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Price of Distance

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Price of Distance

He was up and on the road while it was still dark out, the GTO’s tank full, the oil freshly changed, the car washed and waxed and gleaming under the dying streetlights of Bellingham. By dawn he’d cleared the border, Washington State a fading memory in his rearview mirror, and soon Vancouver was just a blur of gleaming glass skyscrapers that caught and reflected the red light of the sun.

Ray has made this trip every two months for two and a half years, regular as clockwork. He’s established a system, a route that he could navigate blindfolded. Bellingham across the border, bypassing Vancouver but not its traffic. Merge with the cars streaming off the Island ferry, flow north-east along the Trans-Can highway. An hour out of the third largest city in Canada and he was in another world entirely. The Fraser Valley. Just seeing the green-and-white sign for “Hope – 200KM” makes him grin.

The highways of the lower mainland of British Columbia are thick ribbons of black tar that cut through green farmland and snake east towards the Rockies. All day the mountains loom in the distance, blue in the warm morning light of spring. They make Ray feel like he’s an ant crawling back towards the colony. The GTO moves slowly across the surface of the too-large earth.

He hits the turnoff junction at Hope around eight a.m. and doesn’t hesitate, turning north to Merritt as the green vegetation of the Fraser Valley slowly turns into scrub pine and the dry brown hills of the southern interior.

When people think of British Columbia, they think of the Pacific coast and Vancouver Island. Whales and cedar groves and salmon. They never think of desert, but Ray learned his second trip through (not the one in the winter, the one in the early spring) that the southern half of the province goes from rainforest to wasteland in the blink of an eye. Take the wrong turn on the highway, head a little too far east, and he’d hit the lush Okanagan Valley with its long turquoise lakes and the hazy sky that always remind him of California. But here, going north on Highway 1 towards Kamloops, it’s the desert that grabs him. Rolling brown hills covered in Ponderosa pine and dead prairie grass bristle with cacti and sagebrush. The summers are unbearably hot and the winters make the roads icy and dangerous, but the hills are always brown no matter what the season. He likes the constancy of it, sometimes.

He sticks close to the roads that follow the Fraser River. Cheesy, he knows, but even if it’d be faster to take the four-lane Coquihalla instead of the cracked and forgotten Highway 1, he’d miss following that water north.

Cache Creek at two o’clock. Ray stops to eat, gas up and check the Goat for any signs of wear. It’s a good car and Canadian highways in the spring aren’t bad, but he’s going up into the mountains where the weather can be unpredictable. The only quick place to eat in town is a Dairy Queen. He sits at one of the battered red picnic tables that face the highway and bolts down a burger and fries, the grease soaking into his belly and easing the pangs of nervousness that have been eating away at his stomach lining since he turned at the junction in Merritt. A lot can change in eight weeks, and like always he wonders if maybe this time Fraser will say that it’s stupid to keep making this drive up from the border, that maybe they should take a break or call it quits. That maybe trying to collapse all this empty distance between them stopped being romantic long ago, and now he’s just being pathetic.

The burger tastes like cardboard and he throws half of it away. Two-fifteen, and he needs to get going if he wants to make good time. Instead Ray decides to take a walk along the little brown trickle of water that gave the town its name. He crosses the highway that cuts east-west, dodging semis and big RVs with Washington license plates. He makes for a creaky wooden bridge and stands over the creek looking down into the muddy water. His reflection is just a black blur framed by clear blue desert sky.

Ray keeps trying to remember exactly what Fraser looks like. He hates the way the days and weeks apart soften the edges of Fraser’s face and change the curve of his lips or shift the exact shade of his blue-gray eyes to something easy to pin down, something ordinary, not at all like the stormy blue of Lake Michigan but more like the clear, perfect blue of an arctic morning. And this time...this time he’ll only have a couple of days with Fraser before they’ll have to go their separate ways. He’ll keep losing pieces of Fraser’s face, until maybe someday Fraser himself will just be a dark blur framed by blue sky.

Back in the Goat, back on the road. Old Sex Pistols cassette buzzing in the deck because he can’t get any station except the CBC on the radio, and damned if he’s going to listen to the announcers drone on and on about stuff that he doesn’t care about, stuff that doesn’t matter. As the desert fades away and he falls into the droning rhythm of the highways, Ray’s mind wanders. He hates this part of the trip because there’s nothing to look at and nothing to think about except the mileage countdowns provided by the highway signs. 500km. 300km. 100km. And then he’s cleared another town.

The frontier disappeared a long time ago, even in this wild country, but it seems that someone forgot to tell the small gold rush towns that dot the northern highways. Clinton and its faded false-front buildings look like a discarded set from an old cowboy movie. The only restaurant in town still has a hitching post out front, and the big wooden sign that says ‘Welcome to Clinton!’ flashes by before Ray notices it’s shaped like a Stetson. 100 Mile House is a long string of gas stations and used-car dealerships, and Ray’s never figured out what it’s supposed to be a hundred miles away from.

Williams Lake is the real low point of the trip. Set high up on the top of a gorge, the town is split into two with the lake filling up everything in between. Ray stops at a PetroCan and opens the gas tank. As the car fills he leans against the Goat, ankles crossed, staring at the half-a-town on the other side of the chasm. He wonders what it would be like to grow up in a place like this, a place other people just pass through on the way to something more interesting. There’s a couple American fast-food restaurants, four hotels, machinist shops and garages. Houses on the other side of the gorge, a high school, a strip mall. He stares at the lake, at the sky. The gas pump shuts itself off with a loud k-thunk.

William’s Lake is the start of northern BC, at least to Ray’s way of thinking. Everything else has been lower mainland or the desert or the Okanagan. Cities and towns close-set, the empty miles of in-between filled with a sense of movement, of progress. But after William’s Lake there’s nothing but three hours of road until he hits the next tiny town. Even the land itself seems barren. The mountains are still hazy and distant. Forests stand away from the highway, the spruce trees rotted red by the pine beetle that’s killing the logging industry up here. The road is cracked and pitted, split by frost and weathered by neglect. The smooth black tar of the highways down south are a distant memory, softened in his memory like Fraser’s face. Now there’s just harsh emptiness and the worry that he’s not wanted.

The day turns dark and cloudy, and Ray switches on the headlights. The land itself feels less welcoming, harder and colder than Ray’s gotten used to down south. He thinks about the way this country was carved by the movements of glaciers, its valleys and peaks scraped out by ice and water and time. This is the Canada of Fraser’s birth, and the river that carries his name winds north along the highway just like Ray. He wishes he could feel like he’s following it home.

True dark now, the Goat’s headlights illuminating only the white divider marks that pass by in a steady stream, dum dum dum. Ray taps his fingers on the steering wheel and hums in time to the beat of the road. Deer materialize on the side of the highway, and the light of his high beams catches and reflects in their retinas. He slows down when he’s unable to make out the dark shape of a bear trudging along the shoulder until he’s right on top of it. He doesn’t want to hit something, get into an accident. Not when he’s this close.

Quesnel. Another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town, this one clinging more tightly than the others to its faded sepia-toned past. There’s a festival here every year where people can gamble and pan for gold, see a Hurdy-Gurdy show and bet on some rodeo acts. Fraser told him all about it but Ray tuned most of it out. Now he thinks about the festival as he passes through. Sounds like fun.

His eyes start to burn and water. Legs cramp up, arms and hands grow numb from holding the steering wheel. He’s been driving for nearly fourteen hours and has another two left to go. This is when most accidents happen, when there’s only another hundred miles left on the trip and you get sloppy, get tired. Start thinking about curling up in bed with someone warm.

Last time he saw Fraser there was still snow on the ground. They got a room at an Econo Lodge at the junction in Merritt because Fraser had some extra time for driving and didn’t mind covering the extra distance if it meant Ray could meet him for the weekend. They didn’t leave their room the whole time. Just made love and ate takeout and took long, hot showers together. And Ray told himself it was enough. Enough for now, for next week, for next year. For all the long, lonely nights south of the border where every second felt like a compromise. Enough for all the times he chased down a perp in Bellingham and started to say, “Hey, Fraser, you believe this guy?” before he remembered that Fraser wasn’t there. Because Ray couldn’t not be a cop, because he couldn’t get citizenship, because Fraser couldn’t leave Canada again, it all had to be enough. Price of distance, he guessed.

Finally, a sign for the Prince George Airport. Curving black highway again, not pitted and broken but well-maintained, smooth. This is the start of the Alaskan highway and the last big city in British Columbia. It always comes as a shock, all these lights after so many miles of darkness.

Ray passes a plant nursery, a maximum-security prison, and then pilots the car down the long drop into a valley framed by mountains on three sides and the Fraser River on the fourth. The city itself feels and looks like an overgrown version of all the small places staggered along the highway, just bigger and meaner and tougher, a frontier town boxed in by Wal-Mart and Canadian Tire. Ray pauses at a traffic light and sniffs at the city, traffic and noise and the smell of two big pulp mills seeping in through the air vents of the Goat. The rail yards light up the night, and across the river the steep cutbanks rise and glow sandy-dark under the stars.

It’s an-inbetwee place, both transit point and destination, built because of the river, because the fur trappers and loggers and miners needed someplace to trap and log and mine, and then some way to send everything south. Prince George and its river were a good option. Those days are gone and now it’s the highway and not the river that keeps this place alive. Now there are eighty thousand people here instead of eight hundred, and they’re all marooned on a strip of land no one, not even other Canadians, have ever heard of.

Fraser told Ray once that he hated the city. Except, being Fraser, he’d said, “Prince George is symbolic of the devastation of the natural resources of northern Canada.” Ray had nodded like he’d understood, and then he’d gone back to nipping and sucking at the soft skin of Fraser’s earlobe. It was only later, much later, after his temporary visa had expired and he’d finally faced reality and moved south to Bellingham, that Ray realized what Fraser had actually said. He can’t do life in the big city anymore, not even for Ray.

Ray parks around the back of the Ramada hotel and gets out of the car, shivering a little in air that smells like the Arctic, like that dry cold Ray had only known on the Franklin quest. He breathes deep and goes around to the trunk, grabbing his bag and craning his head back to look at the night sky. One thing about the place: the stars are brighter here.

He goes inside the hotel.

Ray bounces on his heels while he waits for the line at the front desk to clear. He cracks his neck to get rid of the tension that had settled in four hundred miles ago, and flashes a smile at the woman behind the desk.

“Ray Kowalski. Got a room booked.”

She taps some keys and nods. “Mr. Fraser hasn’t arrived yet.” She slides his key-card across the marble countertop and gives him a bit of the ol’ fisheye. Her nametag says she’s a Gladys, and it looked like Gladys didn’t really care to be renting a room to a queer. Ray didn’t give a damn. He just takes his key, winks, and heads for the elevator.

His heartbeat speeds up a little and he pauses at the door to Room 603, taking a second to wipe his palm on his jeans. Sixteen hours of driving and he was nervous. Jesus Christ. He sticks the key into the lock and pulls it out when the little light clicks green, pushing into the room in the dark. The hotel room is sad and faded in the way of all hotel rooms. Chipped plaster hides fist-shaped divots in the walls, and the shiny polyester bedspread on the double is ripped along the side. It bleeds loose threads against the burgundy carpet.

Ray tries not to think about the soft old quilt on their bed back in Fort Nelson, the one that Fraser’s grandmother had made thirty-five years ago, the one with all the blue and gold and red blocks stitched together to make a tree. That old quilt had smelled so good, like the cedar chest it had been stored in, like the cinnamon and ginger cookies Fraser had eaten as a little kid, like Fraser himself. Every morning for the six months he’d had that visa, Ray had covered his head with that quilt and breathed in deep, Fraser’s warm chest pressed up against his back, snow falling softly outside.

Ray hates the polyester hotel bedspread. It feels like plastic, smells like old pee, and it makes his bare skin itch. He pulls the disgusting thing off the double bed, wads it up, and pitches it across the room into the little half-closet where the hotel hangers sway on their funny little permanent hooks. He thinks those are pretty smart--the hangers only hang on the hooks welded to the bar in the hotel room’s closet. If anyone tries to steal them, sneaking them home in their luggage like sample-sized bottles of shampoo, they’ll just have a broken wooden hanger with no hook. Useless.

He stops looking at the matching hooks-and-hangers swaying in the empty closet. Sixteen hours of driving, eight weeks of hearing Fraser’s voice echo over the phone, and he’s envying coat hangers. This is getting bad.

He makes himself useful, just like he did out on the trail when he and Frase were looking for Franklin. He unpacks the little bag that had sat beside him in the passenger’s seat all day. The extra t-shirt, a couple of pairs of clean underwear, and his socks all fit in one dresser drawer. Donuts for Dief go on top of the dresser, and he pats the package fondly for a second, thinking that he hasn’t seen the furball in more than a year. He should have brought something better than donuts, something that could express all the stuff he can’t say. But it’s hard to squash that into a neat little package Fraser can pack in his duffle bag and carry back to Fort Nelson.

A strip of condoms and a new bottle of lube go onto the bedside table. To Ray’s way of thinking they’re probably more important than the extra clothes or the socks, and if he has anything to say about it they wouldn’t be leaving the hotel room this time, either.

He puts his shaving stuff and toiletries in the bathroom, relieved that the place is clean, at least, even if the tub is stained brown and the paint is peeling away from the spot right under the tap where the water has drip, dripped, dripped for decades.

He lays out a couple of hand towels right near the bed, next to the lube and the condoms. He gets ice. He adjusts the lighting, trying not to remember that first time with Stella in his room when he was seventeen and lit all those candles and accidentally set fire to the rug. Ray’s never had much luck with mood lighting.

He’s forty-two years old, and he thought his life would be very, very different by now.

It’s almost nine o’clock, and Fraser’s late. He should have hit the outskirts of Prince George almost an hour ago. He’ll be coming in through the suburbs north of the city, where the new split-level ranch houses line ski hills and scrap metal yards. Ray closes his eyes and pictures Fraser in that beat-up old pickup truck Ray tried to convince him not to buy, hands loose and relaxed on the wheel. He’s just behind schedule, that’s all. Nothing to worry about. Fraser was always better about highway driving than Ray. He’d learned to drive on long stretches of empty road made of ice and lined with mountains of snow. Ray misses traffic when he drives up here, misses the heat and rush of the city, but Fraser prefers the long, lonely miles of distance.

And maybe that’s their problem. Too much distance, not enough heat and noise. Ray sits on the bed and buries his head in his hands.

There’s a soft click at the door as the magnetic key-card slid into the lock, and then the door opens and Fraser is there, looking rumpled and bleary-eyed. Nine hundred miles take it out of a person, Ray knows that for a fact, but he still can’t believe Fraser is here, really here.

And the look on Fraser’s face…Jesus. Like the nine hundred miles meant nothing at all, not if he could stand in the same room as Ray and breathe the same air.

“Hey,” Ray says, and it comes out rough since he’d only spoken a couple of words all day. “How was the drive?”

Fraser frowns like he’s not sure why Ray is even asking, not when they could be kissing. Ray wonders why he even thought for a second that the drive matters at all.

And then Fraser’s got him wrapped up tight in a bear hug. He buries his nose in Ray’s neck and Ray crushes big handfuls of Fraser’s flannel shirt in his hands; they’re hugging so tight that there’s no room between them, none at all.

“Hey,” Ray says again, softly, his voice just a hoarse murmur. “Missed you.”

Fraser just nods against his neck. “Missed you too.”

They come apart like glaciers do, slowly, scraping against one another. Fraser rubs his hand against the back of Ray’s neck, caressing the short, fine hair there. And Ray can’t quite let go of the flannel shirt. It’s warm from Fraser’s body and it smells like that old quilt, like their home. What was their home, anyway.

“I got some stuff together.” Ray jerks his chin to the bedside table. The soft lamp illuminates the towels, the bucket of ice, the condoms and the slick. Fraser’s eyes scan it all briefly and then return to Ray’s face. He studies him for a moment and Ray looks back, taking a mental snapshot of Fraser in this moment, his face sharp and clear for once without time and distance softening anything.

Fraser looks good. He always does, always did, but now he looks nervous, like he’s trying to figure out what to say. It’s more than just the drive: Ray can read anxiety in the little lines at the corners of his eyes, tension and exhaustion in the downward turn of his mouth.

In a couple of hours, after a few orgasms and a good soak in the tub pillowed against Ray’s chest, Fraser will relax and those lines will disappear. But Ray wants to remember him like this. He wants to hang on to the new wrinkles, the little frown of worry, the evidence that Fraser’s not happy about this arrangement either. Those lines remind Ray that he’s not being pathetic, and that Fraser needs these weekends as much as Ray does.

“Well done, Ray,” Fraser murmurs. He brushes his mouth against Ray’s, softly, and Ray gets the feeling he’s trying to re-learn the shape of his mouth, the texture of his lips. Ray closes his eyes and does the same, memorizing the feeling of Fraser’s hot tongue stroking into his mouth, the way it rubs and tangles with his until Ray’s knees go a little weak and he sags against Fraser, focusing on that tongue, and the way Fraser’s hands slide down his back, slipping into his jeans to cup his ass and pull Ray up against him.

“God,” Ray manages, his erection flush against Fraser’s through the layers of denim. He starts working on the miles of buttons on Fraser’s flannel shirt, his fingers scrambling to get the shirt open and get to skin. Fraser grunts a little, impatient, and it makes Ray smile against his neck. He presses a kiss to the tender skin below Fraser’s ear and thrusts his hips a little, rubbing their cocks together. Fraser’s panting now and he’s managed to unbutton Ray’s jeans. Clever Mountie fingers do the rest and suddenly Ray’s cock is out in the open, his jeans and boxers sliding off his hips. The hotel room is chilly and Ray shivers a little as the cold air hits his hot, swollen flesh. And Fraser--God, Fraser wraps his big, warm hand around Ray’s cock and brushes his thumb over the tip. Ray’s leaking now and Fraser uses the natural slick to help the glide of his hand. Up, down, with a twist at the top that makes Ray’s knees wobble even more.

He’s not going to last long.

“Fraser,” Ray chokes out, his voice sex-rough and scratchy. “Get naked already, okay?”

“Right you are, Ray.” Fraser grins as he says this, one of those big, goofy, no-holds-barred smiles that makes Ray’s chest ache. He doesn’t see Fraser smile like that very often, and for a few seconds Ray thinks that he would do anything--anything--to see that smile every day for the rest of his life. Best he can do right now is a shabby hotel room every two months, and even then there’s misery painted all over Fraser’s face every time they have to say goodbye in the parking lot after one of their weekends.

Ray cups the side of Fraser’s face and rubs his thumb along Fraser’s cheek. The gesture is too soft and tender to match what was in Ray’s voice a second ago, and Fraser looks puzzled by the shift. He holds Ray’s hand against his face for a moment, and closes his eyes.

“Ray,” he breathes, and Ray’s name never sounded so sweet.

Another kiss, this one laced with desire and sorrow and all the things they can’t say. Ray lies down on the bed, one knee bent, hands laced behind his head. Fraser stares down at him for a long time, blue eyes dark and cloudy, all that white skin pink and flushed with arousal. Ray wants this moment to last as long as time, until the glaciers move again and everything vanishes in biblical flood or is swallowed up by an ice age.

“You’re so beautiful.”

“Yeah, well, you know where flattery’ll get you.” Ray unlaces his fingers to pat the bed beside him. “C’mon. I want you.”

Fraser settles into bed, pulling at the sheets until they’re both tucked in, covers drawn up to cover their hips. Ray grins: they look like Victorian brides waiting for their husbands to seal the deal. Fraser smiles back, getting the gist of the joke even though there’s no way he knew exactly what Ray was thinking.

He missed this, the ease, this bone-deep knowing of a person. It was never like this with Stella despite the fact that they’d practically grown up together. He feels like he knows Fraser deep in his soul, and even though the guy is annoying as hell and takes stupid risks and doesn’t listen to Ray a lot of the time...they know each other. Moments like this remind him of it even when he forgets Fraser’s face.

They kiss again, merging together like branches of a river flowing out to sea. Fraser tastes like cinnamon, and Ray can smell it on his skin. “Love you,” he says into the corner of Fraser’s mouth, where an old scar pits the skin slightly. Fraser strokes the back of Ray’s neck in answer.

They take their time. Desperation has drained away and now there is only bare skin and the sound of rough, hairy legs sliding against one another. Ray loves that sound, has always loved it. He loves the strength in Fraser’s grip and the hot press of his cock against his stomach. And those groans that Fraser makes, the greedy, needy noises that only Ray gets to hear. The soft, dark tangle of Fraser’s pubic hair that match the tufts of hair under his arms. He could make a thousand lists of the things he loves about Fraser and he’d still never get it all down.

Ray adds one more as Fraser turns over and grabs the lube, tearing a condom off the strip with his teeth. “Could we--?”

“Oh yeah,” Ray says, curling his hand over Fraser’s hip, digging his fingers into the warm flesh. “You got it.”

Fraser hands the condom over, and the lube. Ray’s hands shake a little. It’s been so long.

He rolls the condom down over his dick and slicks up, and then turns to regard the broad expanse of Fraser’s bare back. Dropping kisses on his shoulders and trailing his tongue down the length of Fraser’s spine, Ray sighs and tugs Fraser back until his penis brushes the cleft of Fraser’s buttocks.

“You sure? We could just--”

“I need to feel you, Ray. Please.”

So Ray nibbles on Fraser’s earlobe and slips two fingers into his ass, brushing lightly at first over his hole, and then pressing inside. Fraser lets out a slow hsssss and hooks his leg over Ray’s.

“That’s very good. Very--good,” he grunts as Ray pulls out a bit and moves his finger back in, working him open slowly, trying to make it good. Fraser lets his head fall back against Ray’s shoulder, eyes falling closed. Ray breathes into his ear, stupid things like, “Want you,” and “missed this,” his breath feathering against the sweat-damp hair that curls over Fraser’s ear. He licks a droplet before it can roll into the crease of Fraser’s shoulder.

They’re ready now. Fraser is loose and warm and relaxed, and Ray is diamond hard and aching. He coaxes Fraser up a bit, enough so that he can slip his arm around him. Fraser puts his hand over Ray’s, laces their fingers together, and says, “Now.”

Ray slips inside and it’s so easy, so hot and tight and good. His body remembers what it’s like to be buried in Fraser’s and he can’t help a quick thrust, his hips moving almost uncontrollably. Fraser just relaxes a bit more and takes Ray in, just like he always has. Just like he always will, Ray hopes.

He forgets the small fears and anxieties that followed him north for almost a thousand miles. He forgets the small, shabby, dreary hotel room, and the hard faces of Gladys the front desk clerk, his partner back in Bellingham, those empty hangers swaying in the closet. He goes back to nights out on the Quest, under the stars, watching the lights with Fraser curled warm against his side, and there’s only the simple need to keep this moment and hold it as tight as he can. The rock of his hips, the slow slide into Fraser’s heat, the way Fraser pushes back against him and holds him close and whispers, “Ray.”

A few more slow thrusts, Fraser clenching tight around him as Ray reaches down to stroke his cock. Fraser’s breath huffs out in uneven bursts and Ray can feel the sweat of their bodies moisten the sheets beneath them. He jerks Fraser as well as he’s able, given the mind-blowing distraction that fucking Fraser represents. He just keeps moving, keeps pumping his hips and stroking his hand over Fraser’s dick, feeling Fraser tighten up until his whole body is one long line of tension. His eyes are squeezed tightly closed, his lips are pressed together, and even his toes curl up as the first wave of orgasm hits. Ray watches, fascinated, for about ten seconds until he feels the first spurt of Fraser’s come paint his fingers; then Ray’s gone, coming into Fraser’s ass and that hot tight heat and the need to be with this man for the rest of his life.

It’s over too quickly, but then even forever wouldn’t last long enough.

Consciousness returns, and Ray discovers that even though he’s soft, he’s still inside Fraser, their bodies pressed so tightly together he can’t even move enough to let his wilted dick slip out of that tight, hot embrace.

“Frase,” he whispers against the back of Fraser’s neck. “You gotta let me go, okay?”

Fraser mumbles something incoherent and drags Ray even closer, rolling them over and almost off the bed. Ray chuckles and shakes his head. He hugs Fraser tight for a second, then drops a kiss on his shoulder and leverages his body away.

He pulls off the condom and tosses it away with a grimace.

The overhead fluorescents in the bathroom are too bright after the dim, intimate light of the bedroom. Ray stares at himself in the mirror and thinks about highway miles and the small, cold bed in his shitty apartment in Bellingham. The first time they did this, met in Prince George after six weeks apart, he cried for an hour when he got home. And he stole a pillowcase from the hotel that Fraser had used during their weekend and put it over his own pillow. It took a couple of days for the Fraser-smell to fade.

He wets a washcloth and cleans himself off, and gets a fresh one for Fraser. He’s sprawled on his back when Ray returns, an arm thrown over his eyes to keep out the soft lamplight. Ray admires the picture he makes for a long time, the sight of Fraser stretched out on the bed, soft penis curled against his thigh, muscle and sinew thrown into sharp relief by the shadows. So damn beautiful. He can’t even begin to understand how Fraser could feel the same way about him, skinny Ray the half-blind Polak, divorced loser and immigration reject. If he’d done more with his life, got more education, made more money, maybe he could have gotten citizenship. But because he’s been a fuck-up most of his life, he might lose the best thing that ever happened to him. The only thing that matters.

Fraser stirs a little, his leg twitching, and Ray settles next to him on the bed to clean him off. He cradles Fraser’s penis gently and his strokes with the washcloth are tender but Fraser wakes up anyway, blinking in the light. He sits up and presses the heels of his hands into his eye sockets.

“How long did I sleep?”

“About twenty minutes. You should get some more shut-eye. You look tired.”

“So do you.” Fraser brushes the tip of his finger against Ray’s eyebrow, his tongue peeking out of the corner of his mouth. “Are everything alright in Bellingham?”

No, Ray wants to say. Nothing’s okay when you’re not around.

“I told Jimmy about coming up here to see you. He was okay about it. I mean, not thrilled to have a gay partner, but he’s good police. He’ll watch my back.”

“I’m glad, Ray.”

Fraser looks around the hotel room like he’s seeing it for the first time. He frowns a little; Ray thinks he’s finally noticed the bedspread, the bald spot in the carpet, the stain on the wall. He licks his lips and clears his throat. If he was wearing the serge, if he was wearing anything at all, Ray thinks he’d probably be pulling at his collar.

“I’ve been giving considerable thought to our situation,” he says, and something in his voice makes Ray’s heart slow to a stop. He’s heard people talk about their blood turning to ice and he always thought that was stupid, especially coming from people who hadn’t spent six months in the Arctic chasing after some dead explorer’s skeleton. But right now he knows exactly what they mean.

“I...I can’t do this anymore, Ray.”

So this is it. Fraser’s calling it quits. Ray’s having a hard time remembering how to breathe.

“Your attempts to gain citizenship haven’t borne fruit, and I--I haven’t been able to secure a posting closer to the border.”

Suddenly Ray is so fucking furious he can’t see anything except a wall of red.

“Uh, Fraser? Reality check. You haven’t tried to get something in the south!” His tone is too angry, too bitter. Ray’s surprised by the resentment he feels flowing out of his mouth, but he can’t quite seem to shut off the tap. He forgot Fraser’s face on the drive up here. And a couple of days here or there every two months do not a relationship make, no matter how great the sex is. “You haven’t even tried.”

Fraser rubs his eyebrow and Ray wants to roll his eyes. He’s gonna break Fraser’s thumb someday if he keeps that up.

“You’re right.”

Ray nearly takes a step back. Weird to hear Fraser say something like that, flat-out admit it. He feels more words of bitterness bubbling up inside, but this time he keeps them contained. “No shit.” Mostly.

Fraser sighs, but it’s a new kind a sigh, not one of his patient Mountie sighs, or even the sigh he uses when someone is being rude or litters or insults the Queen. This is a sad, lonely kind of sigh that hovers in their hotel room, in the space between them.

“I love you, Ray. And I...I need to be with you. I wish-” Another rub at the eyebrow, but this time Ray doesn’t mind so much.

Ray’s thinking about glaciers again, and how slowly the words are pouring out of Fraser. Drip drip drip, like the tap in the bathroom.

“I wish I had more to give you. You deserve much more than this.”

Ray’s not sure if Fraser means the hotel room with its frayed bedspread and chipped walls, or if he’s talking about...more. His heart is hammering in his chest and it’s making it hard to hear what Fraser’s saying. Fraser grabs something from his knapsack and holds the something out, his face uncertain.

“They’ve changed the laws. It was on the radio this morning.”

Maybe that’s supposed to mean something in Fraser-code. All Ray can think is you deserve much more than this, and that living without Fraser isn’t really living at all.

And finally, slowly, moving like a glacier himself, Ray takes what Fraser is offering in his reaching-out hand. It’s a small black box, square and hard, and the lid looks like the shell of a turtle.

Ray opens the box. The simple gold band inside reminds him of sunlight glinting off the Fraser river, turning the water yellow-blue as it cuts a path north to the edge of the world.

A tightness he hadn’t even been aware of in his chest breaks off and floats away. “ mean it?”

Fraser’s face is shining now, smiling that smile that Ray wants to see for the rest of their lives. “Of course. I...this will shift the balance with the immigration officials. And it seems I’m old-fashioned.”

Ray grins at Fraser, and suddenly he feels like singing and dancing and making love until neither of them can stand up. “Old-fashioned?”

Ray thinks he must’ve gone years without ever seeing Fraser look truly, deeply happy, because he’s never seen Fraser look quite like this. “I think, when you love someone, you should marry them. Unless you have some objection?”

“Nope,” Ray says, and closes the box with a sharp, happy snap. “I’m good with that. Guess I’m an old-fashioned guy myself.”

Ray knows his answer has to be pretty damn obvious but he tries to say the words anyway. And Fraser is right there, helping Ray along, backing him up like always. He slips his hand into Ray’s and squeezes tight.

“I don’t want us ever to be apart, Ray."

"Yeah," Ray agrees. "It sucks.” He takes a deep, shaky breath. “So I’ll be your...husband, I guess. And you’ll be mine?”

Fraser’s got no answer for Ray, or maybe his answer is in his touch. He just wraps Ray up in another hug, his skin warm and bare and alive under Ray’s fingertips, and smiles against his neck.

They’ve closed the distance. That’s what matters.

That’s the only thing that does.