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Pack as a Metaphor

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“Born or bitten?”

The question catches him off-guard, and for a moment he’s too stunned to reply. He didn’t think he’d said or done anything which could have given him away. Unless… he draws in a sharp breath and yes, there it is, faint, but unmistakable, that not-quite-human scent that always reminded him of damp fur and saddle oil. Detective Vecchio was a shifter like himself.

Back at the station house, he’d simply been too overwhelmed to notice the subtle but unique scent that he’d learned to associate with others of his kind. It had been a near constant onslaught since he’d arrived in Chicago, really. Too many people in close quarters, too many competing odors smothering him, clinging to his skin and coating his throat, for him to even begin the monumental task of sorting out and identifying individual notes. How any shifter could stand to live in a place like this, suffocating and over-crowded, he couldn’t imagine.

“Ah,” Vecchio continues, before Fraser can collect himself and muster a response. “You didn’t know I was gonna ask you that. Sorry. I thought maybe, after the thing with the shoe... Bitten, right? Recent?”

“Nine years,” he replies faintly.

Nine years?” Vecchio whistles. “Well, nobody’s gonna confuse you for a city wolf, that’s for sure. Where’re you from? You got a pack back home?”

Fraser shakes his head. “The Northwest Territories. And no… well, Diefenbaker, but he isn’t... ah, certainly not in any sense you mean.”

“That’s a shame. Any other family?”

“No.” Fraser rubs at his eyebrow with his thumb.

Vecchio frowns and then claps a hand over his shoulder decisively. “C’mon then. I’m gonna show you why you’re a lucky man.”

-

“Ma!” Vecchio calls out as he opens the door to the house. “I brought somebody from work home with me, there space at the table for one more tonight?”

Fraser hesitates in the doorway behind him as he removes his jacket and opens a closet just off to the right to hang it up.

“Raimundo.” An older, dark-haired woman - Mrs. Vecchio, presumably - arrives carrying a wooden spoon and smelling strongly of oregano and basil. “Of course we have room for one more, you think I would let a guest leave this house hungry?” She smiles at Fraser and he can tell when she realises what he is by the minute twitching of her nose and subtle widening of her eyes.

“Ma, this is Fraser, he’s from outta town, helping with a case. Figured he could use a home-cooked meal.”

“Mrs. Vecchio.” Fraser holds out his hand politely.

She takes his hand in both of hers, somewhat awkwardly with the spoon, and gives him an evaluating once-over before nodding and squeezing his hand even tighter for a second. “Carmella, please,” she corrects and, not breaking eye contact with Fraser, tells her son, “go wash up and set the table then, and tell the others dinner will be ready in ten minutes.”

Taking Fraser’s elbow in hand, Mrs. Vecchio guides him gently towards the kitchen, and begins an extremely thorough interrogation concerning his family history and dietary preferences.

-

Dinner at the Vecchio household is chaotic, and very loud, and Fraser finds himself deeply conflicted regarding his feelings about the experience. It’s a relief when Ray’s sudden recollection concerning Drake’s wife’s injuries means that they have to leave early to pursue the lead, but he can’t say that he didn’t enjoy meeting Ray’s family. His pack.

Pack is a rather alien concept for Fraser, who’d always - admittedly, not entirely by choice - been something of a lone wolf, even before the incident that made that metaphor far more literal.

Perhaps owing to their history of secrecy and the necessity of self-governance, most shifters lived together in packs, usually nothing more than extended family groups, where any new members were either born into the pack, or scrupulously vetted and then given the opportunity to make an informed decision before being bitten and Changed. Traditionally, a new shifter was regarded as the responsibility of the shifter who'd bitten them, with that person expected to guide and instruct them through the process and acclimation to their new life.

Having been left to muddle through the Change and his new senses and abilities alone, Fraser’s education in what was and was not normal for his kind had been rather hampered by the fact that publicly available information about shifters was still quite sparse and frequently unreliable. This was likely in part due to their present nebulous legal status, with some nations refusing to even recognise their existence and others where they are regarded as inherently evil and wrong and in need of eradication. It was a situation that did not engender much willingness to disclose information which might be then used against them. Fraser was fortunate in that healthy childhood curiosity and his grandparents' library had provided him with at least a basic understanding of his condition.

At present, both Canada and the United States have adopted legal postures toward shifters that might be charitably described as benign neglect, and less charitably described as functionally discriminatory. While no law or regulation actually prohibits a shifter from serving as a member of the RCMP, or the Chicago Police Department for that matter, and it was a more-than-open secret that the armed forces recruited heavily in shifter communities, shifters who chose to do so openly were frequently subjected to a great deal of undue suspicion, harassment, and hostility from both the public and their peers.

Fraser had elected to keep his changed status from his superior officers when it had happened; initially, because he hadn’t even been aware that it had changed until after his first full moon, and then out of fear that disclosure would further harm his already less-than-stellar prospects of career advancement.

Later, after the dust settles following his confrontation with Gerrard, and he is exiled back to Chicago anyway for reasons unrelated to his lycanthropy, Fraser will find this ironic.

-

Fraser is surprised, though he probably shouldn’t be, when Ray invites him to join the Vecchio pack for the full moon not long after his return to Chicago. They have some property at the edge of national forest land, about an hour and a half outside of Chicago, where the whole family gathers to run the night of the moon each month.

It’s Fraser’s first time running with anyone other than Diefenbaker, let alone several other shifters, and he’s not sure what to expect. Cautious optimism quickly turns to dread however, when they arrive at the designated clearing by a trailhead and the others immediately begin unselfconsciously shedding clothing in preparation for their run. He’s extremely grateful for Ray’s assistance in running interference with his sister Francesca while Fraser strips off his clothes and shifts.

Diefenbaker, traitor that he is, laughs at him and stares openly at all the naked skin, and then fur, on display.

As a wolf, Fraser is less put-off by Francesca’s advances, and only her brother’s sharp teeth in his flank dissuade him from succumbing to her charms. In the morning, he awakes, chilled and dirty, curled up against Dief at the outskirts of a tangled pile of naked Vecchios, and goes to collect his clothing with a bright red flush warming his cheeks.

Ray isn’t offended when he declines the invitation next month, though he does say that it’s open any time, should Fraser change his mind in the future.

Fraser doesn’t join the pack for any additional full moon runs, but he does start coming to Sunday dinners when he can, at the insistence of Mrs. Vecchio, who seems to believe he won’t get enough to eat otherwise.

He gets used to the noise and the people and eventually learns to identify the difference between friendly bickering and actual heated arguments. More and more frequently during these visits he finds himself thrust into the roles of neutral arbiter, storyteller, or babysitter. He spends several evenings discussing cases with Ray, balancing a squirming toddler on his lap as he eats, so that Maria and Tony can tend to their other two children and their own meals.

It doesn’t feel like home, but it’s beginning to feel like family, and that’s almost the same thing.

-

Victoria, of course, nearly ruins everything.

He hadn’t spoken to her in more than ten years. Not since he’d gone to visit her the week before her trial, after the full moon had come and he’d woken up naked and confused in the snow and had to slowly piece together what had happened.

She’d never actually bitten him during their time together, as far as he could remember; evidently cracked skin or the nearly frozen fingertips he’d warmed inside his mouth had been enough to pass on her condition to him in his weakened state. At least, that was his best guess how it had happened. Perhaps it had been deliberate, and he'd been too near death to notice. Hypothermia had suppressed the fevered delirium that would normally have accompanied the initial stages of his transition, which made pin-pointing the exact moment of transmission impossible.

He hadn't even known that she was a shifter until more than a day into their ordeal, when her voice had grown too hoarse to continue reciting poetry and he was fading rapidly, and in desperation she'd shed her clothes to cover him with them and shifted in his arms. After that he had only the faintest of memories of warmth and fur against his face as the storm raged on around them.

But even if he’d learned what she was before then, and he'd known the risk to himself, it wouldn't have mattered, he wouldn't have done anything different. How could he?

When the storm finally broke, and they were alive, she changed back and dressed swiftly in the bitterly cold sunshine and Fraser thought he’d never seen anything so beautiful in all his life.

Afterwards, when he tried to tell her what she'd done to him, she’d been cold, still angry that he’d turned her in, and refused to speak to him, saying that she never wanted to see him again.

His last memory of her is at the trial, seated at the defense table, her lips pressed tightly together, back held unnaturally straight, as he recounts for the court a bare-bones explanation of how he came to find her in the wilderness and place her under arrest. She doesn’t look at him while he gives his testimony and he doesn’t mention how she’d asked him to let her go. He definitely doesn't mention that part of him wishes he had.

A decade later finds them standing no more than a foot apart, in his favorite diner in Chicago. She looks and smells incredible and when she smiles at him, he is lost instantly.

She feels like pack to him, or how he imagines pack should feel, and he takes her back to his apartment, which isn't quite home, and they cook together and argue and make love and, for a few days, everything is perfect.

It doesn’t last.

He tells himself later that she must have loved him a little, to have deceived him so thoroughly, to have lied with her body and scent so effectively, but he also knows that he wanted to believe her. He wanted to be forgiven so badly, he allowed himself to be fooled. It isn't a mistake he intends to make again.

All charges against him relating to Jolly’s death and the robbery were dropped following the shooting. The diamonds and most of the cash were recovered from the train station, which largely satisfies the police and FBI, and the bail money Ray Vecchio paid on his behalf was returned.

The RCMP and the Chicago PD know his secret now. Victoria's plan outed him to both and his hospitalization after Ray’s silver bullet - meant for her - strikes him instead left no room for a denial. The doctors were able to remove the bullet before it killed him, but the effects from the silver mean he spends several weeks recovering afterwards and will carry an ugly scar on his back as a reminder for the rest of his life.

Very little else changes.

Officially, the RCMP have no grounds to reprimand him for failing to report his status as a shifter, since technically he hadn't lied on any of his application forms or falsified subsequent medical records, as the annual physicals required of all members did not include any testing or questions which might've revealed his altered status. He suspects it will be a very long time before he is permitted to return to Canada, however, now that they know what he is.

Refreshingly, the CPD don't appear to care in the slightest, but that probably has more to do with the culture of the Two-Seven than the organization as a whole. Lt. Welsh and Ray had already known about him, being shifters themselves, but the precinct also had a reputation for the unusual and unconventional generally, beyond their detectives division's stated mandate of ‘major crimes’, so the revelation that Fraser, who by then had quite a reputation of his own among the officers there, was a shifter was hardly unprecedented and actually seemed to make him more comprehensible to his peers.

Victoria escaped the police dragnet without a trace and when Fraser closes his eyes to sleep at night he doesn't think about going to find her or imagine that he can still smell her on his sheets. He doesn't.

There are still small droplets of wax all over his apartment from where the candles had dripped. It will be months before he finds them all.

-

He's learning to adapt.

Chicago is no longer the confusing swirl of sights and sounds and smells it once was. Fraser can track a single person through a crowd now, and doesn't get overwhelmed or distracted by traffic nearly as often as before, though he still finds driving in the city a bit harrowing. He has opinions on restaurants and museums and local sports teams and can navigate the mass of streets without resorting to calculating angles of the sun.

He has friends, neighbors, and colleagues. A surrogate pack who’ve claimed him for their own. A partner who feels more like a brother, even when they argue. And useful work that keeps him busy and relatively satisfied, when he's permitted to escape the more mundane duties of the consulate.

Even Inspector Thatcher, who clearly hated him at first appears to be gradually softening in her attitude towards him.

Anything else that might exist between them is best left unmentioned.

-

Fraser spends three weeks in the Northwest Territories chasing criminals and failing utterly to do anything on the list of ‘actual vacation activities’ that Ray had supplied him with before he left.

When he returns to Chicago, his apartment has burned to the ground and Ray Vecchio is gone.

In his place is another man who answers to the same name but who looks, and smells, nothing like his missing friend.

-

Ray Kowalski is another lone wolf like himself.

Bitten in the line of duty while working on an undercover assignment, Ray is new to life as a shifter and deeply resentful of the changes it has wrought. His difficulties with adjusting to the transition dealt the final blow to an already struggling marriage and left a thrice-decorated officer with a string of disciplinary notes in his file, orders to attend counseling, and an incipient substance abuse problem. This assignment, to cover for Ray Vecchio’s absence and take a step back from his own life, was offered to him in lieu of more serious interventions.

Still reeling from the loss of his closest friend, Fraser finds himself in turns utterly bewildered, frustrated, and inexplicably drawn to this new Ray and his strangely invigorating energy.

Much like they’d done for Fraser, the Vecchios do their best to adopt this new Ray as well, both because doing so helps preserve the illusion that Ray Vecchio hasn't left Chicago and because taking in strays seems to come as second nature to them, but while Ray seems willing to play along to some extent, he's obviously more comfortable spending the majority of his time with just Fraser and Dief.

Fraser invites Ray to join him for the full moon just two weeks after their introduction to one another and is surprised when he wakes the morning after with Ray’s arm wrapped around his waist and his warm body pressed up against his back. Strangely, instead of hurrying to disentangle himself from Ray’s embrace, he finds himself welcoming the unexpected contact and after the initial spike of anxiety fades, relaxing into it.

Drifting pleasantly on the edge falling asleep again, Fraser feels something indefinable slot into place beneath his breastbone then, but it will be months before he attempts to put a proper name to this feeling, even to himself.

When Ray wakes, grumbling about the early hour and lack of coffee, and staggers upright to go in search of their clothes, Fraser follows silently. Neither of them comments on the intimacy of their sleeping arrangement and normality, insofar as such a thing could ever be said to exist in his life, reasserts itself promptly.

-

It was obviously too much to hope that he’d found a true packmate in Ray Kowalski.

After such an encouraging start, he and Ray have been fighting constantly for weeks now. There seems to be no reasoning with the man, no disagreement too small to erupt into a full scale argument, and the tension between them is becoming unbearable. Their once-promising partnership is fraying badly, to the point that even their solve rate has slipped.

Fraser knows it's the end when they finally come to blows on the shore of Lake Michigan. His mouth tastes of blood and filthy lakewater as he walks away from Ray, socks squelching uncomfortably in his boots.

The notice of transfer is almost a relief when it comes, though he has no real desire to live in Ottawa. He ignores the tightness in his chest when he thinks of starting over again in an entirely unfamiliar city, though it may be on Canadian soil, so far from anywhere he might call his home.

Fate, or the universe, intervenes however. He and Ray find themselves swept up into a truly improbable adventure which ends with them standing together on the swaying deck of a replica of the HMS Bounty, surrounded by seafaring Mounties, laughing as the sun sets majestically behind them.

Incredibly, their partnership has been restored and a new sense of trust and mutual respect now exists between them. And if Fraser catches himself occasionally looking at Ray for longer than he'd intended, if he finds himself standing closer, touching him more often than strictly necessary, it doesn't mean anything else about their relationship has changed.

-

Fraser isn't certain, but he thinks it was easier to lie to himself before he met Ray. Or perhaps he simply had less cause to do so then.

Regardless, as the months pass and their friendship deepens, his capacity for denial regarding the true nature of his feelings for Ray is growing paper thin. And trying to lie to a fellow shifter, especially one who knows him as well as Ray does, is all but impossible.

Frankly, it's a miracle he hasn't inadvertently betrayed his feelings yet. With each passing moon, he feels the distance between them shrinking, his excuses eroding. Fraser wants Ray and it's only a matter of time until Ray knows it, and that terrifies him.

-

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, wolves are decidedly less shy about acting on their impulses than repressed Mounties, and in the hazy afterglow of a shift, the wolf is always more present than the human, at least at first.

So when he wakes after their latest monthly moonlit run to find Ray in his arms once again, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to press his mouth to Ray’s throat and gently lick upwards, mouthing softly over rough stubble and the slope of his jaw until he's brushed the corner of Ray’s lips with his own.

Instead of pulling away, Ray groans and rolls over to return the kiss, pressing fully against his body and bringing his hands up to bury them in Fraser's hair. Instinct propels them forward with sudden, desperate urgency, groping hands and hot mouths and frantic thrusts which all too quickly leaves them lying panting and sticky in chilly morning sunshine.

They don't talk about it afterwards. Fraser, because he doesn't know what to say, but Ray doesn't seem all that interested in demanding an immediate explanation either.

The next day, at the station, they're back to being partners, no hesitation, no awkwardness. They've never been more in tune with one another, actually. If it weren't for the lingering notes of Ray's scent clinging to Fraser's skin, even after a thorough shower, he might be tempted to assume he'd imagined it.

-

Another month passes and the full moon returns.

They shift, shedding fragile human skin for thick fur and sharp teeth. They run and weave through the forest in a merry chase, limbs and lungs pumping hard. Hunting together, they communicate effortlessly with the flick of an ear, the set of their shoulders. Tails wagging, they feast triumphantly on the rabbit that they catch before circling back to bed down in the temporary den they'd prepared for themselves earlier.

And in the morning it happens again. Hands and heat and delicious friction. And then again the next month.

Each time there is always a moment, before either of them makes a move, where they lie together and just breathe. Soak in the simple comfort of touch, the scent of pack, and the familiar thump of another heart in harmony with their own.

Ray is beautiful, as a man, and a wolf. Experimental blond hair becomes an eclectic mix of grey, white, and tawny brown fur, which make his blue eyes all the more striking to behold. Standing next to Dief, the latter’s half-domesticated heritage is made all the more apparent by the difference in their sizes, despite their similar coloring. (Initially, this led to a fair bit of jealousy on Diefenbaker’s part, but Ray soon won his undying allegiance through judicious use of pastry bribes.)

When he shifts, Fraser's own coat is almost uniformly dark, like his hair, and when he pictures them together in his mind, his lupine form feels like a shadow beside Ray’s. The Vecchios’ wolves are all dark like his own, but for some reason he finds the contrast strangely appealing.

Actually, that's a lie, he knows exactly why he finds it appealing, and it has nothing to do with aesthetic preferences and everything to do with his feelings for Ray.

Eventually, they'll have to talk about what this means, but beyond a blunt confession that he has fallen in love with his partner, Fraser can't imagine what such a conversation would entail. The prospect of receiving a positive or a negative response to that admission scare him equally.

-

Their intermittent, full-moon-only affair continues blithely on until Muldoon reappears in Fraser's life and throws everything violently into chaos, quite literally.

No sooner is he reunited with Ray Vecchio than they are forced apart again by the case, and Muldoon’s bullet. Thanks to his supernatural biology, Ray survives a wound that might have killed a human man, but there's no time to wait for him to fully recover while Muldoon is at large. Fraser and Ray Kowalski leave for Canada in hot pursuit, leaving Ray to the mercy of his family.

Their journey overland, once remaining on the plane becomes incompatible with staying alive, is a test of their partnership and endurance like no other.

As wolves, they're better equipped to withstand the weather and can travel greater distances each day, but they need the food and supplies Fraser had absconded with in order to survive and have sufficient clothing to protect their human selves once they reach their destination, so he constructs a makeshift sled and harnesses from the equipment. One improvised sledding lesson later, and then they're underway; the two of them working together to navigate the rugged snowy terrain with the sledge in tow.

The confrontation with Muldoon and the Fathers of Confederation would almost have been anticlimactic after that, if it weren't for Fraser's personal connection to the case. He bids a tearful final farewell to his parents and brings his mother's killer finally to justice, at which point he decides that he has nothing to lose by adding to the emotional whirlwind of the day, and as soon as they're alone again, pulls Ray into a passionate kiss.

It isn't the full moon, but Ray kisses him back, and it feels like home.