray almost thinks he might care, but turns out, he really doesn't. Lick away. He ain't moving.

Abruptly, there's a frown hovering fiveish feet above his head. Ray closes his eyes; maybe Fraser will go away if he pretends like he's not there. "Ray, you need to get up."

Ray's arms throb in memory of the wood still left to chop. There's a forest out there. The wood never ends. Ray opens his eyes, narrowing them on Fraser's not-even-sweaty face. "Is slavery even legal in Canada?"

Fraser takes a moment to think about it before he shakes his head regretfully. "Not as such. However, what I meant is, if you continue to lie there, you will stiffen up and it will be much worse this afternoon."

"Can't. Move. Don't know single syllable words, Fraser? Try the thesaurus." Ray demonstrates by staring at his arm, limp at his side. There's a burning stitch in his side, red heat washing over his back in slow, even throbs. He's an urban detective born and bred who just chopped what had felt like a small forest and turns out will heat the cabin all of two days. In summer.

"I'm sure I can motivate you. Diefenbaker, if you would be so kind as to assist Ray to his feet, I'd be grateful."

Ray turns his head enough to see Dief looking at him speculatively. "Donuts. You know I'm good for 'em."

Dief whines, glancing up at Fraser. A short battle of wills goes on that ends with Dief abruptly stalking off and Ray knows he's lost, because who knew that the red uniform had actually been some kind of weird kryptonite that made Fraser a nicer person? Here, in flannel and jeans, surrounded by trees and animals and fresh air, new world fucking order.

"You could at least pretend I got a choice here."

Fraser doesn't laugh, but Ray holds the smile against him anyway. "You know I don't lie. Diefenbaker, if you would--"

"Up. I'm up. Up." God knows what Dief will do; keeping them both in his line of sight, Ray forces himself to his feet, ignoring Fraser hovering inches away, and limps toward the bathroom. At least there's hot water.

"It is for your own good," Fraser says sincerely, pacing him, like he expects Ray to make a break for it or fall down and never get up again. Probably the latter. "You'll feel much better, I promise."

Ray glares, pointedly straightening just long enough to open the bathroom door, go inside, turn around, and slam it shut in Fraser's so-concerned face. "I'm going back to Chicago!" he yells through the door. "I'll walk if I have to!"

There's a second where he almost thinks he won and lasts all of five blissful seconds.

Then. "Of course, Ray. When I'm done with you, you'll be able to run."

Oh Jesus Christ. Just what he needs to hear.


(Fraser's weird about the shower; apparently, a real cabin is nothing but wood and snow, or wood and wood; Ray's not clear on that. He'd bought this for reasons that didn't need to be explored at this juncture that Ray suspects is actually Fraser's form of impulse buying. There's a generator, which Fraser had only looked at with a sense of betrayal. It's weird. He stopped asking when Fraser started talking about ancient tests of manhood, because they always end in something being frozen off and that's not something he's up to hearing.

Ray's just saying, an outhouse is not a test of manhood. Fraser's still pissy about that.)


Redressed in clean sweats, Ray comes back in to see Fraser, looking as fresh and rested as someone who hasn't done anything but relax all day, reading something to Dief. Squinting, Ray can just make out the title. "Call of the Wild?" He glances at Dief, who suddenly is fascinated with his toes before getting up with a kind of hurt dignity and hiding behind the couch.

Fraser sighs as he sets it aside. "He's always had questionable taste. The inaccuracies alone…." Fraser shakes his head, then looks at Ray, head tilting slightly in that quick evaluation Ray remembers from the day they met. "Better?"

"Smug ain't buddies." He does feel better, but it'll be a cold day in hell before he'll admit it.

"My apologies. There are sandwiches in the kitchen."

Picking up another book, Fraser is off in his own reading world. Ray noticed when they arrived that the majority of Fraser's square footage is books, books, and more books. He hadn't had this many at the consulate, which makes Ray wonder if they've been up here all along and when he got them.

Feeling ignored and not liking it, Ray gets the entire plate and comes back, deliberately sitting on the other side of the couch and trying to decide if it's worth it to irritate Fraser with bad table manners or just eat. He's still deciding during the second sandwich, and by the third, he figures he'll go with just eating while eyeing the fourth.

Fraser was right about this part; he can't remember ever being this hungry before, not even when he was a kid and would eat pretty much twenty-four/seven.

"Ray."

Ray drags his attention from the sandwich. It's not easy. "Yeah?"

"Did you change your mind?"

Ray slow blinks his irritation with being interrupted. "Course not. Where'd you get that idea?"

Fraser studies him like a crime scene, but an interesting one with a lot of weird clues that require a full-senses approach. In another world, there's a Ray Kowalski who would have no idea what that meant, and Ray personally feels that's a pretty sad world. Benton Fraser isn't something you want to miss.

Rewind. He said-- "Wait. What are you making me do now?"

Fraser grins, ducking his head. "A hike, if you feel up to it."

Since it doesn't use his arms, hell yeah. "Cool." He'll need that fourth sandwich, then. Picking it up, Ray shifts over the couch a little, willing to let the entire threaten-him-with-Dief thing go and resume normal relations. "Whatcha reading?"

"My father's journal. He patrolled the north for thirty years. I wanted to see if he had any notes that might be useful."

"You patrolled it, too. Probably know it as well as he ever did." Fraser had Chicago mapped in his head almost as good as Ray did. Not a surprise, exactly, not if you knew the guy, but this is Canada. Probably's known it since he was born.

Fraser shakes his head. "No one knows them perfectly; the man that believes that will soon discover how much he doesn't know. Overconfidence is not a virtue, not here."

Ray takes a bite and considers it, then nods at the journal. "So what does he say?"

"Quite a bit. He worked with a partner--several, actually, but only one with any regularity."

"Frobisher." Ray shakes his head.

"Don't let him fool you," Fraser says seriously. "My father never had another partner, not like they were."

"Huh." Finishing the last sandwich, Ray feels a general sense of sleepy well-being. Maybe there's something to be said for the great outdoors. "So, you gonna read it or not? Like to know what I'll be seeing up there."

"Quite a bit of snow, from what I understand," Fraser says, sounding amused.

The sleepiness increases. Ray can't remember the last time he took a nap during the day that wasn't related to a hangover. Maybe just lying down for a few minutes will clear it up. "Read it. I wanna hear what he said," Ray says, fighting a yawn before giving up the battle to not sink down. Resting his head on the armrest, Ray gets his legs up and scrunched enough so he doesn't knock into Fraser.

Fraser pauses, watching his struggle against the couch with a frown. "That can't be comfortable. Stretch out." Ray doesn't need to be told twice. Fraser apparently picked this couch for length, because his feet don't even touch the other armrest, socked feet resting on warm denim. If Fraser don't mind being a foot rest, well, Ray's not going to argue the point.

"Read," Ray says, eyes falling closed.

Ray hears the sound of paper, and then Fraser's voice. "'There are some things you don't forget'," he reads. "'When we finally found them, one of them had frozen to death. The other had moved far beyond sanity by any man's definition. When it was over, we buried them where they died. Frobisher took it hard. I don't know how much longer he'll stay. You can't survive the Territories if you don't love them, and I don't think he does, not after this.'"

Ray feels the denim clad thighs beneath his feet tense. "Last partner, huh?" Ray asks finally, when the silence goes on for too long.

"Yes. He was--associated with others, but none were partners."

Ray thinks of what he knows of Robert Fraser: not much, or at least, not much from Fraser. Legendary name up here, like Fraser himself; Ray remembers the younger Mounties, fresh faced kids who watched Fraser with wide, awed eyes, whispered like they thought he couldn't hear while Fraser got more formal and farther away by the second. Can't be easy being the son of a legend; can't be any easier to be one yourself.

Ray kicks (gently) until he can feel Fraser looking at him. "Keep going," he says. "I wanna know everything."


"I lied. Take me home. You said hike."

Fraser rolls his eyes--when the hell did he start doing that?--and pushes Ray farther out of sight of their only source of shelter which had been plenty out of sight already. Ray had this crazy idea that a hike was just that, a hike. Take in some nature, breathe some air, look at the plants. Not--not a death march that will end with them dead and one of them moving far beyond sanity (like you can't see the word cannibalism in that one, thanks, Fraser Senior) or something worse. Like having to walk back.

"This is a hike, Ray."

Ray resists, digging his heels into the ground. Won't do much good, but he's got to try.

"I don't even know where we are!" All the trees suddenly look eerily similar, like maybe they've been circling the same one for hours, and the sun's getting mighty low on the horizon. Eyeing it warily through the trees, Ray eyes Fraser. "Don't say sextant. Don't you even say--"

"I know this area like the back of my hand," Fraser answers dryly, giving him another push. "It would be as likely for me to get lost here as it would be for you to get lost in Chicago."

"Chicago," Ray says slowly, because Fraser's uniform also apparently mitigated his crazy, and that's saying something, "has these things called streets. With names. Buildings. Landmarks. Which you don't notice, being you, but how normal people keep from getting lost."

"And there are landmarks here, too. They're just more subtle." Fraser hesitates, head tilting as he eyes the sun. "You're correct, though. Dief will be hungry."

"Glad to know we won't die because Dief might starve," Ray answers without heat. Looking around, Ray tries to remember what direction they came from. There's a faint edge of worry as he looks at the trees, green and lush, the ground, the sameness every direction he looks.

Fraser, though, isn't moving. Like--like maybe he's lost too. "Fraser?" Ray says, fighting down panic. "We aren't moving."

"Tell me what direction we came from," Fraser says suddenly, leaning casually against a tree.

Ray takes a deep breath, fighting down panic. "We're lost."

"No, we're not. I want to see if you are, though. Look around. Tell me what you see."

"Trees." Fraser's fucking with him. Has to be. Has to be. "Lots of 'em."

"Look again, Detective."

Ray shoots a glance at Fraser, who looks back blandly and flicks a piece of bark off his sleeve. "You gotta be kidding."

"Just try."

Try, right. In trees. Identical fucking trees. Ray takes a deep breath, looking around the small circle of open ground and fighting the urge to strangle Fraser for pulling this. "You want me to figure out how to get back when I can't even walk in it without falling over? Tripped ten times--"

"Yes, you did. And you counted. When was the last time?"

"When I got here--" Oh. Ray takes his gaze to ground level and finds the root, scraped with the track of his boot. "Huh."

Fraser doesn't smirk, but Ray's pretty sure he wants to.

"That way," Ray says, pointing confidently into more trees and trying to look sure. "Ten times in three hours," he tells Fraser pointedly. "Not going to get us home."

Fraser pushes off the tree and studies the direction Ray pointed. "I think," he answers, "that you'll find you remember more than you think. After you, if you please."


It takes them five hours to get back--five wrong turns where Fraser didn't bother stopping until Ray realized that something felt off. Then he'd turn, stare bitterly at Fraser until he nodded, and they'd go back. Fraser, not a huge amount of help there.

It was weird though; it didn't get easier, but it did get predictable. Look at the roots, remember a fall. Remember scraping his hand on that tree and pulled off a handful of bark. That one with the low limbs that blocked them and they had to go around. The places with sudden bursts of vivid greenery; ferns and flowers, strangely shaped shrubs. Not something he'd thought he'd noticed noticed, except he had. Trees might all be alike, but they had different shapes that he'd filed away in the part of his mind that worked crime scenes and studied reports, the slot-slot-slot of a and b and e and j to get l without bothering between.

When the cabin comes into view, Ray's torn between utter relief and wanting to kick Fraser's ass. Sitting down on the stump Fraser had been sitting on earlier, Ray glares up at Fraser. "Not cool."

"You did an excellent job," Fraser answers with sincere admiration. "I'm impressed."

Ray fights down the glow of accomplishment for as long as he can, then gives up. This is Fraser, who navigates by scent and air flow or something. Even if he's being humored, he's being humored in style. "Well," he says, staring at the cabin so Fraser won't see him smile, "it was okay."

"It was excellent. With practice, and with a better conscious awareness of your surroundings, you should become extremely proficient."

Crap, there goes the anger. "You couldn't be sure I could do that."

"I worked with you for two years," Fraser answers, doing that leaning thing again. Ray isn't distracted. Much. "I know perfectly well what you're capable of. Applying the same method you employed as a detective to your surroundings lead to success here as much as they did when investigating criminals." There's a pause. "Besides, you would hardly be sufficient to sustain me should we have been truly lost."

Ray jerks his head around, trying to glare even when his mouth is fighting a smile. "We already at cannibalism?"

Fraser flicks out his knife, flipping it casually; Ray never stops getting a kick out of that. "It never hurts to be prepared. Hungry?"

Ray stands up, blinking a little in surprise at the soreness in his legs. He hadn't noticed. "Fatten me up for emergencies?"

"Of course not." The knife goes back in the belt, the faintest smile curving up one corner of Fraser's mouth. "Do you want to cook or should I?"

Ray can't help it; he grins back.


Two ibuprofen, another shower, dinner, and a collapse on the couch after dinner define Ray's perfect evening. Fraser doesn't move, so Ray feels entitled to borrow his lap again, socked feet pushing until Fraser lifts his arm out of the way. "Anything interesting?" Ray finally asks when Fraser doesn't look up from his book.

"Some fascinating ice formations on our projected path," Fraser answers absently. Besides the journal, there are more maps than Ray's gotten around to counting on the floor, neatly folded, and several books that look very, very boring, which probably means they're educational, which means he'll have to read them. "Some interesting surveys of the mating habits of--"

"Don't finish that sentence," Ray warns without opening his eyes. "No mating habits, no cannibalism, no Inuit legends of people going out on adventures and vanishing, neither."

"That significantly reduces the number of conversational topics," Fraser says, a smile in his voice.

"Then you need to learn better conversation topics."

Ray shifts uncomfortably, sore muscles reminding him that he's done more today than he usually does in a week. It's going to be hell tomorrow morning when he gets up, but that's tomorrow, not now. Twisting, he finally rolls onto his side and almost hisses in relief when pressure shifts from his back. Shoulders hurt, but not as much.

"Wonder how Stella's doing." He hasn't thought of her since they left the Mounties with Muldoon; surprisingly, it doesn't bother him all that much.

Fraser's stomach tenses against the side of his foot. Ray wonders if a lot of his communication problems with Fraser could have been solved early on by making him hold his feet. Better than couple's counseling, anyway. "I received a letter from Ray," he says, sounding cautious.

Huh. "He going back or retiring?"

"He's currently undecided. It seems," and Ray can actually feel Fraser tense up more, "that he has become involved with someone."

Figures. Ray Kowalski as Vecchio couldn't get the time of day; Vecchio waltzes back in, takes his name back, and gets laid. Karma, or something.

"You know her?"

Wow. Ray hadn't realized you could feel worry like that, just floating in the air. Opening his eyes, he sees Fraser is staring at his book like it might blow up unexpectedly if he looks away. "Frase?"

"He has become infatuated with your ex-wife."

It takes a second to penetrate: Vecchio, involved, infatuated, ex-wife. Then, "He's dating Stella?"

Fraser looks at him for a long second, then nods, mouth tight. "Yes. I'm sorry, Ray."

Sorry for something Vecchio did, that's Fraser. Ray takes a breath, nodding like he's perfectly cool with Vecchio banging the ex when he's not. Vecchio, who came back, took his name back, his job, and now's got Ray's ex-wife; all that's missing is Fraser. It's like being erased, like maybe he was never there at all, like none of it even happened.

"Ray?"

"Yeah." His voice sounds like shit. Clearing his throat, he licks his lips. Okay. Okay. "I'm good. Just a surprise."

He thinks for a second that Fraser's going to push it, but then Fraser just pats his leg, looking unhappy. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way," Fraser is saying, an edge creeping into his voice. "I'm afraid Ray Vecchio can be--impulsive."

Huh. That almost sounds like Fraser criticizing Vecchio. "Not my business," he hazards, curious. "Been years. If it makes her happy…."

Fraser nods in general agreement, but the tightness is still there, and Ray wonders idly what exactly Fraser wrote back to Vecchio about that little piece of news. Letting himself relax, he concentrates on sore muscles and his own exhaustion. Anything's better than thinking of Vecchio and Stella.

It's new, this kind of tired: bone deep exhaustion, but without the jittering edges of worry or tension, cases following him into his dreams. Beth's not the only one by a long shot; there are crime scenes that still make regular appearances, every case he's ever filed unsolved. Even an arrest is a failure when all's said and done; it can't ease the grief of the family, bring the victim back, can't change a goddamn thing.

They still show up here, taking their turn in his head, but not as often. Or maybe he just doesn't remember them. That works, too.

He's not sure how long he drifts, but he's awakened suddenly by Fraser standing up. Opening his eyes, Ray winces as his body checks back in. "Crap," he mutters, struggling to sit up.

"There's no way you will be able to sleep here comfortably," Fraser says, studying him with a critical eye. "Or at all, I imagine."

Ray can't exactly argue that at the angle he's sitting right now. "I'll be fine. Ain't arguing this again; I'm not throwing you out of your own bed. My mother raised me better than that; you should know. You met her. Don't wanna get on her bad side."

Fraser sighs his sigh of the put-upon and abused. Ray ignores it; when Fraser does that, he sounds a lot like Dief. "Ray--"

Ray tilts his head up and feels his neck crack ominously. "Share it," he bargains before Fraser can really get started; otherwise, they'll be here all night. "It's a big bed. Far's I remember, you don't snore."

"You do kick, however."

Ray narrows his eyes, but not because it's not true. It's just Ray did it when he was awake. "Don't think I can kick right now."

A hand comes into his line of sight; Ray grabs it and lets Fraser do all the work of pulling him up. "Promise not to assault your virtue."

Fraser snorts, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like, "I'd be surprised if you could assault your own." Ray stares at him, wondering if there was something more in that ibuprofen than ibuprofen. Fraser smoothly slides an arm under his shoulders, saying in a more normal voice, "Tomorrow we'll find something less--intensive do."

Ray turns his head, squinting in the dim light. "Only have a few weeks," he answers, letting Fraser take his weight. "I can do it."

Fraser considers him thoughtfully, then nods. "Very well."


It's a week of unmitigated hell, and then abruptly, it's uncomfortable but not that bad. Ray's reminded of high school gym and the first few weeks of misery before his body gave up and went with it. There's a point where you just can't feel worse, so might as well feel better.

He's got first aid down; his department certification covered the basics, and Fraser whips him through the stuff that's specific to trying to survive an icy death march. Not too bad; they get that done in an afternoon. Some reading on the climate in the evenings. Lists of gear they gotta get, and how to use it, and why.

Tracking isn't easy, exactly, but it's a hell of a lot more interesting than reading about the mean temperature in October through January in the Arctic Circle. Dief follows them a few times, but he's from the Fraser School of Education--watching expectantly while Ray stumbles around until he gets it right, except Dief don't pretend he doesn't find it really, really funny. Truth is, Ray's getting it right a lot more than he ever thought he would, but that, Ray thinks, is thanks to his instructor, whose probably forgot more about wilderness survival than any other three people ever knew, Fraser Senior included.

The most interesting thing is Fraser himself, though. He's a good teacher, as good as the best Ray's had, unsurprisingly patient and surprisingly able to translate his own knowledge into terms Ray can understand. It occurs to Ray to wonder if Fraser's ever had the opportunity to teach someone else what he'd learned.

If he'd had kids, he'd be doing this with them, but without the translation from Canadian to Chicagoian--they'd have been born here, this place as much a part of their blood as it is Fraser's. Ray imagines small dark-haired girl and boy Frasers following their dad through the woods, knowing by instinct what Ray's learning the hard way. Dief following them, because he'd be just as protective of Fraser's kids as he is of Fraser. Some wife waiting at home--oh hell, what is he saying? She'd be out here with them, a woman born and bred in the Territories, someone smart and sharp, someone who could be his partner out here in the middle of nowhere, who'd love it like he did, love him like he'd love her. And this is Fraser--he'd love her with everything in him.

Instead, Fraser's got a thirty-something burned out cop from Chicago stumbling around after him. There's something wrong with that, but Ray can't make himself regret the lack of perfect Mountie wife and Mountie kids either, not like he should. If they were here, Ray wouldn't be, and he's selfish enough to be glad, fiercely glad he's the one Fraser's got, even if it's only by default.

By the end of the second week, Ray thinks that he'll probably live through this after all.

Coffee cup in hand, Ray watches the threads of pale purple and pink streak slowly through the sky as dawn broke, wondering when it became so easy to get up with the sun. It's beautiful out here, shadowed trees slowly lightening to more shades of green than he'd ever known existed, the sun stretching between the branches to the forest floor in pale green and gold. Yesterday, he'd been startled by how dusk painted everything in deep orange, stopping just to take it in and nearly losing Fraser.

Chicago's great, but it never looked or felt anything like this.

"You're up early."

Ray twists around, barely aware of the twinge in his back. "Wonder why," he says, taking a drink of coffee. "Couldn't be your wolf ambushing me every morning. Self-defense from wolf spit."

Fraser's mouth twitches before he sits down on the step beside Ray, cradling a cup of tea, steaming in the cool morning air. "I'm sure it's meant affectionately."

Ray looks his opinion on that, trying to identify the smell of the tea. It's nice, heavier than the stuff Fraser drank at the consulate. Berry? He sniffs again, frowning.

"Oolong," Fraser says dryly, and Ray realizes he's actually leaning over the cup. "Would you like to taste?"

Since Fraser's asking--Ray reaches for the offered cup, taking a sip. Not coffee, but stronger than what he's had before. "Huh." Giving back the cup, Ray returns to his coffee. Next time Fraser makes tea, though, maybe he'll try a cup.

"How is your ankle?"

Ray reaches down, touching the wrapping; he'd tripped himself over some kind of shrub going after Dief. A dull, insistent throb greets the touch; good enough to get around. He'd forgotten until Fraser mentions it. "It's fine," he says. Fraser frowns, unconvinced. "Really. Barely feel it."

They sit in comfortable silence for a while. Not that it's quiet here, exactly. Just smaller scale. You have to listen for what you wanted to hear. Fraser's slow, even breathing beside him; Dief playing tag-and-kill on some unsuspecting forest animal; the wind whispering beneath the trees. Leaning against the post, he closes his eyes; he can hear his own heartbeat out here if he listens hard enough.

"Ray?"

"Just thinking." Opening his eyes, Ray finishes the cup. "So, what's the plan?"

Yesterday had been botany--of course he needs to know the name of every tree he might ever see, sure, Ray's not even trying to argue anymore. He's always had a good visual memory. Though how that relates to crossing the Arctic, Ray has no idea; far as he remembers reading over Fraser's shoulder, there ain't a lot of greenery that far north.

"Hmm." Fraser eyes are on the trees, but his mind's a million miles away. "What would you like to do?"

Ray blinks, considering it. He'd wanted an adventure when he didn't know what it would mean, what he'd have to learn to have it. Then again, the same could be said of having Fraser himself; he remembers the day they met, the fragile beginning of something he never could have expected, much less known he could ask for. Didn't even know it was a beginning, his sequel, his do-over, and it could have never happened at all.

"You never checked my shoe size," Ray says, slanting a look at Fraser as he sets his cup down. "Been easier than putty."

"You and Ray Vecchio wear the same size," Fraser answers absently, then flushes. "However, there was a considerable difference in height, though considering how much you slouch, at the time I couldn't be exact."

"Also not Italian, in case you missed that."

Fraser's mouth twitches, hiding it behind his cup. "You're never going to stop reminding me, are you?"

"Not as long as we live." Standing up, Ray stretches, reluctant to leave the view, even more reluctant to lose the company. "Make you a deal. I'll make breakfast if you show me your service record."

Fraser freezes, which confirms what Ray had suspected all along. "You've seen my service record," he answers slowly, which isn't a lie at all. Nice.

"I don't mean the nice clean one we got," Ray says maliciously, adding, "You know, Maggie had some interesting stories about your early career. Could mail her, I guess. Get the stories from her."

Fraser finishes his tea too quickly, standing up. "It's not all that interesting," he says, and that's--that's a lie. Ray grins at the way Fraser flushes, then sighs. "I'm not sure I even have a copy here--"

This is Fraser. Of course he has a copy. To review, find his mistakes, obsess over them for a while. Anal-retentive, dictionary, picture right over the definition.

"In the bottom left drawer that you keep locked." Fraser blinks at him, mouth falling open in undisguised surprise. "Like you said. Detective. I'll start the eggs while you get that." Turning lazily, Ray goes back inside with a spring in his step.


They end up not doing much at all. In an unprecedented display of Ray-level slackerdom, when they finish up the morning's required chores, Fraser suddenly decides they're taking a day off. Ray almost protests, knowing it's about Fraser feeling guilty about his ankle, but Fraser gets him coffee, a book, and settles him on the couch with a pillow to elevate his foot, and he's not stupid enough to fight inevitability when it's comfortable and gets him both mid-morning coffee and Fraser's undivided attention. It's been awhile. He admits, though hell if he'll tell Fraser, it's nice.

From the couch, Ray keeps surreptitious observation on Fraser, who is stretched out on the rug in something that almost looks like a sprawl, pillow tucked beneath chest and chin and reading something in French that, by the pictures, seems to be about the original expedition. Rumpled, in that way that Fraser, as a rule, seems impervious to when in uniform. Even his hair looks more relaxed, like it's okay to kinda lie around and do its own thing. Weirdly mesmerizing.

Compared to the portrait of a Mountie on vacation on the rug, Ray's book is pretty damn boring. Rubbing his forehead, he wills chapter three to become more interesting. Nothing.

"Your glasses are on the desk," Fraser says without looking up, turning a page.

Ray rolls onto his side and squints at Fraser suspiciously. "You got 'em outta that crevasse?"

"No. The new ones came in the mail." Fraser frowns at something on the page, like it just said that maybe Canada wasn't as snowy as Fraser had thought, then shakes his head with sympathy for the unenlightened.

"Huh? When did I get new glasses?"

Now Fraser looks at him. "When we were in Chicago," he says slowly, like Ray's being difficult. "You ordered a new pair before we left to capture Muldoon, so I called to see if they could be sent here. They were willing to do so."

That would be right before Vecchio got back; no wonder he forgot. Ray vaguely remembers pointing at frames and one of the salesgirls cornering Fraser and asking about his perfect vision. "Oh. Huh. Thanks." Ray pushes himself off the couch and sees the box immediately. Picking it up, he goes back, ignoring the couch to sit on the floor in easy range of Fraser-taunting. Just in case he gets inspired.

Trying on the glasses, Ray winces at the sudden clarity and vertigo combined. Stronger than his old one; adjustment is gonna be a bitch. Pulling them off, he puts them back in the box and shoves it beside the couch and out of the way.

"Bored?"

Ray thinks about, surprised to realize he's not. Not even a little. He's aware Fraser's watching him with a slight frown and shrugs. "Not really."

"Hmm." Closing the book, Fraser sits up fluidly; Ray can't get over how much more comfortable Fraser is in his skin compared to Chicago. Not just the uniform being packed up: it's something else. "Neither am I, actually."

Ray narrows his eyes. "Thanks."

Fraser twitches, then smile ruefully. "My apologies. What I meant to say is, I'm used to being--busier. Even during my infrequent leave--" Fraser trails off, faintly bewildered. "It's been a long time."

"That, Fraser my friend, is called relaxation." Holding Fraser's eyes, Ray grins. "Downtime. Lazy."

"Lazy," Fraser echoes, as if he's never heard the word before, then glances at his book unenthusiastically.

Ray gets up on all fours, ignoring the throb of his ankle in the name of further laziness, and snatches it up before Fraser's normal sense of duty returns. Pushing it under the couch, Ray raises an eyebrow at Fraser's frown.

"Vacation. That means, in some countries that ain't Canada, doing something for no reason at all. For fun."

"Fun," Fraser says in mock wonder. Ray snorts. "Hmm."

Interesting look on his face, though why he's looking at the box with Ray's glasses and then at Ray's ankle is anyone's guess. "Were they correct?" Fraser asks, which only sounds like he's changing the subject, except Ray knows he's not.

"Yeah." If he needs to chase down any crazy Canadian murders--which considering this is Fraser, probably more likely than the non-Fraser exposed would think--his aim's gonna be off. "Need some adjustment time."

Fraser nods seriously. "Can you use a shotgun?"

"Chicago, Fraser. Stupid question. Why?"

"Would you like to work on that--adjustment?"

Ray rolls to his feet with a tiny burst of adrenaline--the good kind, the kind that comes from anticipation--and tests his ankle. As long as they're not running anywhere, he's good. "Can't carry up here," he says, watching Fraser's face. "Gonna arrest me after?"

"I think hunting could be considered an extenuating circumstance," Fraser answers deadpan. He looks--if Ray was betting, he'd say happy. Blue eyes focus on his ankle, biting his lip before coming to a decision. "We'll take it slow."

Well, Fraser would know the law, wouldn't he? "I'll get my boots."


Fraser might lack central heating and a telephone, but he has much cooler modern conveniences; a makeshift shooting range, the kind that Ray remembers from the more rural parts of southern Illinois where he'd visited his grandparents and his grandfather took him out to make a man out of him. Good summers, learning Warsaw Polish and how to shoot rabbits a month every year. The Polish didn't stick too good, though he can still ask for a beer, a fuck, and the bathroom; the hunting did, and Ray never lost either his instinct or his eye.

It's been years since he handled a shotgun regularly; muscle-memory's rusty, but Fraser doesn't bother correcting him, letting him remember with his body the heft and weight, the pull on his shoulder and the stretch of his hands. The first few shots are a little loose, but Ray doesn't fight it, adjusting until he feels the click that means he's found it, everything falling into place. The next five are dead center.

"How old were you?" Fraser asks, taking his turn. Ray studies him critically and can't find any flaw. That kind of ease comes from a lifetime knowing how to use a gun, and for more than a month a year.

"Eight, when Gramps thought I was old enough," Ray says absently, watching Fraser line up his shots, quick and easy. Ray figures he has a better eye--you're born with it or you ain't--but Fraser's got the experience and better natural eyesight. As his grandfather would say, there's nothing like knowing your meal comes from what you shoot to teach you accuracy.

"Rabbit?"

Ray smirks. "Not a lot of caribou in Illinois," he says, drawing out the words. The corner of Fraser's mouth quirks, but he finishes the round before he nods. "How'd you keep in practice in Chicago?" he asks curiously.

Fraser hesitates. "There are other--ways," he says carefully.

"In other words, you ain't telling and I'll have to figure it out for myself." Fair enough: Fraser's a living, breathing mystery. Hunting up the pieces himself is half the fun. "Okay, we gonna do this?" Ray asks, shouldering the gun and fighting the urge to bounce on his toes and setting his ankle off again. There's a whole afternoon and evening stretching out in front of them and he's ready to use it.

Fraser regards him with barely leashed amusement. "Whenever you are, Ray."


"See, you're like a legal contract."

Wiping his mouth, Ray pretends the bushes he just threw up on no longer exist.

"A contract."

"Fine print." Ray spits, then turns back around, only to see two more neatly shot rabbits waiting for him. Christ. "With you, there's always fine print. Come to Canada, you said--"

"I don't think that is quite how--"

"And adventure! And hey, Ray, buddy, how about some hunting?" Ray gropes for his water bottle and takes a long drink. It doesn't help. "But fine print? Missed that part."

"Well," Fraser says reasonably, "how did you think we were going to eat them?"

Logic. Ray hates logic. Taking a deep breath, he looks at the knife waiting for him, then at Fraser, helpfully sitting close enough for Ray to glare at.

Ray stares at the rabbits, then Fraser. He's pretty sure Fraser will take over if he insists, but--but. He doesn't want to. Not because of any bullshit about losing Fraser's respect; Fraser's not that type of guy.

"Do you want me to show you again?" Fraser says finally, giving him an easy out. Ray considers it, like there's any way that he's ever going to forget any of the last five minutes of his life short of his deathbed. Hell, he'll probably be thinking about it then, too.

"No," he says, going back and taking the knife. Dinner, he tells himself, swallowing hard. "You're cooking."

Fraser nods soberly, no smile now. "Understood."


"Eight," Fraser says suddenly from the kitchen.

Ray, currently pretending he'll be able to eat anything tonight, looks up from the book that he isn't pretending is anything but distraction. "Huh?"

"I was eight. I'd--assisted in the preparation with my grandmother, but not the actual skinning and dressing," he said. "It was a rather interesting event in my life. My grandparents were forced by circumstance to stay away longer than expected due to a storm. There was little choice."

Ray wraps his mind around that one. Eight. Meals might have been skimpy sometimes when he was a kid, but not like that. What kind of people left a kid alone to hunt or starve? "That sucks."

Fraser raises both eyebrows. "This isn't Chicago, Ray," he says, slowly stirring. Getting up off the couch, Ray thinks he can deal with checking the pot and not embarrassing himself again. "Most of the children I grew up with were far more proficient. I was more--sheltered."

Ray doesn't bother hiding his disbelief, leaning against the counter close enough to see both pot and Fraser's face. Librarians, he remembers abruptly, something in the back of his mind clicking, a-b-c-d-j-k-z--oh. "Your grandparents. They ain't the ones that taught, are they?"

"No. That was--an old friend."

Ray takes a breath, the detective fighting the friend, but both of them are interested and there's no backing out now. Click, click, l, m, n…oh. Oh. "They didn't want you to be a Mountie, did they?"

Fraser's hand pauses, just for a second, then calmly continues stirring, slow and easy, before he reduces the heat and places a lid over the top. "It will be ready in an hour," Fraser says, making a wide circle around Ray to reach the sink. He washes his hands with deliberate care before finally looking at Ray in silent question.

"My dad," Ray offers weakly, because Jesus. He should have known this. Two years and it never occurred to him to even wonder how a guy like Fraser ended up a Canadian cop. It only fits if you look at it sideways and squint hard. "Look, I'm sorry. Shouldn't have--"

"Don't trouble yourself."

"--presumed, smarty-pants, Jesus, can't you take an apology? I shouldn't've jumped to conclusions."

Fraser's expression relaxes, just a little. "You surprised me," he admits, sounding uncomfortable. "You're correct. They never reconciled themselves to my decision."

Ray sucks in a breath, thinking of his father. "Yeah," he says. His parents may not say it anymore, but they look it, and he can lie to himself and lie to them, but he can't lie to Fraser, not now. "I know the feeling."

On TV, this would call for a hug or beer, but Fraser isn't exactly Mr. Express Feelings Through Full Body Contact and the man runs a dry operation. "Cards?" he says hopefully and is rewarded by Fraser's smile.


"You're cheating," Fraser says in shock when they finish the hand. Ray figures that Fraser's reaction has nothing to do with Ray cheating, but that he didn't catch him. The man had played against professionals, after all.

Shuffling the cards expertly, Ray watches Fraser's eyes narrow in thought, rewinding through ten games and looking for the tells. There aren't any; Ray's been playing since he hit puberty. Can't get it passed a pro, maybe, not without a lot of practice and maybe a death wish, but it got passed his Mountie. There's no way not to love that. "So?"

Fraser's eyes flicker from the cards to Ray's face to the cards again before he licks his lower lip. "Show me."

Huh. Ray sits back, surprised. "One condition."

"Such as?"

"Next time you play Vecchio, use it."

Fraser frowns slightly, then smiles. "He would never believe I would cheat, which I assume--"

"Is the point, yeah. You'll clean 'em out." Ray lets Fraser cut the cards, then deals. "You do it?"

Fraser studies him briefly, and Ray has an uncomfortable moment wondering what Fraser can see on his face, then nods. "Done. I won't keep the money and I will tell him after."

"Wouldn't expect anything less." Ray glances at his cards, giving himself a warm moment of imagining Vecchio's face after losing game after game with no end in sight. Then Fraser telling him what Kowalski's been teaching his ex-partner. A reminder, maybe, a place Vecchio will feel Ray's fingerprints, something he'll have left behind when this--when this is over. Like proof he was here. "And tell him who taught you, okay?"

Fraser nods absently and picks up his cards. "Very well. If you would--"

"Right. Let's get started."


Ray had spent most of his adult life with another body in bed with him, sleeping through mattress squeaks and midnight bathroom breaks and all the many and varied ways two people in a single bed could annoy the shit out of each other until they got used to each other. Truth is, five years alone doesn't change years of habit, and it's easy, too easy, to fall right back into what he knows.

This, he knows. Stella'd broken him of every bad sleeping habit he'd ever had and even some he didn't, on the off-chance he might pick 'em up later. Say what you like about Ray the Boyfriend, Husband, or Partner; as far as sharing beds go, Ray is second to none.

Fraser, though, never had shared with anyone and it shows. If Ray had been the type to worry about that sort of thing, he would have wasted a shitload of time, because Fraser sleeps on a full mattress like it's a narrow-ass cot. Ray can almost see the invisible line running down the center of the bed like a forcefield between them. No bad habits here, unless you count the uncomfortable feeling you're sleeping by a corpse that can still breathe.

Ray wakes abruptly from something dark-edged and too vivid, with a mountain, a dark crevasse, and a sense of falling, vanishing almost as soon as he opens his eyes. Dief, curled up at the foot of the bed, looks up with a faint air of irritation that fades almost immediately. Getting up on all four legs, he pads down the space between Ray and Fraser, lying down to stare at Ray with serious eyes and then lick his nose.

Jesus, sympathy from the wolf. "Just bad dream," Ray whispers, shivering from the cold that followed him from sleep, rubbing gently at Dief's soft ears. "No donuts here, you know."

Dief tilts his head smugly.

"Right. Brownie points for the future, huh?" Sitting up, Ray runs a hand through his hair, checking belatedly on Fraser, who hasn't so much as twitched since they went to sleep. How can anyone be at attention when they're sleeping? "How's he do that?" Ray whispers.

"Camp beds do not permit a great deal of movement," Fraser answers, sounding like he'd never gone to sleep at all.

Ray winces. "Sorry." It belatedly occurs to him he hasn't made any kind of move to go back to the couch, even though he's pretty much over the worst of the soreness. But he's comfortable, and it's nice, and he can't lie, he misses company. Sure, it's not someone he can fuck later, but junkies take what they can get.

Fraser rolls on his side, staring at Dief with narrowed eyes. "It wasn't you. Diefenbaker has yet to learn the etiquette of sharing bedspace."

Dief's ears twitch slightly.

"We have had this conversation before. There are boundaries."

Dief whines bitterly and gets up, pacing to the foot of the bed before deliberately dropping and curling up, back to them.

"I think you hurt his feelings," Ray says.

"He should know better."

Frase doesn't, however, roll back to attention and go back to sleep; instead, he tucks a hand under hair that's actually--messy. Ray hadn't paid attention before, but now he can't look away. Flushed from sleep, blue eyes heavy and dark, voice sleep-thick and a little scratchy: maybe Ray has another reason he doesn't want to move. "What was it?"

Ray starts, feeling exposed. Anywhere else, he knows how to handle Fraser, but a bed at night is new territory and he's still not that great at navigation. "Don't remember. I'm going to--" he makes a vague motion at the door and couch beyond, hoping Fraser gets the idea and doesn't make him explain.

Fraser sighs. "My father used to say he never slept well near other people," Fraser starts, which sounds like he's agreeing with Ray's removal to the couch, but no, he keeps going. "However. Keep in mind my father wasn't entirely--" Fraser hesitates. "Reliable in his social interactions. He learned to preferred solitude."

Ray has no clue where this is going. It's way too late to try and work through one of Fraser's statements. "Uh."

"Go back to sleep," Fraser says, and closes his eyes. Lying on his side.

"I can sleep on the couch," Ray says blankly, but even to himself, he doesn't sound convincing. From the foot of the bed, Dief snorts loudly.

"I agree," Fraser says, obviously addressing Dief. Then nothing. Just going to sleep. It's so--Fraser, just do it and not bother with say, oh, explanations. Ray's surprised by the sudden anger. Zero to sixty in under five seconds flat. "Ray?"

"You do it deliberately," Ray says slowly; somehow, though he'd known, he hadn't really known. A personality quirk, sure, but not a conscious decision, not something Fraser knew he was doing. "Just ignore something when you don't want to deal with it. Don't you?"

Fraser opens his eyes and doesn't even pretend not to understand. "Yes."

Somehow, he hadn't expected Fraser to admit it, and that deflates the anger as suddenly as it started.

"You blow through everything like this," Ray says, and fine, maybe it's not just about the bed, maybe it's about following Fraser wherever he goes, just marking time until he's finally left behind. "Is it that hard to talk about something?"

Lying back down--and God, that's just giving in, he knows it, but he's used to it. This is Fraser, and Ray can't just say, hey, be a different person. That's not buddies. That's Stella after years of marriage, that's his parents, that's his first commanding officer, that's--that's his life, come to think. He's never been quite what anyone thought he should be, not to anyone he's ever cared about, except--

Rolling onto his side, Ray sees Fraser watching him. Ray remembers a day by a bay and the bruises on his knuckles that had hurt him worse than a broken hand or a gunshot ever had, the flicker of expression on Fraser's face before Ray had watched him walked away. That had been bad; somehow, this is worse. "Is it that much easier just to do the steamroll thing?"

"Not--always."

Maybe Fraser's remembering that punch, too.

"Why'd you ask me up here?"

It's easy to ask, in this quiet cabin in the middle of nowhere that's like a different life; Chicago sometimes feels more like a place he read about than a place he lived. Ray feels himself match Fraser's slow breathing and thinks of grandparents who didn't want a Mountie and parents who didn't want a cop.

"Why did you say yes?"

Ray takes a deep breath.

"You're my last partner."

Maybe he knew it when they met, when he drove a burning car into a lake, fell through a skylight, followed Fraser onto a ship of living ghosts, then followed him here, skinned a fucking rabbit and even ate the damn thing after. He'd known, had to have known what it meant.

It's like what Fraser had told Ray about Frobisher and his father. When Ray goes back to Chicago, wearing a name and skin that don't fit, he'll work with other people and maybe even like them, but they won't be partners. He has--he had his perfect partner, who defined the word and surpassed it, his best friend and occasional rival and the person he trusted more than he trusted himself. No one could compete with that; they wouldn't even know how to start.

"I know." Shadowed blue eyes hold Ray's in perfect understanding.

Ray closes his eyes, chest tight, thinking of Fraser wandering the great white north in his quest for justice, of himself in Chicago chasing down criminals, the years passing until their partnership becomes something they can barely remember. Until they've both forgotten how it felt not to be alone. Until maybe, they even learned to like it.

Ray's two years from the guy he left behind the day he took Vecchio's name; he can't go back to that, to a world defined by the narrow walls of an apartment and the hours of a job, by the memories of a woman who'd left him behind and of a man who fought him and backed him, who liked him and made him want to be better.

"Give me five years."

Fraser's head comes up. "What?"

"Come back to Chicago. I retire in five years." Ray's too surprised by the sound of his voice to stop himself, the words pouring out in a rush like they've been just waiting for the right moment to say. "Come back and liaison some more. Get the bad guys, make fun of Dewey, make Welsh happy when he sees our solve rate, that stuff. When we're done there, we'll come back up here."

Fraser stares at him like Ray just started speaking in tongues. "Five years."

"Yeah. I'll retire and liaison up here with you. Unofficially I guess." Jesus, he thinks, feeling stirrings of panicked hope, that doesn't even make sense. How would that work? Rolling on his stomach, he buries his head in his pillow; it's not like he has any clue where this is coming from and God knows what else he'll come up with. Incentives, maybe. Hey, move in with me. I'll let you drive. Maybe. Just stay. Please. Please. Please. "God," he says into the pillow. "I'm dreaming, I gotta be."

"Yes."

Ray lifts a hand and points in Fraser's general direction. "Exactly. Weird dream. Just--you know, forget about--"

"I meant to your offer."

Ray jerks his head up. Fraser looks pretty serious, but then again, he looks serious even when he's being a complete dick. "You're kidding."

"Unless you're withdrawing it--"

Ray has no idea what the hell that expression is on Fraser's face, but he knows like he knows his name that he never, ever wants to see it again.

Ray lurches across the space between them and covers Fraser's mouth with one hand before Fraser gets another word out, just barely missing elbowing Fraser in the head. "Do I look stupid? Don't answer that. I meant it, all of it." Fraser blinks assent, and Ray warily removes his hand, lightheaded with the rush of relief. "Okay. So. We're doing this."

"I--think so." Fraser looks as surprised as Ray feels, looking at Ray with what seems a lot like hope. Then he has to keep talking. "However, there are numerous--" Ray puts his hand back before Fraser explains just what the hell they're doing, hiding the shiver at the brush of a tongue hot against the center of his palm before Fraser cuts himself off mid-word.

"Don't--let's do that thing you do? The steamrolling thing? I like that. Do that. No--no talking about it or anything." Ray kind of thinks any kind of critical thinking will tell them this is a really stupid idea, because he's pretty sure what they actually just did was get married, but kind of scarier, because Fraser just promised off five years of his life to Chicago and both of them just promised off the rest of their lives to tundra after that, and the only thing Ray can think is that he has no idea how to ski.

"I can't ski," Ray says blankly, pulling back. He remembers this feeling; right. The day he married Stella, and he'd just barely made it to the bathroom then. Fraser looks dangerously close to trying to talk about it--Jesus, why now, of all times? "You can ski. Snowshoe. That--all that. Show me how to do it. It's good."

"I'm not--very good at driving," Fraser says slowly. The only real consolation Ray's got is that Fraser looks more shaken than he did the day Ray punched him. "Out of practice, you see. Especially in the city."

"Right, right." Ray breathes out in relief. Take it in steps. Teach Fraser to drive. Learn to ski. Figure out the rest later. Nice and easy. "I can, you know, teach you again. And you cover the skiing thing--" Ray swallows hard when he hears his voice crack. "You wanna sleep?"

"Yes. Please."

Ray pulls back and collapses on his stomach, clutching the pillow to fight down the urge to crawl across the bed and--something. Turning his head a little, he can see Fraser's as awake as he is, even with his eyes closed. This isn't going to work. Ray gets up on both elbows, which gets Fraser's attention instantly.

"What time is it?"

Fraser considers; he has some kind of scary time-thing in his head. "About three-thirty."

Jesus. "Want breakfast? Maybe practice that tracking at night thing?" There's no way they can both get through the next three hours just laying here. It ain't happening. Adrenaline is slamming through him so hard that he's pretty sure Fraser could point him toward a bear and Ray would be all over that and maybe not even with a gun.

"That's a very practical idea," Fraser says enthusiastically, getting up so quickly that Ray suspects he was thinking pretty much the same thing. "Any preference?"

"No," Ray manages, mouth dry. "I'll--hit the shower first."

"Excellent."

This is as close as Ray will probably ever come to seeing Benton Fraser in a full retreat, and it would be so much funnier if he wasn't making for the bathroom like it's his last great hope for sanity.

Shower. Yeah. That'll help.


The problem with being urban-bred is that Ray had never pegged himself as outdoorsy, when nothing in Chicago really qualified. A park does not make a country, so really, no way Ray could have seen this coming.

But Jesus Christ, this is great. This is fantastic. This is fun. He, Ray Kowalski, has looked into nature and it flinched. And maybe he'll never be as good at this shit as Fraser, but he's better at it than he ever could have imagined he could be. And he likes it.

Which is his only even half-way reasonable explanation for what happened yesterday evening after Fraser finally figured out how to not blush when he cheats.

Eyeing him warily (Ray hasn't been able to keep still since Fraser agreed), Fraser gives him his pack, in preparation for abandoning him to his fate in the middle of nowhere even more nowhere than the cabin. Somewhere, a hundred generations of ancestral Polish peasants and his grandfather are looking down at him and laughing their dead asses off, he can feel it.

"Orienteering," Fraser says in the ponderous tones of Ray's Philosophy 101 professor. "It's a common activity for youth in many countries to learn basic navigation in unknown territory." He hesitates. "However, it's usually done in far more controlled conditions than Canadian wilderness. And with far more practice. And--to be honest, Ray, this is nothing like it at all."

"So some differences, big deal." Ray squints. "You can entertain yourself by making fun of me to Dief while you wait."

Fraser licks his lips nervously, leaving the lower one glossy; Ray finds himself staring and almost stops himself, then--doesn't. He looks, studying the curve of Fraser's mouth, the flash of teeth, soft pink lips, and lets Fraser see him doing it. Then he lazily looks up, watching Fraser flush. "I--will refrain."

"Because Dief's following me, ain't he?"

Fraser gives up and nods as Dief comes up from behind Fraser's legs with a bark of agreement. "Yes. He is. Though I doubt he'll be needed."

Ray kind of wants to says something about how by now, he thinks he can hack it, and maybe a dig about trust, but knowing Fraser, it's this or Fraser will follow him himself. "I can do this, you know."

"I'm sure you can," Fraser says, leaning against a tree, doing his Mountie best not to look worried. "You understand how to send up a signal if you cannot find your way back."

"And will cry into my long johns until you rescue me from the hostile shrubs," Ray retorts. Checking the sun just breaking the horizon, he takes a deep breath. "So we done here?"

Silence. Ray turns back around, but Fraser's gone. Kaputz. Like he was never there at all. Ray blinks, glancing at Dief, who is supremely unconcerned by vanishing Mounties. "So. We doing this?"

Dief barks cheerfully and comes over, nudging Ray's hand. Sitting down, he cocks his head and waits, but Dief doesn't try to nose him in the right direction. "Good boy. No cheating." Check the sun. Check the compass. Stare at the trees. Start to laugh, because how crazy is this? So fucking nuts. Who the hell else in their right mind would do this? "This is incredibly stupid, you know that?"

Well, you wanted to impress him, the cock of Dief's head seems to say.

"Stella was a lot easier than this." God. He's talking to a wolf. And thinking he's answering. Ray shakes himself, checks again, then points. "Thataway. Hey. If you see any bears, tell me?"

Dief barks. Ray hopes that's an affirmative.


When it starts raining, Ray sits down on the nearest rock and laughs so hard that Dief looks at him worriedly. Ray wipes his face and looks up at the sky. "You know," he says to Dief, getting back up, feeling wobbly and a little drunk, which is crazy since he's at least four weeks from having tasted anything stronger than cooking vanilla, "right now, Fraser just started freaking out, right?"

Dief barks in what sounds like agreement. Ray ruffles his fur cheerfully.

"Exactly. Next time he jumps off a roof? He'll remember this. Let's go."


The actual exercise, by Fraser's freaky timing, would take about five hours. Ray takes eight and a half because Dief suddenly discovered hormones and took off and damned if Ray was going to let Dief get in trouble. And maybe, just maybe, Ray got a little lost there for a bit. No big deal.

Fraser, predictably, is waiting on the porch, and Ray has to stop again and choke back a laugh to see the shotgun lying against the door. Dief gets ahead of him, running up to greet Fraser, which is a mistake, because even in the rain and pissed, Fraser's apparently perfectly capable of recognizing just-got-laid smugness even in a wolf.

"You didn't," Fraser says in a voice that sounds a lot like Ray's dad when he found the cigarettes under Ray's pillow when he was fifteen. "Diefenbaker--"

"We were fine. Great." Wet. Cold. Exhausted. Mildly crazy. Amazing. Ray takes the steps two at a time, drops the pack as soon as he gets to solid wood, and smells something that hopefully is already fully cooked, because right now, he ain't picky. "How was your day, dear?"

Fraser's jaw twitches, eyes darting between Dief (whose tail is bent in something approximating guilt), to Ray, then back again, obviously torn. Ray makes it easy--hooking an arm around Fraser's neck, he pulls him bodily toward the door, waving Dief off behind his back. "It's all good. Nice little nature walk. Trees. Stuff. God, I'm hungry."

"I--" Fraser tries to glare backward, but Dief, not being at all stupid, already took off. Probably to find the love of his night or something, because rain apparently is no impediment to good sex. Or maybe just waiting Fraser out, who will feel guilty about leaving him outside and hand feed him when he wanders back. "I made dinner."

"Greatness." Ray starts toward the kitchen and inexplicably finds himself stopped short with a hand in the collar of his shirt. "The hell--"

"Shower before you get chilled," Fraser says with that edge in his voice that's usually pointed at particularly obnoxious criminals or when Turnball tells him how much he enjoys servicing him. Ray swallows another laugh, because yeah, he's cold and tired and jeans chafe, though weird how he didn't notice until now.

"'Kay."


A very hot shower later, Ray realizes abruptly that he has no clothes.

"Fraser!" he shouts, clutching the towel and searching desperately for clothes he knows were here at some point in the last week. Now he's cold. The rain's gotten a lot worse, temperature dropping with it, coming down heavy enough there's a fairly good chance Fraser might not hear him. There's been some kind of laundry thing going on that Ray's vaguely aware Fraser does every week, since clean clothes keep showing up, but Ray's never gotten around to asking about that.

However, it's raining, and there's a real lack of clothing here. Ray sucks in a breath and turns around, blindly opening drawers until he finds a clean pair of sweatpants in the bottom drawer, shoved to the back. Picking them up, the material is thin and obviously worn, soft against his hands; smaller than he'd have thought, too. Maybe from Fraser's teens, when he was still growing, all bones and skin and earnest eyes. Probably irritating as shit, too. All that too-smart politeness wrapped up in a half-grown package; he must have driven people nuts.

Pulling them on, he hunts up a t-shirt, equally worn, probably as old. Does he keep every piece of clothing he's ever had? Probably. Waste not, want not, all that jazz. It's comfortable, but Ray can't quite make himself go to the door yet. They smell clean, a little woodsy from the dresser, and a lot like Fraser. It occurs to him a little dazedly he also doesn't have boxers and stops that thought right when it starts, because that can't go anywhere he needs to be going right now.

So. Door. Right there. Got it.

Luckily, Fraser's doing something with a pot and a spoon, which means Ray has cover to get to the couch, sit down, look casual, not get--

"Ray, I forgot to tell you, your clothes--" Fraser cuts off so abruptly that Ray just has to look up. There's a long, long second where Fraser doesn't say anything at all, just looks at him with blue eyes gone a little glassy. "I see you--took care of that, then."

Ray plucks at the shirt. Not awkward. Not awkward. "Uh, yeah." He thinks vaguely maybe he's supposed to apologize, but what were his options? Naked dinner? No way in hell. Food and nudity mix only strictly controlled conditions. "Just uh--something--" Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.

"No. That's fine." Abruptly, Fraser turns back around, mumbling something about cooking times and unattended fire the leading cause of home accidents, statistics included, but his heart's not in it. Ray picks up a book and pretends they both aren't acting like idiots over something as stupid as clothes.

Maybe he should get his glasses. He can't read a single word.


It takes him way too long to realize it's not because of his eyes, but because it's fucking French, but Fraser doesn't say a thing. Maybe assumes Ray's always been a sucker for pictures of snow.

Dinner helps, though. Truth is, there ain't much that smoothes things over like food, assuming there's something to be smoothed, which there is not. Rabbit again, which kind of gives Ray a feeling of accomplishment--he, Ray Kowalski, personally killed and skinned this dinner item. Doesn't make it tastier, but taste is a lot less important than the glow of satisfaction that he is now a provider of food.

Fraser--talks. One thing you can count on, rain or shine, weird awkward weirdness or not--Fraser can talk. And he does. He gets thirty minutes of the history of the Territories (first helping), a fifteen minute digression into modern changes in Canadian government structures (second helping), twenty on Inuit customs in regard to trade (dishwashing), and ends it with something about mail routes (Ray has no idea what Fraser's doing in the kitchen now). Ray nods at rough intervals and gets his spot on the couch and Call of the Wild, because if you squint, it's educational and also in a language he can actually read. Sled dogs. Snow. Very relevant to his life.

Fraser lets Dief in after only five minutes of slowly escalating scratching and stares at him until he finally barks apologetically, looking ashamed. "I hope you've learned something from this," Fraser says severely, then goes to feed him.

Ray's just getting into the story when his feet are nudged; lifting his legs, he waits until he's pretty sure Fraser's sitting and sets them back down, suddenly perfectly comfortable, like the evening just slipped into place. It's raining outside but warm in here, he's got a book, Fraser, and some sort of tea that's almost as good as coffee. There's even Dief curled up on the rug nearby, sleeping the sleep of the well-laid. Sure, beer and a game would be nice, but this isn't bad at all.

A few more pages pass before it occurs to Ray that Fraser's pretty quiet, even for Fraser. Scratch that: especially for Fraser and a more-or-less captive audience.

"Hey." Lowering the book, Ray sees Fraser has the French book open, but something tells Ray he's not really here, no matter what he looks like he's doing. "Fraser. Fraser. Fraser."

"What?"

Did he just--snap? Ray blinks. "You okay over there?"

The lack of an instant reply is worrying. "The weather seems to be escalating," Fraser says. Ray can't believe it. Fraser is actually talking about weather. "I had thought it would blow over quickly."

"Okay." Ray waits. Gotta be more to it than that. "And?"

Fraser hesitates again. "It may be a week at least before it passes over." He must see Ray's blank look. "There won't be a great deal to do until then."

"You lived in the Yukon. In blizzards."

Fraser doesn't blink. "I prefer cold to wet," he says, voice tight.

Ray thinks about the differences inherent between snow (cold, lots of it) and rain (cool, lots of it) and draws a mental line connecting f to m. "You don't like getting muddy."

Fraser doesn't answer. Ray grins for a second--mud! Mountie!--but the reality descends suddenly. This is not Chicago. There aren't a lot of dry places to go here.

Up to now, pretty much all the daylight hours are outside, and a lot of it not necessarily together. And doing things. Lots of things, though Ray only has a hazy idea of all the things Fraser actually does when he isn't tutoring Ray on How to Survive For a Few Extra Minutes in the North, but there are things. Fraser is a very active guy, and it was more than being in a city that made Fraser hate his job. Being trapped inside all day was definitely a big part of it.

Which brings everything back to the bed thing: Fraser probably hasn't had to live with anyone since he left the Depot. Ray had broken him of the habit of staying home and reading early in their friendship (though he admits that was as much about his own loneliness as Fraser himself, at least at first), but spending evenings or weekends with someone is a far cry from living with someone, and that, Fraser doesn't know how to do.

Ray, however, had lived with Stella, and if he's honest with himself, the first few months after the honeymoon was over were a living hell until they finally got to the point where they'd worn off the jagged edges and got used to each other.

Ray figures he and Fraser are two years past getting one of those.

Living with someone, though, Ray knows. Sure, they have no TV or stereo (he should bring one up here next time), no telephone, and basically no distractions but Dief, books, cards, and each other. (Ray adds board games to the list; Fraser would kick ass at Monopoly.) Point is, Ray's been there, done that, and at least Fraser won't try and shave his legs in the living room or something.

"What do you usually do?" Ray asks curiously.

Looking less tense, Fraser leans forward, one arm resting on Ray's calves, warm and heavy. "Repairs, usually. Additions." He gestures toward the bookshelves, and Ray considers the idea that to entertain himself, Fraser actually builds his own furniture. "Actually," and now he sounds surprised, "I don't think I've stayed here longer than a few days."

And when he's here, of course there's crap to do. All the normal homeowner things (whatever those are) compressed into a few days. Ray, who has been apartment bound since the day he was born, is fuzzy on the details.

Closing the book, Ray picks at his shirt thoughtfully, and abruptly remembers laundry. "Um, my clothes." Before it can get awkward over whatever makes that awkward, Ray rushes on. "Where are they?"

"I moved them to the garage," is the comforting reply. "But with the drop in temperature and the humidity, even if we had some place to hang them in here, they will take several days to dry."

Ray nods dumbly. Speaking of. "I can do my own laundry." Now it hits--not just shirts and jeans, but--everything else. "How are you doing it anyway?" Ray suddenly remembers his grandmother's washboard with a flash of horror. No. Jesus Christ and every saint he learned in Sunday school, no.

"I have a washer," Fraser says, every word carefully spaced for maximum sarcasm. Noted, thanks. "The dryer, however, is not--reliable."

"Want me to take a look at it tomorrow?"

Fraser brightens, probably at the prospect of something new to do.

"Of course."

Activity for tomorrow--fix a dryer. Greatness. That leaves them--the rest of the week. In a small cabin. Together. With no TV.

Going back to his book, Ray tries to remember where he left off. The warmth against his leg never moves, and Ray finds himself paying more attention to that than he thinks he should.

Dogs. Dogsled. Wilderness. Got it.


Interestingly, Fraser's started not being quite so corpse-like in bed. There's movement, and maybe some pillow-shifting, and while the line of his-side, his-side is still there, it's blurrier. Like, a hand went over one night. Kind of shocking. A foot pushing his knee out of the way. Blanket stealing, which is a really bad habit but not one Ray really fought at first, because he's an old hand at getting them back and Fraser's hand-eye coordination is kind of shot at two in the morning.

Fraser's relaxing. It's--actually, it's pretty damn cool. Right up until tonight.

Grabbing the edge of the blanket, Ray rolls hard before Fraser gets it one single inch. "Stop that," he mutters, only half-awake, curling it under his body and lying on top of it. He's almost asleep again when he feels the pull again, slow and almost stealthy, and he's shifting over to let it go just as the first stream of cool air hits him.

Fully awake, Ray gets his edge and rolls on his stomach with the blanket until there's no cold, humid air, and Fraser has no blanket at all. This kind of thing has to be dealt with fast and hard or they'll be fighting for covers the rest of their lives, and Ray isn't looking forward to dealing with that shit every night.

"Ray."

Fraser's voice is lower than Ray ever remembers it being, with a husky edge that freezes his next words in his throat. Swallowing, he looks over at Fraser, messy-haired and slightly flushed, surprised by the sudden start of heat low in his belly.

No, not surprised. Resigned, maybe. Accepting. Letting out his breath, Ray gives himself a second. "Stealing blankets is not buddies, Frase."

A beat. "My apologies, Ray," in the most normal Fraser voice imaginable. "I'll be more careful."

Rolling back over, Ray checks his distance from the line, then shifts over until he's nearly on it, letting Fraser pull back his half of the blankets and settle himself again. A few minutes later, Fraser's asleep, and Ray stares up at the ceiling, unfinished boards holding back the entirety of the storm howling outside, which ain't nothing compared to the drama going on in Ray's head at the moment.

He thinks he maybe should be freaked out, or running for the couch, or the border, or something. But mostly, he's just relieved, bone-deep and spreading through him like warm honey, relaxing parts of him he hadn't even known were tense, had been tense for too long. The other answer to the question, maybe; why did you say yes?

Finally, something murmurs in his head that sounds a lot like Fraser's voice. Figure it out now?

Yeah, got it.


The dryer's about Ray's age and exactly the kind Ray knows best. It's not a challenge, but Fraser's interested and Ray finds himself explaining what he's doing step by step, and then once it's working, pulling it open again just for the hell of it and teaching Fraser everything he ever learned about appliance repair. Growing up, repairs were a way of life at the laundromat ,and Ray paid attention to the guys in their stained coveralls who didn't mind a quiet kid who just wanted to watch them work. He's always been good with his hands; engines, toasters, coffeemakers; if it ran on electricity, there's a good chance he can fix it and a better chance he'll enjoy doing it.

Fraser picks it up fast, no surprise there, and follows Ray's explanations pretty easily, filling in when Ray's not sure of the words to use and asking for clarification when the Chicago to Canadian translations fail. That leads to the washer, since hey a set, why not do both, and to car repair, which Ray is an expert at and only wishes the GTO was here so he could really show Fraser what he's talking about.

That takes up a lot of the day--along with drying the rest of Ray's clothes since lounging in Fraser's sweats and another t-shirt that seems to have the odd effect of making Fraser easily distractible. Luckily, the dryer's about as old as the permafrost up north and dries low heat and slow as hell, taking frequent breaks to cool down before starting again. He may get another day out of this.

Fraser plays with Dief--well, more like full contact wrestling with a side of annoyed responses to whatever Dief's telling him--"I am not losing my edge. I simply don't have canines." and "--one more word about marking territory and you will sleep outside tonight." and "I'll tell you when I know, but thank you for the truly useless advice," while Ray cooks and thinks this is a hell of a lot more interesting than TV. Stew is nicely low-attention, and Ray leaves it to check out who won.

He thinks Fraser did, by the irritated way Dief looks at him. Then two sets of eyes fix on Ray in interest, and Dief's tail goes up hopefully.

"Uh, no." Ray waves both hands; he can already see where this is going and Ray's ego is just not up to that, like, ever. "No."

"Ray," Fraser says, trying to smooth his hair from the mess Dief made of it and failing with hypnotizing results, "wolves have a genetic imperative to establish dominance within the pack. You're confusing him."

Dief agrees, tail flickering cheerfully.

"He's only half-wolf," Ray points out, mapping the distance between himself and the couch and trying not to look at the rumpled man sitting on the floor like a kid, glowing with energy and smiling like he's imagining Ray yelling uncle already.

"Instinct is instinct, Ray."

"You just want to see me fighting off Dief." More like, crawling away desperately covered in wolf hair. Sure Ray can fight, but he's not convinced tactics that work on people work on something that has sharp teeth and knows how to use them.

"Well. Yes." Fraser draws up one knee, jeans riding up to expose an inch of pale skin above the sagging wool of his sock. Ray shakes himself before he can start staring. "Or you could fight me."

Ray stumbles, knows he does, and hopes the rug edge was close enough for Fraser to assume that's what caused it.

"I'd lose." In a fair fight, Fraser's got both the reach and weight, and Ray's pretty sure Fraser's better at dirty tricks then he's ever let on. "Showing throat now. Done."

Fraser watches him for just a little too long. "Very well." Standing up, Fraser opens the door, letting Dief out. "Try to be back before nightfall. I won't get out of bed because you lost track of time. Nor will Ray."

Dief snorts and goes out with another speculative glance at Ray. When the door's closed, Fraser shakes his head. "He's getting lazy."

"Getting laid, you mean," Ray mutters, trying desperately to get interested in his book. Mostly he's thinking about rolling on the floor with Fraser and how it would be the shortest fight in history. Now that he knows, he wants, Christ, does he want, and there's not a repair job in sight. He has stew that's cooking and a book.

"Hmm." From the sound, he's at the bookshelves. Ray sucks in a breath and stares at the page. Chapter four. It's interesting. There's snow. It's about the north. Completely useless as a distraction.

Christ, it's going to be a long evening.


Between food, the sudden discovery of an unopened box of books ("I don't remember buying these," Fraser says, confused, and Ray has to wonder, because Fraser's weird, but no one really buys that many Southern Living cook books, do they?), and a short, bitter, and ultimately pointless argument over curling versus baseball, Ray doesn't have any time to worry about obvious physical reactions to his best friend until he's half-asleep and Fraser does this stupid breathing thing. Boom. Done. Like it's been a slow burn all day, he's so hard he can't even see straight.

There's also some kind of weird noise that doesn't sound like the storm, and Ray feels something's missing. If bloodflow hadn't pretty much stopped going to his head, he might even figure out what.

Abruptly, Fraser mutters something, and even though Ray's not sure he can be trusted to know English the way he feels right now, he recognizes that word.

"Did you just say--" Ray pushes up on one elbow and stares in Fraser's direction. There's not nearly enough light to see it, but the embarrassment radiating from the other side of the bed convinces him. "You said fuck."

"Diefenbaker wants to come inside," Fraser says after a pause. Then, "Perhaps I--"

"Lemme get this straight. Tied up and shot at and almost drowning ain't enough to get you going, but having to get out of bed does it?"

"It's rather cold," Fraser mutters, checks himself, and sighs, covering his face with one hand. "I'm becoming as lazy as Diefenbaker."

Ray snickers and sits up, wincing when his feet hit the floor. "I'll get him," he offers. Cold, but that's kind of a boon here, what with the--well, cold is good. "Just wallow there. You owe me."

"You don't have to," Fraser offers without any real resistance. Ray rolls his eyes and shivers as he crosses the cold floor, getting a few less-cold seconds on the rug before opening the door. Yeah, that takes care of that--cold, wet air and Dief brushing against his legs and stealing even the memory of warmth. Closing the door, Ray locks his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering and follows Dief into the bedroom and crawls back into his now-cold space.

"Ray?'

Locking his jaw, Ray forces his voice steady. "'M fine."

The hand that suddenly appears on his hip is so surprising he actually stop shivering. There's a pause, like he's being checked for a reaction, then he's being--maneuvered, there's no other word for it--and he's not even fighting it, because he's crazy but not stupid. Then Fraser is pressed warm and solid against his back and Ray forgets what cold feels like.

"You're cold," Fraser says unnecessarily, like Ray had done something dumb like ask. Warm breath drifts against the back of his neck, hand on his hip flexing briefly. Fraser doesn't lie, but whatever the fuck they're doing, but it ain't just getting warmer. Not sleeping, either: this close, Ray can feel the rise and fall of Fraser's chest, hear his heartbeat in the quiet, hear his own, and the hand on his hip hasn't moved, burning through the sweatpants and into Ray's skin.

A few long minutes pass, then Dief sits up, head a white blur as he studies them before makes for the floor so fast he leaves skidmarks in the air. Smart wolf.

Ray tenses again at the brush of hair, then Fraser's forehead, hot against the back of his head. "Go to sleep," Fraser says finally.

He's got to be kidding. The hand on his hip shifts, smoothing up his ribs over the cotton shirt, slow and easy like he'd stroke Dief, like he'd calm an animal, and Ray hadn't even realized he was shaking.

"Fraser," he whispers.

Fingers stutter over his ribs, slide down, pressing against the bare skin of his belly warm and firm. Just a little pressure, and apparently, there had been some distance between them, because suddenly, he can feel Fraser hard against his ass. "Fuck."

"Shh," is breathed into his skin, followed by teeth pressing lightly against the base of his neck.

Ray covers Fraser's hand with his, dropping his head. "You--you know--"

Fingers lace through his own, trapping his hand. "I know." Damp heat settles on his neck again, making him shiver again, and Fraser's hand rubs slow circles over his stomach, hypnotizing and soothing. "Go to sleep."

He doesn't think he can, not with Fraser this close and doing--whatever the fuck he's doing, but the slow stroking does the trick; vaguely, he's aware of the blankets being pulled closer around them, Fraser warm against him from head to feet, curving to fit his body, and after that, nothing at all.


He wakes up later than usual, not that the rain outside gives him any idea of what time it is. Fraser must have waylaid Dief before he could do his morning jump and lick. Stumbling out of bed, Ray brushes his teeth, mind blank and focused on routine: shower, shave, borrow clothes (God, his clothes, where are his clothes, wasn't he going to do something about that?), go out and--

Huh.

Fraser's stretched out on his stomach on the floor inches away from Dief, the two of them locked in some kind of--something.

"Didn't you do your dominance thing last night?" Ray asks blearily as he steps over Dief, who wuffles a morning greeting without ever breaking eye-contact with Fraser, wanting coffee like now. As if by accident, one of Fraser's feet brushes his ankle, which isn't buddies before Ray's had something caffeinated. The back of his neck feels hot, and he can't help touching it, like Fraser'd left a mark there he could feel.

"We're having an argument," Fraser says tranquilly, chin on folded hands. "Regarding the consequences of foolish actions."

Dief snorts.

"That won't be a problem for us," Fraser answers firmly as Ray gets coffee and takes a drink. "I can't get Ray pregnant."

Ray swallows fast, leaning over the sink until he can breathe again.

"Or become pregnant," Fraser adds as an afterthought. Getting a full breath, Ray finishes the rest of the cup and pours another, keeping his back to the crazy going on in the living room. "Hungry?"

That must be for him. Ray drinks and shakes his head, keeping his back to whatever the hell the two of them are doing in there; he has no idea what to say.

"Eat something. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I made you a plate."

He did, in fact; Ray looks at it, then back where Fraser, crossed legged, is talking to Dief about nature versus nurture. Ray's pretty sure Dief's arguing the point, but he can't be sure which side he's taking. Picking up the plate, Ray goes to the table and pretends that Fraser didn't pause to actually watch him until he sat down. Not even trying to hide it. Ray's more subtle than that when he's drunk and with a sure thing.

Eating is good, but it's not all that good at being distracting, and he can't help but listen to Fraser and Dief, in snippets of conversation that Ray isn't sure would make sense even with context. Or say, another voice.

Keeping his grip on sanity by way of more coffee, Ray leaves his plate in the sink for the universe to deal with and tries to figure out what the hell to do now. Get his clothes--good idea. Could do that. But it's a lot more tempting to not do anything at all. Lazy, his mind offers up. Vacation. Pretty much bullshit excuses. He just wants to stay where Fraser is.

Going to the desk, Ray glances at the new mail in case Fraser went ahead and forwarded all his mail--he should find a way to get in touch with Frannie and get her to handle that--when he sees a letter with a recent postmark and a familiar name.

"Vecchio wrote again?" Ray asks, sipping. Picking it up, he squints at the return address. "From Florida?"

Ray's always been about intuition and instinct and how the two combine. The back of his neck suddenly feels too warm, and he can actually feel Fraser standing up, quiet as he usually is, and drops the letter, turning around to see two sets of eyes watching him warily.

No, wait. Worried. "What?"

Dief whines, making a sudden retreat. Fraser just watches him, mouth tight, then seems to shake himself, coming to join Ray at the desk. "I wanted to--I have no excuse," Fraser says, tripping over words so quickly Ray's not sure Fraser's even aware of what he's saying. Picking the letter up, Fraser continues, looking past Ray grimly. "I thought it might be easier, but I understand if you feel as if I'm trying to--which I'm not. I wasn't."

Ray can't quite stop staring at the paper being twisted slowly out of shape between Fraser's hands. "What--did--" Ray runs through everyone he knows--Frannie, Ma Vecchio, Welsh, Huey, Dewey, Elaine, his parents. Christ, what happened? "Fraser," he hears himself say from somewhere far away. "What--tell me what he said. Who--"

He can't say it.

Fraser's gaze flickers to him, freezes, then he drops the envelope, catching Ray's shoulder. "Nothing like that," he says quickly. "Everyone's fine. I'm sorry, I'm handling this badly. Please sit down."

Relief makes Ray lightheaded enough to be okay with it; Fraser maneuvers him over to the couch and pushes him down, going back for the coffee as well and thrusting it into his hands. Ray takes a deep breath, a drink, and waits as Fraser sits down beside him.

"Ray has decided to move to Florida."

Ray nods, listening for context. Ray Vecchio retired and moved to Florida. So that would mean-- "So he took retirement." Ray wonders how Fraser feels about that. Chicago is a hell of a lot closer to Canada than Florida. "Huh. What about Stella?"

"She--decided to join him. I'm sorry, Ray. They--apparently decided to formalize their relationship."

Translation: Stella Kowalski is now Stella Vecchio. Ray takes a drink of coffee and remembers the shock of finding out she was seeing Vecchio. It feels like that was months ago. "Huh."

Fraser's leg brushes his. "I am sorry," he says, voice low and uncertain. "It was very sudden. From what I understand, Stella wrote you, but--"

"Probably in my box still in Chicago." Ray's aware of a vague ache, flashes of memory of Stella, golden and sixteen, eighteen, twenty, the earlier days that he prefers to the bitter later ones. Taking a deep breath, he lets it out, shaking himself out of it. "Yeah, okay. So she's married." To Vecchio of all people; what, did Vecchio figure since Ray's keeping Fraser, he could take Stella?

Fraser, still tense beside him, doesn't seem reassured. Ray tries to think of something to tell him, but he's coming up blank. "I'm good," he tries, wondering what Fraser wants to hear. "When did you--" Ray stops, counting back. "Two days ago." Suddenly the whatever-the-fuck last night makes a lot more sense.

Fraser takes a breath. "I didn't know how to tell you."

Ray takes another drink. "It's--it's okay." To prove it, he sits back, fighting back the anger that keeps trying to surface, because it's not really aimed at Fraser at all: Stella, Vecchio, hell, maybe life. "When were you going to tell me?"

"I don't know." The worry's too obvious for Ray to stay pissed; it's not like Fraser doesn't have reason. "It never seemed the right time."

"To spare my delicate feelings, huh?" Ray feels himself smirk, surprising himself. "Hey, I appreciate it, I do. Thanks. I'm--" He can't say glad and mean it. But that--all of it, divorce, job, Stella, Chicago--feels like a different world, nothing to do with here. When Fraser starts to look worried again, Ray pats his shoulder. "I can cry a while if it'll make you feel better."

Fraser hesitates, gaze searching, then relaxes abruptly into the couch. "I was trying to be tactful."

"Not too great at it, but thanks." Slumping back beside him, Ray finishes the cup. Outside, the rain acts like it's never letting up, complete with sudden streaks of lightning. "We gonna lose power?"

Fraser follows his gaze. "Hmm. It's escalating. Probably tomorrow. Speaking of, Diefenbaker distracted me this morning. If you'll excuse me--"

"Hey." Ray starts to get up, but Fraser pushes him back down, hand warm and staying just a little longer than necessary. "I can help."

"No need." Fraser frowns suddenly. "Where did Diefenbaker--"

"Ran for shelter, I guess. Dief!"

Diefenbaker eases half out the bedroom door, looking at them warily. "Not going crazy, Dief," Ray says, patting the couch. "Come here."

With a look at Fraser, Dief bounds across the room, jumping up on the couch. Fraser looks at him repressively, but Ray's ready, hunting up Call of the Wild from beside the couch. "We're gonna read, see? Nice, quiet activity. A vacation activity." Opening the book, Ray holds it out to Dief. "Show me where he cut you off."

Fraser mutters something under his breath, going to find his boots. Ray pushes Dief over until he can stretch out and a furry head and paw shift to his belly. "All right. You're a little behind me here. So chapter four, right?"

Dief barks and rubs his head against Ray. Grinning, Ray starts to read. He's sure at some point, he's going to have to ask himself when reading to wolves became normal. But that won't be today.


Fraser comes in after fifteen pages, and Ray loses track of what he's saying at the sight of dark, wet hair and flushed cheeks, water sprinkling him like glitter; it's not like Ray's ever denied Fraser was hot, but there's hot in a funny uniform and hot in a wet t-shirt and jeans. Totally different things.

"Started water for tea," Ray manages when Fraser goes to investigate the kitchen. Turning back to the book, Ray backtracks until he figures out where he was, then starts again. Dief, who'd lifted a tail in greeting, relaxes into a sprawl covering one of Ray's legs and most of his lower body. He's not moving anytime soon.

"Diefenbaker," Fraser says sternly, then sighs. "Nevermind. I'd hardly expect courtesy from someone who doesn't appreciate Dante."

Ray twists around to stare at him.

"His Italian has always been very weak," Fraser answers almost apologetically. Dief barks, earning himself a frown. "I'm not the one who refused to improve themselves when the opportunity presented itself. Where are you?"

"Uh." Ray blinks, realizing the last question was aimed at him. "Halfway through four. Wanna--" He struggles to get up, but Fraser waves him off, sitting down on the rug with a sigh, tea in hand.

"Please continue."

Dief echoes with a hopeful growl. Fighting a smile, Ray skips back and starts again, aware of Fraser's damp head leaning into the couch near his hip, attention focused on Ray.

Could get used to this, he thinks, wondering if he should worry. Might be he already has.


Fraser takes over reading after lunch, arguing Dief into an equal share of the couch. Dief takes this as an opportunity to stretch full length on them both, whining every time Ray stops stroking. They take a break half-way through to double check emergency preparedness by way of candles and kerosene and wood and other things that Ray had never realized were part and parcel of electrical outages in the Canadian wilderness. Ray asks to help and regrets it when it becomes an infomercial on the variety of natural disasters possible and statistical probability of survival of each one.

Fraser's imitation of a really depressing weather channel leads Ray to spend quality time watching the sky suspiciously. Probably fucking with him, but still.

Even that, though, isn't enough to distract him from the feeling of being watched, constantly, though he never really catches Fraser doing it. For the life of him, he can't tell what Fraser thinks he's doing--being subtle? Flirting? Both? Neither? He feels like he's missing some kind of conversation that's not even happening, like he's being asked a question and expected to answer without even knowing what it is.

And damned if even Dief seems to be getting it, and Ray knows, knows he's been isolated too long when he starts reading obscure motives into Dief's tail.

There's no questionable touching, or questionable anything, and he'd swear to God Fraser has no idea what he's doing, except he knows him, and Fraser always knows what he's doing, even if he forgets to share with the class. The guy thinks more than anyone Ray's ever met, and he's thinking, that much Ray knows. Double checking, maybe. Evaluating the situation, as he does. Waiting for--something. Hell if Ray knows. Not applying any of the senses that would confirm, yes, Ray is in fact willing and maybe even getting a little impatient.

When Fraser finally gets up to go do pre-bed things, Ray stares at Dief until his tail goes down. "When I figure out what you are saying," Ray says as slowly and clearly as he can, "things are gonna change."

Dief's tail wags once before smugly curling up in the corner of the couch. Giving up, Ray goes to the bedroom and stops short when it hits him--oh God. Bedroom. And his clothes are still slowly not-drying in the dryer because hey, he forgot to get them, in that way that he just decided not to think about it.

Dief didn't follow him in, which seems hugely suspicious, and reminding himself Dief's a freaking wolf does not change the fact there's something Dief knows that Ray does not.

Ray takes a deep breath and gets into the suddenly smaller bed, considering curling up and pretending to be asleep. That--might be an answer, but not the one he thinks he wants Fraser to get. Laying back on top of the covers, he stares up at the ceiling, feeling suddenly sixteen and Stella's still weird about her bra and the lights being on.

He's twenty years too old for this kind of stress.

There's a noise at the door by the time he's worked his way to twenty and that girl he picked up in a bar that ended with a lot of vomiting and the first time Ray discovered alcohol did in fact fuck up performance, then the soft scrape of a closing door. Blindly, Ray picks up a pillow and throws it in the general direction of movement.

Fraser makes a satisfying sound of surprise. "Ray?" he says warily. The bed shifts where Ray assumes he's sat down. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm expressing my feelings," Ray shoots back. He hears a boot hit the floor. "You trying to drive me--" Another boot; Ray is distracted by a shift that seems to be migrating his direction. "--crazy?"

A pillow hits him in the chest--fucking night vision. Before he can push it off, it's removed, and the bed goes still, with a depression about six inches off his right hip. "In so many words, no," Fraser answers calmly, in that way that Ray's realized is a few steps off panic. Ray just makes out his shape a few inches away and sits up, reaching out to touch slightly damp denim. Oriented, Ray gets up on his knees, sliding his hand up Fraser's thigh, the curve of his hip, the thin t-shirt he wore under his shirt, hesitating at the slope of a shoulder, skin hot even through the damp cotton.

A barely perceptible tremble. Thank God. He's not the only one. "You don't make this easy, do you?" Ray whispers. He can hear the quickened breathing, tension heavy enough to almost stop him. If Fraser didn't want this, he'd pull away. If he-- Ray just touches the prickly line of Fraser's jaw, then his wrists is wrapped in cool, damp fingers.

They stay like that for what feels like hours, then Fraser pulls, just a little, and Ray feels lips against his palm, a slow lick from heel to the tip of his finger, and that's pretty much an answer. Ray gets his other hand on Fraser's jaw, leans forward and catches his mouth in a kiss.

A real kiss, slow and hopeful, laced with uncertainty because it's a first kiss, their first kiss, and maybe (please) the last first kiss he'll ever have.

Ray wants to remember this, and wants Fraser to remember it, too, tell him with his mouth and his body what there's no way he can say. I know you, he'd tell him, though Fraser knows that, and I want you, which if he hasn't figure out by now, Ray's just giving up.

He can feel the second Fraser gets it; the change between responding and wanting, flaring up warm and bright, one hand sliding up the back of his shirt and pressed against the small of his back, the other letting go of his wrist and curving around the back of his neck, opening to Ray by slow degrees, slow and careful, learning. The kind of kiss that feels like falling, feels younger than either of them are, that feels perfect. Ray goes up on his knees, straddling Fraser's lap and pushing both hands up beneath his shirt, breaking away long enough to get it off and his own. Kisses him again, getting a hand in damp hair, soft and slick between his fingers.

He's not sure how long they just sit there and make out; Fraser's oddly passive, letting Ray do as he likes, tilt his head or open his mouth, lie back on the bed so Ray can really feel him, all impossibly warm, smooth skin, thicker muscle beneath. Tiny, surprised sounds when Ray licks the hollow of his throat, the curve of his ear. He likes it, Ray knows--he can feel exactly how much Fraser likes it from the slow rub of cock against his thigh--but easy. Fraser's hands never leave his skin, mapping his back slowly like later he'll draw a map, charting the raised edges of his shoulder blades, the knobs of his spine, trailing slowly over ribs and the sharp rise of his hips, then gently rolling Ray on his side to start over with his chest.

Like he's being studied at the same time, but Ray can't keep the thought long when Fraser licks into his mouth, slow and wet, druggingly sweet, breath caught in his throat when Fraser eases Ray's knee over his hip, dragging his cock against his thigh. It doesn't even feel real, like the edges of a dream just before you wake up.

Faster then, Fraser pulling back with a soft, surprised sound, burying his mouth against Ray's throat, tensing. Ray hadn't even realized he was so close until he feels Fraser stiffen, a burst of damp heat that soaks through denim and sweatpants both, and comes himself, breath catching in his throat. Fraser catches his mouth in a slow kiss, shivering when Ray touches him before pulling back slightly, one hand slipping down Ray's chest and into the sweatpants, fingers sliding through the come wetting his belly, then drawing his fingers back up his skin until they pause at the hollow of Ray's throat.

Sex always makes Ray lazy. Ray lets Fraser gently ease him on his back, closing his eyes as Fraser's mouth settles on his collar, tongue heavy and wet as it slowly follows the trail of come, soothing and comfortable, even when Fraser eases his sweatpants off, mouthing low on his belly, the base of his cock, licking him clean, almost enough to get him hard again. He's half-asleep when he feels Fraser get out of bed, stripping off his jeans and boxers, barely time to shiver from the cold before Fraser fits himself against Ray's back, wrapping an arm tightly around his waist, cock settling into the curve of his ass.

He shivers again when Fraser licks the back of his neck, almost dragging him up out of the pleasant half-doze. "Hmm?" He half-turns his head and Fraser's tongue traces the curve of his ear, sending a pleasant warmth through him, becoming aware that Fraser's half-hard against his ass. "You want--" he shifts, but the arm around his waist tightens, holding him still.

"In the morning," Fraser whispers, settling a slow, sucking kiss behind his ear. Ray settles back, closing his eyes, as Fraser's fingertips trace him carefully, slowly, so much that he falls asleep between one touch and the next.


Ray wakes up by slow degrees, aware he's alone in bed and comfortably warm. He thinks about getting up, but he can hear the rain outside and from the quality of the grey bathing the room, he slept pretty damn late.

He always sleeps better after sex.

Stretching, he settles back down, letting the world stay comfortably hazy for a little longer, lifting his head when he hears the door open. Fraser's startlingly vivid in jeans and t-shirt, eyes finding Ray before reaching back and pushing the door shut.

"Frase." Half-sitting up, Ray runs a hand awkwardly through his hair, glad he's not awake enough for morning-after worries. "Sorry, overslept."

"Not a problem." Fraser climbs onto the bed, holding Ray's eyes, crawling up the bed as slowly and deliberately as a cat. Ray blinks, suddenly aware he's naked beneath the blanket and his mouth tastes like crap, but Fraser just slides a hand around the back of his neck and kisses him, tongue pushing into his mouth, easing him back down with the weight of his body and pinning Ray's free hand to the bed by his head.

Ray fights it for a second; Fraser's got about thirty pounds on him and is easily the stronger of them and doesn't bother hiding it. He doesn't stop, either, licking into Ray's mouth like he already owns it. Then Fraser's thigh slides between his knees, pushing hard against his cock, and Ray draws in a surprised breath, biting Fraser's tongue and arching up to get more.

Fraser pulls back, biting Ray's lip, hard, enough that Ray knows when he looks in the mirror later he'll see the pale purple imprint of teeth, soothed with a lick that follows his jaw, pausing. "Good morning, Ray."

Ray laughs a little, eyes falling half-closed when Fraser hums softly, mouth settling just below his ear. "Yeah. It is."

"I want you," Fraser says into his ear, followed with a hot, wet tongue. It goes straight to his cock. Ray moans, nodding absently, intent on the burn of his cock against denim, uncomfortable and addictive. It'll hurt later, but Jesus, it's good right now. The grip on his wrist eases, thumb pressing into the center of his palm before his hand's eased over his head. He turns his head, but Fraser just kisses him again, long and slow and wet, just the way he likes it best, and combined with the slow rub against his cock, he goes with it, eyes falling closed.

"You're that kinda morning person," Ray tells the ceiling blearily. "Shoulda known."

Fraser lets go of his wrist, but Ray leaves his hand where it is, curious and a little too turned on to care. Fraser frames his face in big hands, tilting it for another kiss, deeper and even more druggingly slow, thumbs rubbing gently over his cheekbones, then fingers sliding into his hair.

Morning sex, good stuff, even if only one of them is technically having a morning. He gasps a little when Fraser's mouth slides down his jaw, scraping teeth along the bone before pausing, licking a slow circle in the skin just below, then biting. Hard.

Ray's jerks, a jolt of heat arrowing straight for his dick, already so hard he's aching, as Fraser soothes the spot with a gentle lick before working his way down, tongue and lips soft and careful again, hand tightening in Ray's hair, tilting his head back. Using his the flat of his tongue, he licks from collar to chin, stopping to suck gently at his exposed throat.

Ray reaches to touch the mark, and Fraser's hand closes over his, pulling it gently away, licking the words Ray almost says off his lips before Fraser's tongue slides into his mouth.

Sucking Fraser's tongue, rubbing up against his thigh, Ray forgets what he was going to say, even when his arm's stretched over his head. The thin spines of the headboard brush against his fingers as Fraser lifts his head, nipping his lip again before pulling back. The blue eyes are dilated black, impossible to read in the dim room.

"Stay like that," Fraser murmurs, hands sliding down his arms, slowing at his sides as Fraser brushes a kiss against Ray's chest. He hisses when Fraser's lips brush his nipples, pausing to lick, slow and luxurious, suck with an edge of teeth that makes him shiver, hearing his own panting.

Dazed, he feels Fraser's mouth, warm and wet against his belly, the bed shift and his legs eased farther apart. He shifts more at the nudge of denim against his inner thigh, widening more, and Fraser strokes a hand down his hip before swallowing his cock.

"Jesus!" His hands close over the bars in the headboard, trying to catch his breath as Fraser pulls up, slow and slickly wet, going back down until Ray feels his throat surrounding him. He can feel Fraser's hands stroking his hips, sliding down his thigh, urging one knee up and the scrape of short fingernails back down to cup the curve of his ass. Ray's barely aware of anything but the tight heat surrounding him, the play of Fraser's tongue on the head when he comes up, maddeningly slow, the hand gently cupping and squeezing his balls in counterpoint. Just long, slow pleasure stretching through him, feeling himself start to sweat, losing even the memory of cold.

"Please," he hears himself say, voice thick, barely able to form the between moans he can't stop, trying to arch into that gorgeous mouth; looking down, he almost comes just seeing Fraser's pretty mouth stretched red and wet around his cock.

Christ, Fraser's still dressed. Opening his mouth, he gets out, "Your--your clothes--" when he feels the hand on his ass shift, fingers sliding down the curve until a wet finger draws small circles around his hole. He almost--almost--I've never done that, I don't know if I can--but they've been on their way here since he last night, since he came here with Fraser, maybe since the first time they met and the whole damn world seemed to change. He's not very good at saying no to something Fraser wants. Not when Fraser wants it this much. Wants him this much.

"Yeah, okay" he whispers, head dropping back, feeling denim pressing against his skin, then a finger slowly fill him.

It's weird, but he can't tell if it's good, not with Fraser cocksucking like he's never wanted to do anything else, like he likes it, enjoys it, enjoys Ray's cock in his mouth and Ray's body the way Ray enjoys what Fraser does to it. He can feel Fraser's finger twisting inside, strange but not uncomfortable, and a slow slide out. Back in again, matching the rhythm on his cock, twisting more, then brushing something bright that brings Ray's hips off the bed before Fraser's hand on his hip pins him down.

"That," he chokes out, and this time he pushes back against it, that maddening finger that finds that place and rubs against it. There's a pause, then a surprising stretch, a second finger opening him up, and Fraser finds that place again and rubs until Ray feels like he'll die if he doesn't come. "Fraser. Please. Please. Please."

Fraser pulls back, leaving his cock in too-cold air, licking down to the base, mouthing his balls, soft hair tickling against his inner thighs, so sensitized even that makes him groan, twisting on the fingers that never stop moving, the build at the base of his spine burning through him until he knows he's begging and just cannot give a good shit. Anyone would beg for this. Anyone.

Fraser slips in a third finger, sliding them in so suddenly that Ray feels a sharp burn, then Fraser's mouth is wrapped around his cock, sucking him just as Fraser pushes against that bundle of nerves and Ray comes so hard he can't see, like falling off a mountain, shaking, hands locked around the headboard and wondering dazedly if that's his voice that sounds like that, needy and helpless and maybe afraid, too.

Fraser works him through it, soft mouthed now, fingers slowing to a stop deep inside him, sparks still lighting Ray's skin with every shift of his body. Somewhere distant, he can feel the bed shift, Fraser letting his cock finally fall limp and satisfied on his belly, and then a mouth cover his. His fingers fall limply from the headboard, weirdly numb, and he has just enough energy to drape his arms over Fraser's back as he tastes himself in that warm mouth, on that tongue he should have known could do shit like that.

"You learn that in Mountie school?" Ray asks breathlessly.

"Actually, yes." Ray turns his head to telegraph "full of shit" by way of blinking, making Fraser grin, ducking his head. "Though perhaps not in what one would call a class, no."

"You gotta tell me about that someday." Ray licks his lips, watching Fraser's eyes follow the motion. "Anything else you wanna share with the class?"

Fraser's eyes darken, smile fading. Ray grins, arching his back slightly; getting Fraser's undivided attention is something he could get used to. "Only do it if you can say it."

"I would like to--"

"In American, Frase."

Fraser hesitates, pupils blown wide, flushed and messy and hard beneath the denim. "I want to fuck you, Ray."

It sounds so much dirtier when Fraser says it; Ray feels his cock jerk and sucks in a breath, sitting up and licking across Fraser's lips. "Yeah. That."

He watches Fraser finally taking off his shirt, giving Ray more skin to touch, and Ray drags his fingers slowly over thick muscle under smooth flesh, the stuttering line of Fraser's spine and jut of shoulder blades, learning by touch what he's only seen. Scars invisible to the naked eye catch under his fingers, the pitted flesh where a bullet went in and never came out. He feels Fraser tense when he touches it, breath hot against Ray's neck, a soft moan when Ray circles it with a lazy finger.

One inch, he thinks with a shiver, before Fraser pulls away, and Ray forces open his eyes long enough to see Fraser pull of his jeans, dropping a tube and a condom on the bed beside them. Ray gives himself an entire second to think about the implications of that before Fraser kisses him and urges him back down, warm and heavy, perfect, and Ray kisses back, licking into Fraser's mouth to taste himself, arching into the cock rubbing wet and silky against his belly, and wanting those fingers back so badly he's rubbing his ass up against Fraser's thighs. Like a fucking cat in heat. "Frase," he whispers, trying to find the words. "Just--fuck--do it. Come on…."

Fraser tilts his head back, mouth buried in his throat, biting into the sensitive join of neck and shoulder, and maybe it shouldn't feel good when it hurts so much, but it does. The fingers slide back inside fast and easy, not even a stretch, filling him up. Gasping, he tilts his head farther back, shuddering at the sharp bite before Fraser pulls back, kneeling between his legs.

Fraser looks--amazing. Wrecked. Dark hair clinging to his forehead, mouth swollen red and glossy wet, eyes dark and hungry; something looks at him that's never lived in a city, sat a dinner table, slept in a normal bed by Ray these last few weeks. The cap comes off the tube, and Ray watches, hypnotized, as Fraser waits for it to warm to his skin before slicking his fingers for Ray's ass. Ray raises his hips, spreading wider, trying to get more, more of everything, wet fingers and Fraser's muffled groans, the way Fraser watches him like he's never seen anything so good.

Fraser pulls out abruptly, and Ray whines, trying to follow, ass pushing against Fraser, wanting more, wanting that, wanting the cock Fraser puts the condom on with slow, deliberate movements that don't hide how his hands are shaking, slicking it with more stuff from the tube before tossing it on the bed. Hand tight around his own cock, Fraser takes a deep breath, eyes closed, then rests a hand on Ray's hip.

"It--it will be easier if you turn over," he says, voice sleep-husky. Ray's cock twitches at the sound of it, low and sex-drenched, thick as honey.

Ray shakes his head, licking dry lips, tasting the blood pooling close the skin. "Want to see you."

One hand sliding under Ray's knee, lifting it up over his shoulder, the other bent up, Ray's heel pushed against his ass. Ray watches Fraser shift slowly, cock pushing up against his hole, sensitive enough that Ray shudders, trying to move into it. A hand closes tight over his hip, keeping him still as the blunt head pushes slowly into him, passing the thick ring of muscle with a slow burn. Fraser's free hand plants itself by his shoulder, and Ray leans up, back aching at the unaccustomed stretch, as Fraser's other hand cups the back of his neck, tongue pushing into his mouth as he thrusts hard into Ray's body.

"Christ," Ray whispers against Fraser's mouth. Falling back onto the mattress, he shuts his eyes, concentrating on the stretch of his ass, the burn fading slowly. Fraser's still, sweat-slick forehead resting against his, breathing like he just ran all of Chicago and climbed a Canadian mountain with a cop on his back. Taking a breath, he tightens around Fraser, almost smiling at the startled gasp, the tiny shift of his hips, then relaxes. Easier. After a few seconds, he does it again, and the discomfort eases more.

Fraser's thumbs trail over his cheekbones, achingly gentle. "Ray?"

Ray takes a deep breath. "Yeah. Do it."

Fraser's fingers curve under his chin, tilting his head back for another kiss, sweet and warm and easy, like they're making out, like Ray doesn't have a cock up his ass and Fraser's shaking like he's about to fall apart. He feels Fraser's fingers slide between his, bracing on the bed, before he eases out, then in, letting Ray get used to his body, rocking gently until Ray can match it. His cock starts to harden against his belly again, and he relaxes more, following the careful rhythm working slowly deeper. Fraser licks his cheek softly, then shifts, pushing Ray's knee up further, changing the angle and sliding his cock against that spot hard and perfect.

Almost instantly, Ray's hard and gasping, shifting into it at the next thrust, Fraser gasping before lips are pressed against Ray's ear. "Ray. You feel--" Another thrust. "You're amazing." Fraser's breath hisses out as Ray twists up against him, wanting more, now, more of that slick cock that filled him up, the shots of pleasure like electricity wired straight to his cock.

"That's it," he whispers, fingers tightening on Ray's, the other sliding into his hair, pulling his head back. Ray shudders, back arching as Fraser speeds up each thrust, fine hair rubbing against his ass, Fraser's voice in his ear, words lost beneath the sound of Ray's own ragged breathing. Beneath his hand, Fraser's back is damp, fingers sliding for purchase, knowing he's leaving scratches he'll be able to touch tomorrow, proof he's writing onto Fraser's body.

He's close, cock rubbing up against Fraser's belly, hair tickling the sensitive skin until he's panting, panting words, he thinks, "Fraser. Please. Fraser. Christ. Yes," and Fraser kisses him, open-mouthed and sloppy, speeding up until Ray can't even form words, lightheaded and tingling with the glittering edge of orgasm, close, Fraser, please, please, please….

There.

"God…" He starts to shake, a roll of heat and light, cock spurting between them, jerking helplessly as it consumes him. Fraser groans, working into him harder, drawing it out until Ray can't feel the bed beneath him, the cool morning air, the pillow beneath his head; there's just Fraser slick skin and the sound of his moans and the feel of his cock, the sudden stillness before he begins to shake, teeth buried in Ray's shoulder as he comes.

A while later, Ray surfaces slowly to feel Fraser's full weight resting across his chest, softening cock still buried inside him. Slowly, he eases his leg down, distantly aware of overstretched muscles, the hard ache in his ass, melting into the mattress. Fraser's just as slow, pulling out with a wince and disposing of the condom in a trash can by the bed as Ray tries to remember how to breathe.

A few more seconds pass, then Ray feels Fraser's hand on his shoulder, gently urging him onto his side. It's not the worst idea in the world; Ray rolls easily, scrabbling for a pillow to curl around, endorphins keeping him loose and disconnected, barely able to wince when a questing fingers circle his hole.

"You--have got to be kidding," he manages breathlessly.

Fraser breathes a laugh against his neck. "Are you sore?" A fingertip slides inside, and Ray hisses softly, trying to project what the fuck do you think? in Fraser's general direction. "Ah. Just a moment. Don't move."

From reserves he didn't even know he had, Ray manages one incredulous look before relaxing again. Good sex and great sex are two different worlds of incredible; Ray's not sure he'll ever want to move again.

Pulling his fingers away, Fraser gets out of bed; Ray spares a second to wonder how the hell Fraser can even make himself move, much less get up, then closes his eyes. A minute passes before the bed dips again, then Fraser's hand on his hip, holding him steady. Something probably made of something disgusting that Ray doesn't want to know about is slowly smeared around the edges and then inside--Ray bites his lip, tensing, but whatever it is, it works, easing away the worst of the remaining burn.

It's getting cold; before he gets more than a shiver, Ray feels the blankets draped over him, but Fraser's better, curling around his back, hand running up and down his side and chest, rubbing away the rash of goosebumps.

"Gonna sleep now," Ray tells Fraser. He shivers again when Fraser licks the back of his neck, hand settling low on his belly.

A kiss warms the skin behind his ear. "Understood."


At some point, there's food; Ray thinks about clothes for the time it takes for Fraser to look at him, blue eyes hopeful, and stays where he is, naked and all, fascinated by this new view of Fraser. Knowing Fraser had a kind of terrifying level of concentration and being the object of it are two totally different things. Vaguely shocked that Fraser doesn't seem to worry about crumbs in bed.

Not to mention the touching, like Fraser's been saving up his quota of human contact for something like this; Ray can't get used to it, and he's a pretty touchy guy himself. Fingers drawing down his back, a hand resting on his shoulder, a hand rubbing slow circles on his stomach and stroking his chest, waking up to Fraser mouthing his spine as he dozes, warm and wet. It's a low buzz without the urgency of arousal, like getting a small dose of the really good stuff from a doctor, a little dreamy and unreal. Kissing for what feels like hours, half-awake and sloppy and wet, Fraser's tongue stroking into his mouth and drawing Ray's into his. Nothing more complicated than lying there and letting Fraser get out what feels like a lifetime of touching.

He gets hard again somewhere in the afternoon, the light slanting through the window almost gone to dark. Ray wraps a hand around them both, jerking them off slow and easy, hand wet from Fraser's mouth, and Fraser kisses him through orgasm, rubbing their come into Ray's skin and offering Ray his fingers to suck clean.

Bed and sex and food; Ray can't honestly ask for more than that. His concentration's shot for anything that's not Fraser, though he wonders a little where Dief is and what he's doing. Surprised he hasn't clawed the door down.

"Hunting," Fraser breathes into his neck. Smelling him. Ray wonders if he should shower and forgets the thought when Fraser licks down his shoulder. Reaching up lazily, Ray slides his fingers through the mess of Fraser's hair. They're both a mess. Something to deal with later, when Ray's not so comfortable, every muscle gone loose.

Deal with much later, with Fraser hard against his hip, and Ray opens his eyes enough to find a pillow and roll on his side when Fraser hand slides down his ass. Fraser tests with a tip of his finger, pressed up against Ray's back from neck to knees, feeling for every wince. It's easier this time, lubed and stretched and feeling like he's going to fall apart if Fraser's not inside him, his body opening up eagerly for long fingers and the length of a heavy cock. Rocking slow and easy, building it up until Ray's panting helplessly into the pillow, reaching to lock his hand around Fraser's ass and make him move, and Fraser's voice saying, "Under the circumstances, I think you could use my name," and Ray unable to believe he can put a sentence together right now.

"Fraser," he says, just to be an asshole, pushing back against each thrust. Digging his nails into Fraser's ass, Ray turns his head enough to see Fraser's flushed face, eyes glassy, and licks between his lips. "Ben."

Fraser's hand slides down his side, locking on his hip, and suddenly, he's flat on his belly and Fraser's fucking him, maybe forgetting Ray's just above zero experience and so startlingly good Ray groans and reaches for his cock, trapped against the bed and so hard it hurts. Fraser growls against his shoulder, urging Ray to his knees, one hand on the back of his neck and pinning him to the bed, then reaches under him and slaps his hand away, jerking him off rough and fast, not wet enough and perfect.

Ray comes so hard he starts to worry about the possibility of a stroke.

Later, limp and fucked-out, Fraser rubbing that stuff to ease away the sharp burn of overstretched skin, Ray turns his head just enough to stare blearily at Fraser. "Been a while?" he manages when Fraser lies down, finally looking like just maybe, he's feeling a little less than perfectly awake, hand resting heavily on the small of Ray's back.

Fraser blinks slowly, like it's taking him some time to work out language again. "Yes, you could say that."

That's all the conversation Ray has in him, leaving Fraser to deal with the blankets and settling in for, God willing, a few hours of sleep.


Four, actually. Ray straddles a moaning, sweating Fraser and learns how to hide his teeth when he goes down, relieved that it's dark enough that Fraser can't see him flush when he chokes, cradling warm hips and breathing through his nose when he swallows.


It's indecently early when he's awake for good, and it takes him a second to realize why; Fraser's gone, and like any junkie, Ray starts getting jittery when he's not getting his fix. Sitting up, he hisses, reaching back for the first time to check the damage. Sore, sensitive and a little swollen, still slick from whatever Fraser put on him…the last time. Whenever that was. His cock isn't too much better, head red and warm to the touch, skin almost raw. He's pretty sure he doesn't want to see a mirror anytime soon, either, running his hand through his hair, and there's a fairly good chance he has hickies in places no hickies have ever been before.

All and all, he feels pretty damn good. If you can walk straight after sex like that, you just ain't doing it right.

Climbing out of bed, Ray ignores the cold of the floor and wonders what to do next. His routine feels off now, like it's been weeks and not twenty four hours, so he settles for grabbing the first pair of sweats he finds and a t-shirt, neither of which are his, but he figures after twenty four hours of sharing body fluids, sharing clothes is officially just not a big deal.

He was right about the time; finding his watch on the desk, he squints at five am and almost goes straight back to bed. There's coffee, though, the smell drawing him to the kitchen before any firm plans can be made. Half-way through the first cup, Ray walks out on the porch to check the weather.

The rain's lighter than it's been; Fraser might be out getting caught up on whatever he skipped the last few days. Ray thinks about it, weighing sitting outside against days of being cooped up against having sitting down, before giving up and finding a spare blanket. After a second, he starts another kettle of water, then goes out, folding it up and carefully sitting down. With enough shifting, he can almost imagine it doesn't hurt all that much.

He was right; the sky doesn't look as threatening as it did, and in the distance, he can see light coloring the horizon grey-pink and dark gold. Taking a drink, Ray leans against the post, a little cold but not enough to want to bother moving.

It occurs to him he hasn't thought of Stella in two days, and he waits for the faint burn of anger, thinking of Vecchio and Stella down in Florida and leaving them behind. Nothing. Feeling a faint sense of panic, Ray looks for her, image-dreams of the woman he'd married and lost and loved more than his own life, the bitter pain that overlaid every memory, and finds nothing but wistful, remembered sweetness stripped of hurt. Somehow, when he wasn't looking, he'd forgotten how to be in love with her and how to ache with her loss.

He thinks of the words that Fraser whispered to him, sleepy and dazed, touching him like he was afraid Ray would leave when he let go. All this time he'd thought that both of them had been left behind, but maybe that's not it at all. Maybe it's just that they'd moved on.

Taking another drink of coffee, he finds himself searching the trees, wondering what they'll look like draped in snow, imagining the ground glittering white, ice hanging everywhere he looks. He remembers following Fraser across the vast expanse of the far north and how even then, it awed him in its hugeness and its silence. But mostly, he remembers Fraser's joy before it was cut away by worry and fear, and imagines going back and watching him light up all over again.

I could like it here, Ray thinks in surprise, sipping the cooling coffee just as Fraser emerges from somewhere to the left in a flash of red; Ray turns to watch like a magnet drawn north, knowing the second Fraser sees him, looking like the guy who stood up in a world of white with an incredulous smile, like someone who'd finally, finally come home.

Ray's chest tightens: his do-over turned do-better, his second chance wrapped in faded flannel and worn denim, the twist in the story that he never saw coming.

Ray stands up, waiting until Fraser's on the porch and handing him the coffee cup to hold before leaning in to kiss him, Fraser's lips are cold and a little chapped, but his mouth is warm and soft and wet when Ray slides his tongue between them, threading his fingers through dark, silky hair. Pulling back when he runs out of air, Ray rests his forehead against Fraser's and sucks in a ragged breath. "I wanna go north now."

He's not sure if Robert Fraser was right, that you couldn't survive the Territories if you didn't love them. Maybe just the person in them is enough.

Fraser licks his lips like he's looking for Ray's taste. Ray gives it to him, slicking his tongue over Fraser's lips, sucking gently before he pulls away, listening to Fraser trying to catch his breath. "Tomorrow. We can leave tomorrow." Fraser hesitates. "If you're ready."

Ray licks the cold tip of his nose, the flushed skin of his cheek, the curve of his ear. "Ready like you wouldn't believe." Ray closes his eyes and answers what Fraser had written into his skin with his lips and his tongue, his hands and his cock, murmured like a secret on the edges of sleep. "I love it here."