He's been waiting a while for the facade to crack.
Fraser would say he was waiting on tenterhooks. He had to look that one up and he's still not really sure what it means.
Ray is well used to keeping secrets. Working undercover means you have to be, so he has had a lot of practice.
He's known Fraser for a long time now and for most of that time he's been keeping a secret.
He knows that Fraser puts on the calm that he presents to the world every morning in the same way that Fraser used to put on his uniform. Hasn't said anything, knows Fraser would deny it if he did.
He'd seen beneath the facade a few times now, but those glimpses have never lasted long. One day, Ray knew, the facade would drop for good and then all hell will break loss.
And that's exactly where they are now. It's not hell exactly, but it is different, and Ray is struggling to understand, to help.
He might diagnose Fraser as suffering with depression, but he's no expert, even though he's suffered in the past.
"Fraser needs professional help." That was Francesca. He knows she means well, but he disagrees with her assessment. What Fraser needs right now is Ray, and so that's what he's gonna get. He has time enough to help Fraser, to figure out what's wrong and what he can do about it.
He suspects as well that Frannie is only echoing what Vecchio has said. Yes, he called him, they are sorta related after all, and asked about Fraser. He hated having to do it, hated having to admit to Vecchio that there are parts of Fraser's life he doesn't know about.
What he learnt wasn't exactly reassuring, but it did confirm that there are aspects of Fraser's character that the man puts on like armour every day. The trick is going to be helping Fraser to find the real parts.
He's known Fraser for how long now? Three years, almost four, and it's hard for him to acknowledge that in all that time he's not really got to know Fraser at all. How can you be in love with someone and yet not know who they are?
Diefenbaker lying next to him on the couch, raises his head and whines. The wolf is a good way of knowing when Fraser is on his way home.
Early on he tried to stop Fraser from going out without him but all that earned him was a black eye, so now he lets Fraser go wherever he wants, with the stipulation that he comes home afterwards.
Ray sits, and waits, and worries. He worries that he made the wrong decision, that bringing Fraser back to Chicago was a mistake, that something has broken inside the mountie and, despite what he tells everyone, he can't fix it.
The door swings open and Ray steels himself for whatever is about to walk through it.
The first thing he thinks when he sees Fraser is how good the man looks. Fraser is wearing blue jeans, a plaid shirt. He is wearing his hair longer now and Ray really likes it, even though it's yet another sign of how much Fraser has changed. Today Fraser's eyes are gleaming, a clear sign that he's been drinking.
"Are you hungry?" Ray stands up. There's meat loaf in the oven, a salad ready in the fridge. He does his best to make sure they eat.
"Only for you." It is Fraser's voice that he hears, and Fraser that he sees, but he is still not used to this more sexually aggressive Fraser.
Diefenbaker jumps off the couch. The change in Fraser has confused him too.
"It's okay," Ray tells the wolf and Diefenbaker lies back down again, but he doesn't take his eyes off Fraser.
"You're wearing too much."
He's nose to nose with Fraser now, and he can smell the alcohol on Fraser's breath. It is a smell he's getting used to.
Fraser has unzipped his jeans, his cock is jutting proudly through the gap.
Ray closes his eyes. Remembers a shy fumbling encounter in a tent. Fraser so unsure of himself and of Ray, that Ray could almost have thought it was his first time. Even when sex became a normal part of their relationship Fraser still exhibited a strong streak of shyness. Ray misses that.
Yesterday Fraser asked Ray to suck his cock, and the day before that he was content to have Ray watch while he jerked himself off.
Today a command from Fraser sees Ray undressing himself. Diefenbaker gives him a look, that Ray might interpret as disgust, then walks off to the bedroom. Fraser doesn't care whether the wolf is there or not as long as Ray does what he wants. Ray on the other hand feels a little uncomfortable, he suspects Dief knows this.
Another command and Ray positions himself on his hands and knees. His whole body is shuddering, but he can't decide if it's desire or fear. Perhaps it's both.
He can't read Fraser any more, can't work out if he's going to get pleasure or pain this time. The not knowing drives him mad.
Fraser's hands are on his hips and Ray spreads his legs apart a little further, Fraser likes it when he's compliant. Not that Fraser has ever forced him, not yet.
Fraser's cock pushes against him and then it is inside him, and Ray lets out his breath, nice and slowly, as Fraser pushes deeper into him.
Today it's pleasure, his partner taking care not to push too hard or too fast. The man moans and his thrusts become a little faster. Ray pushes back against him and Fraser groans out his approval.
He feels inexplicably happy and then a flash of self-loathing destroys the happiness. His knees are beginning to hurt and he shifts, trying to ease the pressure.
"No." Fraser pulls him back, digging his fingernails into Ray's skin. Fraser is a lot stronger than he is. Ray likes to tell himself that he could stop this if he wanted, putting that theory to the test however, well, he's not ready.
Fraser is thrusting faster now and his grip on Ray tightens. His own cock aches and Ray longs for Fraser to touch him, so he can come too.
"Ray!" Fraser calls out as he comes and damp stickiness flows down Ray's thighs. Then Fraser's hand is wrapped around Ray's cock and Ray orgasms while Fraser holds him.
He collapses on to the floor, post-coital fatigue sweeping him away, and he thinks he hears Fraser murmur, "Sleep well, Ray," as he slides into unconsciousness.
When he wakes he finds supper is waiting. Fraser surprises him like this all the time, and it is for this that Ray resists the entreaties of his friends, because this new Fraser can be loving and caring every bit as much as he can be self-centred and destructive.
Sometimes he wonders what part of Fraser is facade and what part is real. He may never find out. Ray knows he has to make his peace with that. One day he will.
He has been in the darkness for so long now he is beginning to forget how it feels to stand out in the sun. The only chink of light he has is Ray. Somewhere at the very back of his mind, the place where he is still himself, he recognises the irony of that.
He watches himself, stumbling through a life that if it were not for Ray, would be an unsupportable burden.
Back in Canada when his father said goodbye, when he watched his parents walk away from him, going to wherever it is they went, he told himself that he was fine. And for a while he was. He still had Diefenbaker, he still had Ray, and although at the time it seemed like the maddest thing in the whole world, the adventure they had was glorious.
But it was not just the thrill of the snow and the cold, not just the immense peace that surrounded them. (Fraser found he didn't miss the city noise one little bit.) It was being with Ray, day after day. Suddenly all their mis-starts, all the little misunderstandings disappeared, and the two men bonded. They understood each other to such a degree that reaching out in the tent, putting his hand on Ray's cock, seemed a natural extension of their partnership. A new way to say, "I love you."
It was that partnership that brought them back to Chicago, Fraser unable to articulate his feelings, not really sure what those feelings are, except for knowing he can't be away from Ray, that he would rather cut himself in two than leave the man he loves.
He has never said "I love you," to Ray. In the wilderness it seemed unnecessary, he demonstrated his feelings in a thousand different ways every single day, but he seems to have lost that ability now. Does Ray know that Fraser loves him?
At the back of his own mind Fraser watches and waits.
He who would never touch alcohol, has become an enthusiastic drinker. It helps numb the pain for a little while, although the effects don't last nearly long enough. But it gives him some courage, enables him to keep putting one foot in front of the other, to reach out to Ray.
He doesn't know the words anymore but the actions he can remember, and the feelings. Being inside Ray, that is the most intense feeling of them all. Sometimes he thinks he would be happy if he died in that moment, buried deep inside his partner.
He pulls out just a little and hears Ray hiss. He needs this so much, he hopes Ray needs it too. All feeling seems to be concentrated in his groin, the rest of his body numb. He can see his hands gripping onto Ray, holding him still. Is he holding him too tightly?
Ray pushes back, just a little. "Good, Ray." Fraser barely recognises the sound of his own voice.
Ray is panting, shifting his weight, and Fraser panics, holds him still, forces himself deeper. Desperate for feeling now, his thrusts pick up speed, and now he is the one who is panting.
The release of his orgasm makes him cry out, and he lets go of Ray with one hand so he can reach the man's cock and give Ray the same release.
Ray comes quickly and Fraser knows from long practice that Ray will want to sleep now.
For a moment Fraser feels like himself again. He bends over Ray, kisses him gently. "Sleep well, Ray."
He uses the time when Ray is asleep, the time when the darkness is at its weakest, to lay a table, to put out the food that Ray has prepared. It hasn't escaped Fraser's notice that despite everything, despite the way he finds himself behaving, that Ray has continued to care for him. One day he is going to tell Ray how much that means to him. One day he knows he will.
Ray knows he will never be able to sleep without Fraser by his side. It is like sleeping next to a radiator, and for a man who always seems to be cold, that's a big plus.
Even when he can't sleep, like right now, Fraser's presence is a comfort to him. This new Fraser is something he is still getting used to, but he sleeps like the old Fraser, solid and reassuring, and ready to comfort Ray when a nightmare wakes him.
In Canada the nightmares were few and far between, maybe it was the cold that held them off, or maybe it was Fraser. He doesn't know.
Now they're back and it's a rare night when he doesn't have one. Sometimes he wonders why he goes to sleep at all.
Ray stares into the darkness. Diefenbaker is asleep in the living room and Ray can hear him snoring. It is comforting and he has to fight a sudden urge to go and sleep next to Diefenbaker. The wolf's warmth would be nearly as good as Fraser's, he's sure.
Instead he lies still, not wanting to disturb Fraser.
The mountie rolls over, mutters something. Ray thinks he hears his name. He rolls onto his side, facing away from Fraser. But even in sleep Fraser won't let him escape and an arm flops over him, almost by accident it would seem. Ray knows better.
Ray is held by that arm, but it's more than that. Fraser is his responsibility now. The two of them before they were like poetry. Occasionally badly written, and it only rhymed in those moments when they would make love, but nevertheless it was poetry, the way they moved together, the way despite everything they understood each other. Now? Now they are badly written prose, words jumbled together as though some author just sat down and typed out the first words that came into their head.
Ray knows what the people around him want him to do. How many times has someone told him that he shouldn't be sacrificing himself for Fraser. The last one to say that was Stella.
"I still care about you, Ray, and I think you're making a mistake. You shouldn't stay with someone out of misplaced loyalty. You have to put yourself first."
It was at that point she lost him. He contemplated hanging up, but she would just have rung back, so instead he tuned her voice out. Because she's wrong. Loyalty is not the reason he stays with Fraser. He stays for love. He stays because without him Fraser will be alone. The guilt of doing that to the mountie, sorry ex-mountie, will eat him alive.
There's a whine at the bedroom door. Dief who has somehow sensed what he's feeling, creeps into the room and lies down on the floor. If he stretches out one arm he can dig his fingers into the wolf's fur, and then he can sleep.
Fraser is up before him. How the man doesn't have a hangover after the amount he must have drunk last night Ray doesn't know.
"Mornin', Frase." He walks over to the kitchen counter looking for coffee. There's a cup waiting for him. "Thanks."
Fraser is seated, a plate of toast in front of him, a plate he pushes towards Ray.
"I didn't hurt you last night, did I?" Somehow when Fraser's like this it hurts more. Ray drops his piece of toast on the floor and dives to get it. He scrabbles for it and keeps his face turned away from Fraser. He loves the man so much it makes his chest ache.
A couple of weeks ago he'd gone to see Welsh. He knew the lieutenant would be going to ask when he was coming back to work, but he'd gone anyway.
"So how are things?" Welsh gave him a look, the look that Ray remembered all too well.
"And the mountie?"
"Ex-mountie," Ray said. "He's fine."
"Treating you all right?"
The question startled Ray for a moment. Welsh knew about him and Fraser, that wasn't the surprise. It was the tone of Welsh's voice, the concern in it, concern for Ray.
"Yeah... I mean... being back in Chicago... it's different... he's adjusting. We're both adjusting."
Ray looked down and cursed himself. He'd taken off his jacket and the bruises on his arms were clearly visible. Dark purple, bearing a clear imprint of Fraser's fingers. Fraser had held him against the wall until Ray had given in. The man had been gentle after that, almost unbearably so.
Ray shook himself back into the present.
The look on Fraser's face is one of concern, but Ray can see the blankness lurking in Fraser's eyes. Today it seems will be a good day. Ray likes those, a reminder of everything past, and a sign that Fraser's not completely lost to him.
The rasp of Diefenbaker's tongue across his fingers draws his gaze away from Fraser.
"Sorry, Dief." He holds the piece of toast out and it quickly disappears.
"I thought we might spend the day together," Fraser says. "There's an art exhibition I thought might be interesting."
The old Ray would have shrugged and muttered, and then done his very best to get out of going with Fraser. But he's not that man any more, and the new Ray is glad that Fraser is showing a spark of interest in something that doesn't come in a bottle.
"Sounds great." Ray ruffles the fur on Diefenbaker's head. The wolf will have to stay here. "I'll make it up to you later, buddy, I promise."
As Ray goes to get his jacket, he feels his heart lighten a little. Today is going to be a good day, he can feel it.
Walking through the streets of Chicago with Ray by his side is so much like old times that when he glances down at himself he is surprised to see that he's not wearing uniform.
Of course he is no longer a Mountie. Thatcher offered him a choice and he chose Ray. He has had reason to regret that choice and yet, even knowing what he knows now, he would still do the same thing again. A life without Ray would be a life not worth living.
And yet, even though he has Ray, there is a bleakness inside that he can't excise. The roots are buried deep, so deep that he's beginning to think that they have always been there.
"Ben?" The use of the shortened form of his first name brings him out of his thoughts more effectively then anything else could. Ray hasn't called him Ben in a long time. Does Ray still love him? Fraser is too afraid to ask.
Ray's hand is on his arm. He can feel the heat of Ray's fingers through the sleeve of his shirt.
He turns to look at Ray, really look at him for the first time in months it seems.
The man looks tired. There are new lines etched around his eyes and on his forehead. Fraser almost reaches out to touch them, but his hand stops short. Are those lines there because of him?
"This is the place, isn't it?" Ray gestures towards the door.
"Yes." But Fraser can't remember why he wanted to come here.
"You wanna go in?" Ray is frowning, the lines on his face are deeper. Ray is worried about him, he doesn't want Ray to be worried about him.
"Yes of course. That is why we're here after all."
He sees a look of surprise on Ray's face and then his mouth spreads into a smile. There is real joy in Ray's blue eyes, and Fraser feels his own prickle with tears. It's been a long time since he saw Ray look like that.
He holds the door open for his partner and, as the man steps through it, he looks back over his shoulder at Fraser. The smile is still there.
Ray's fingers brush against his and Fraser, following him into the building, feels a tiny but significant sliver of hope.
The art is mostly paintings. Landscapes of trickling brooks and trees, stark against purple skies. The sculptures that are scattered around the gallery are mostly abstract pieces and Fraser tries not to look too closely. They scream at him, and he wants this to be time with Ray, a reminder of the old days.
Ray is bored, but they walk together shoulder to shoulder, and Ray is at least pretending to look at the art.
The gallery bends to the left. More paintings, gaudy splashes of colour that make even Ray take notice.
At the far end an oversized painting has been hung. No bright colours here. White predominates, showing pockets of ice and snow drifts. A pine tree breaks the pristine scene, so dark its leaves look black against the snow.
Fraser stops. "That's where we pitched our tent." His voice is flat. Ray is looking at him, no longer joyful but horrified.
But it doesn't work this time. Fraser's head is full of noise, voices shouting at him, but there are too many of them, and he can't work out what they are saying.
He looks at Ray. Ray's cheeks are wet and suddenly Fraser can't stand to look at him.
"I need a drink."
He can't stop the tears running down his face, even though people are looking at him. He should have done something sooner, something to stop Fraser from seeing that painting. But it had been a shock to him too.
They had spent several nights crammed together in that tent while a storm raged outside. Fraser had reached out to him and Ray... it was everything he wanted and hadn't dared ask for.
Afterwards Ray couldn't work out how long they'd spent in that tent. They made love and they slept. Fraser had built a rough shelter for the dogs and Ray had sorted out the rations. Then hands and feet numb with cold they'd gone back inside and helped each other to climax. It hadn't been until much later, in a hotel room in Toronto of all places, that Fraser had pushed himself into Ray for the first time. It might have been Ray's first time, but it certainly wasn't Fraser's. The man had thrust into him with consummate skill, knowing just the right angle to make Ray cry out in passion. They hadn't gotten much sleep that night, and Ray spent the next day floating on a cloud of euphoria. And even though Fraser had had to go to a meeting with Inspector Thatcher, a meeting he had come back from with a thoughtful look on his face, Ray hadn't been able to keep from smiling.
"How'd it go?"
"Fine," Fraser replied, taking off his uniform with more than the usual care.
Ray had been hoping they might get something to eat, but Fraser had other ideas.
Strong hands pushed Ray down onto the bed and stripped him naked. Then Fraser rolled him over, pushed his legs apart and, with only the most basic of preliminaries, he had thrust into Ray.
"Ben, please." But Fraser had interpreted his pleading for encouragement, and he buried himself even deeper inside Ray.
Fraser fucked him extremely thoroughly and Ray wondered what Thatcher had said to him to make the normally reserved man act out of character like that.
What Ray didn't know, but would find out in the months ahead, was that the man who had taken him in the hotel room was entirely Fraser.
Ray stands outside the gallery and resists the urge to scream. A thin, cold, and drizzly rain is falling from the sky and Ray shivers. He has two choices. He can go and search every nearby dive bar he can think of, trying to find Fraser, or he can go home and wait there. He thinks of Diefenbaker, waiting patiently, and makes up his mind to go home.
The wolf looks up as Ray comes through the door.
"Yeah, I know. I lost him." Ray shakes his head, trying to shake away his despair. "C'mon, Dief, let's go for a walk."
One block over there's a small park. It has a stream, and a small wooded area, perfect for Diefenbaker. Ray wanders around aimlessly while the wolf plays.
Ray and Diefenbaker are not alone. Another man is there, he has a small nondescript dog which he keeps on its leash. He smiles at Ray.
"I've seen you here a few times, haven't I? My name's John."
More because it's expected than because he wants to, Ray shakes the man's hand.
"I like your dog."
The reaction is so ingrained that the words are out of his mouth before he can stop them. "He's a wolf."
There's a half smile on John's face. The man probably thinks Ray is joking.
Diefenbaker has flushed a squirrel and he chases after it, barking joyfully. Ray wishes he could feel happy, even just for a few moments would be nice. Like this morning, before Fraser had seen that damned painting.
"Would you like to get a coffee with me?"
The words and John's hand on his arm make him jump. John seems like a perfectly nice man. He's not quite as tall as Ray, has light brown hair thinning a little at the temples, but Ray has never held thinning hair against anybody, and his eyes are dark brown. He's different enough from Fraser to pique Ray's interest. And for a moment he is tempted. He longs for something simple. Perhaps John could give him that, but what Ray really wants is Fraser. Ever since they first met, ever since Ray pulled the man into that awkward hug, he's wanted him.
"I'm flattered," Ray says, "but it wouldn't be a good idea."
"Oh well..." John is clearly disappointed and he tugs his little dog away, shoulders hunched.
For a moment Ray imagines himself calling John back, dragging him into the trees, and letting the man put his mouth around his cock.
He shakes the thoughts away and goes in pursuit of Diefenbaker instead.
When they get back the apartment is silent. For Diefenbaker's sake Ray tries to pretend that he wasn't hoping that Fraser would be there. The wolf inspects the apartment thoroughly, then lies down in his bed, yawns, and goes to sleep. Ray wishes it were that easy for him.
He puts the television on but he can't focus on anything, so turns it off with a growl. Maybe if he took Diefenbaker out on his search he might be able to find Fraser, but Dief is asleep, and Ray is sure he can remember reading something about letting sleeping wolves lie.
Instead he stretches out on the couch, props his feet up on the arm rest, and tries to believe that he is relaxed, that in fact every nerve in his body isn't stretched to breaking point listening for Fraser.
Diefenbaker stirs, opens his eyes, and Ray knows Fraser is downstairs.
He barely has time to get up off the couch before Fraser is walking through the door, striding towards Ray with a look on his face that Ray is getting all too used to.
Usually he can hold his ground, but not today. He backs up, and then he hears a growl from Diefenbaker. The wolf has placed himself between the two men.
Fraser's pupils are huge, wide from both alcohol and desire, and Ray can't take his eyes off the bulge in his pants.
"It's okay, Dief." The wolf whines and lies down, head resting on his paws, but he doesn't take his eyes off Fraser.
He doesn't need to be close to the man to smell the alcohol, he reeks of it, and Ray is actually a little surprised that Fraser is still standing.
Fraser walks forward and Ray backs away. He bumps against the bedroom door and stumbles through it. There is no talking to Fraser when he is like this, Ray has given up trying. He puts his hands on the bottom of his t-shirt, ready to pull it over his head.
"No," Fraser growls, and Ray lets his hands fall to his sides. This is new. Fraser normally wants him naked as quickly as possible.
"Undo your pants, but don't take them off." Fraser is beginning to pant and Ray carefully and slowly does as he's told.
"Lie down on the bed, face down."
Ray takes a long look at Fraser, he can't see much sign of the man he knows at all. Maybe he did make the wrong choice.
"Ben." That had worked earlier and Ray steps forward, trying to breach the gulf between them. They are about to be as close as two people can be, and yet it feels as if Fraser is a million miles away.
"Lie on the bed, face down," Fraser repeats the command with a raised fist for emphasis.
Ray, not wanting to rouse any more aggression than he can already see flashing in his partner's eyes, does as he's told.
The sounds behind him make him want to squirm but he holds still. Fraser is getting himself ready, but he's not undressing. Fraser is going to remain fully dressed while he fucks Ray. As though Ray is just someone he's picked up on a street corner, as though they mean nothing to each other.
He doesn't bother to try and hold back the tears. He doubts Fraser will notice and even if he does, he won't care. The last shred of hope that Ray was holding onto is threatening to fly away, but he can't let go of it, he won't.
The bed dips as Fraser climbs on and moves to straddle Ray. Hands tug at his pants, exposing him just enough for Fraser's needs.
Ray twists his head to one side and closes his eyes, water leaks out regardless. Fraser is inside him. He is taking less care than usual and Ray can't stop a cry of pain from escaping his lips.
Fraser is muttering words under his breath. Ray refuses to listen. He thinks about the man as he used to be. He pictures the man in his head, but the mountie is watching him with a disapproving look, shaking his head and, as Fraser climaxes inside him, he hears the other Fraser say, "Why are you letting him do this to you?"
The past is a place he can't go back to, no matter how much he might want to. Over time he has lost them all; parents, grandparents, friends, lovers, his home.
Ray is different, a small voice at the back of his head insists. Ray loves you.
But they did too. And by they he means everyone, a long line of people stretching out behind them.
And Maggie, the voice says. Your sister. Family.
Half sister, Fraser snaps. And she left too.
The painting on the wall in front of him mocks him.
This is when things were perfect, when Ray wanted you, when Ray would do anything for you.
Fraser can feel himself changing, twisting away to avoid the reality that is closing in around him. He has so many doubts now. He fears that Ray no longer wants him, so instead of asking he takes.
Alcohol deals with all the rest. Under its influence the world is pushed away, and Fraser can forget that he exists. And it is only when he's drunk that he feels worthy of Ray. Despite all his fears the man he still thinks of as his partner has not yet said no to him.
One day he will, one day he will look at Fraser and his bottom lip will curl with disgust. He will push Fraser away and then it will be over. It will all be over.
Fraser flees through the streets. He is going away, running from everything he was foolish enough to think he could have.
He passes an open doorway, hears music, but more importantly smells alcohol. Fraser doesn't hesitate. He goes into the darkened bar and orders a drink.
The heat in his stomach becomes a buzz in his brain. It's comforting. He feels cocooned, safe, and so he orders another.
The other drinkers are mostly old men, their hands shake as their raise their drinks to their lips. Perhaps that will be him one day. Drinking because it's something to do, because he has nothing else in his life.
The thought brings him up short. He wants Ray to be in his life, but Ray is slipping away from him. It's his fault, he knows that. He has to figure out a way to make it stop, but thinking right now makes his head hurt. The extent to which he is becoming dependent on Ray is frightening.
Fraser sips his drink, and then someone behind jostles his elbow and the liquid splashes from the glass and onto his shirt. The walls feel as though they are closing in on him, and Fraser does his best not to break into a run until he gets outside.
He loses himself in walking. One foot in front of the other, until his feet hurt.
He's almost home. Fraser stops, does he have the right to call it home? Ray is there and Diefenbaker.
He wants Ray so badly his whole body aches. He would like to go inside, kiss Ray hello, and make him a proper meal. In Fraser's fantasy, the two men eat, clean up together, and then spend the evening talking.
Even as he finds himself yearning for it, he feels the fear rising up in him, the fear that Ray won't want to spend time with him, that Ray will reject him.
He can't give Ray that opportunity. He doesn't want to think about what would happen if he did. And so he presses on regardless. Sex is the best way for him to 'speak' to Ray. He hopes he's getting through.
His partner is waiting for him as he walks through the door. He thinks the expression on Ray's face is relief, there may be a touch of apprehension there as well.
A sense of urgency drives Fraser forward. He wants to touch Ray, to be touched in return.
But why does Ray seem afraid? Why is Diefenbaker growling at him? The wolf has never done that before. For a moment Fraser considers turning and walking away, but his need is too great. Ray is looking at him and then the man looks down at Diefenbaker.
"It's okay, Dief."
The wolf backs away and lies down but Fraser knows he is being watched. He turns his attention back to Ray. He has an overwhelming urge to kiss his partner, but as Fraser takes a step forward Ray begins to back away. The man bumps into the bedroom door, recovers himself, and steps into the bedroom. Fraser follows.
He is expecting a 'no', some outright rejection, but Ray doesn't speak. Instead he puts his hands on the hem of his t-shirt, preparing to pull it over his head.
Deep inside Fraser panics. He doesn't know why, he doesn't have time to work it out.
"No," he growls. Ray's hands fall to his sides. Is that a spark of curiosity he can see in Ray's eyes?
"Undo your pants, but don't take them off." Fraser can feel his breathing getting heavier. He wants to bury himself in Ray for an eternity, but it is clear now he doesn't deserve that. Up till now he and Ray have always been naked. He has always loved the feel of Ray's skin sliding beneath him.
"Lie down on the bed, face down." He doesn't want to see Ray's face. In an unguarded moment he might see Ray's true feelings. Fraser bites down on his lip, he wishes he didn't need this.
Earlier today when Ray said his name it felt like a gift. Now it's a distraction. Fraser doesn't want to be distracted.
His fingers curl into a fist, his fingernails digging into the palm of his hand. Pain is good, pain means he's still alive.
"Lie down on the bed, face down." His voice is a growl and Ray does as he's told.
With shaking hands Fraser finds the lube, unzips his fly, and begins to stroke himself.
Once he feels ready he climbs onto the bed and straddles Ray, exposing him just enough. It is strange like this and Fraser almost stops himself, but his need for release is too strong.
The angle is different and as Fraser thrusts into Ray he hears the man cry out.
He should stop, pull out, check to see if he has hurt Ray, but he doesn't. Instead he mutters to himself as he thrusts. Words aimed squarely at himself.
"Thick-headed... Stupid... Moronic... Imbecilic... Dumb... Cretinous... Asinine."
It doesn't take long before his orgasm makes him shudder and moan. But in truth it brings him little satisfaction.
Ray is crying. How long has Ray been crying for?
Fraser knows now he can't stay. He pushes himself off the bed, refastens his clothing, and walks away.
Diefenbaker watches him and Fraser almost stops.
"Look after him for me."
And Fraser is gone.
The knock on the door followed by Diefenbaker's bark rouses Ray from one of the deepest sleeps he's had in weeks.
The knock comes again and Ray sits up. Fraser's side of the bed looks unslept in, although, remembering what happened between them last night makes Ray wonder if maybe his partner spent the night on the couch, it wouldn't be the first time after all.
What mood will Fraser be in today? The come down from the alcohol often makes him melancholy, and Ray has to work extra hard to cheer him up. Sometimes, but thankfully not that often, Fraser will be aggressive and Ray is learning not to fight back against that. He'll find out soon enough.
But when Ray walks into the living room, wearing the discarded pants from last night, there is no sign of Fraser. Diefenbaker looks up at him and whines.
Maybe Fraser went out for a walk, he's done that enough times in the past that it wouldn't be unexpected.
"Did you forget your key?" Ray pulls the door open, and then stops, frozen in surprise.
Stella! Stella standing there looking as beautiful as she ever has.
"Hi." Ray smiles, but the smile falls from his face when he sees Vecchio standing behind her.
"You gonna invite us in?" The man hasn't changed. Once upon a time Ray might have shut the door in his face, but he no longer has that amount of fight in him, and so he backs away from the door, watching as Stella and Vecchio walk in after him.
He sees them looking around, knows what they must be thinking. Diefenbaker stands up, but instead of greeting his guests, the wolf comes to stand by his side. Ray places his hand on Diefenbaker's head.
"Does he guard you from Fraser too?" Vecchio asks, and Stella shoots her husband a warning look.
"I thought we decided I was going to talk to Ray."
Her tone of voice almost makes Ray smile. She's used that same tone on him quite a few times in the past.
"What do you want to talk about?"
"Is Fraser here?"
"No." Ray shifts his focus to Vecchio, the man is gazing towards the open door of the bedroom, the unmade bed.
"Any idea where he is?" The tone is sarcastic and Ray can feel himself bristling. "I need to have a word."
"This early in the morning?" Ray shrugs. "Probably not a bar." He sees the shock in Vecchio's eyes. Ray imagines that actually being here in their apartment is bringing home to Vecchio things that were only an abstract before.
"There's a diner, two blocks west of here. Fraser likes it there. And if not there maybe the park."
"Thanks." Vecchio looks at Stella. "You'll be all right?"
"I think I've got the easier job."
Once Vecchio has gone, Stella wanders a little further into the apartment. Ray watches her, wonders what she's looking for.
"Do you want a coffee?"
"The way you make it?" She smiles. "Please."
Ray goes over to the kitchen area, takes the opportunity to give Dief some breakfast. As he turns away from the cupboard he sees that Stella is standing in the entrance to the bedroom.
"Is that blood?" She turns towards him, eyes wide with shock. "Ray, there's blood on your sheets."
He can still feel the ache inside. Fraser's less than careful breaching of his body last night must have caused something to tear.
Ray shakes his head. "It's nothing."
He can see that Stella doesn't believe him. "Ray..."
"Cup of coffee." He pushes it into her hands, before moving to pick up his own, but his hands are shaking too much. "It's nothing."
She has that look on her face, that deeply sympathetic lawyer look, he doesn't want that look directed at him. He isn't a victim.
Stella arranges herself neatly on the couch and sips her coffee.
Ray is careful to keep his distance. "What are you doing here, Stella?"
"Ray and I have been talking things over for days, deciding whether or not we should get involved. I'm glad we decided to come."
"So this is what?" Ray gestures in the air.
Stella smiles at him. "I suppose you could call it an intervention."
"I don't need an intervention and neither does Fraser. That's what Vecchio's doing, isn't it?"
"I disagree. Fraser has been hurting you for some time now and you seem unwilling or unable to do anything to stop it. That's why I'm here."
Ray laughs. "That's ridiculous."
Stella raised an eyebrow. "Is it? There are bruises all over your chest and arms. I'm guessing Fraser is the cause."
Ray turned away. "You don't understand how things are between us."
"You realise you sound like every abused woman I've ever spoken to."
"I'm not a woman."
Stella sits forward and fixes Ray with her gaze. "But you are being abused."
Ray shakes his head.
"Okay, Ray. Let's approach this from another direction. When was the last time Fraser told you he loved you? When was the last time he did something nice for you? When he wants sex does he ask first?"
The barrage of questions makes Ray shake his head and clench his hands into fists. "No." He squeezes his eyes shut.
"Ray." Stella is right in front of him, reluctantly he opens his eyes. "Last night Fraser made you bleed, didn't he?"
In a million years Ray would never have dreamt he would be having this conversation with his ex-wife. "It happens sometimes."
"Did it hurt? I'm guessing it did. Enough to make you cry out?"
Dammit, but he can't lie to her.
"Enough that Fraser would have known something was wrong? Did he stop? Did he check to make sure you were okay?"
"No!" It is all he can do not to push Stella away. "He didn't stop. He didn't check." Ray puts his fists up to his head, he really wants to punch something. His own head for a start.
"Ray." Stella takes hold of his hands, guides them back down. He's crying, sobbing because this is too much. It's not fair to make him think about this.
"What would you say, Ray, if this was happening to someone you knew? Would you just stand by while their partner leaves them regularly bruised, rapes them?"
"No." Ray tears himself away from Stella. Part of him agrees with her, but he is not going to let that part win. "Fraser hasn't raped me." He has never hated that word more. He wants Stella to go, so he can crawl back into bed. This is all just a bad dream, isn't it? He'll wake up soon. Please, God, he'll wake up soon.
She is still here. Her cool hands take hold of his and she leads him over to the couch. He sits down, what else is he supposed to do?
"You know that sex without consent is rape, don't you?"
Ray nods. He's been a Chicago cop for a long time, he knows what rape is.
"I spoke to Lieutenant Welsh." Stella's voice is gentle. "He said you haven't been to work for a while now."
"I'm on leave," Ray protests. "I've been looking after Fraser." He isn't going to tell her that he's got no intention of going back.
"Welsh said that you don't intend to go back once your leave is over. Is that true?"
"Why are you asking? One minute you're talking about rape and then you're giving me career advice?" Ray moves to stand up, but Stella stops him.
"It's all part of a pattern, can you see that? Isolation from work, from friends. Soon Fraser is the only person in your life and he can do what he wants to you."
Ray's stomach is churning and he's glad he hasn't eaten anything. "Fraser's not like that. You don't know him."
"I don't need to know him," Stella says, sadness in her eyes. "I can see what's happening and so can Ray."
For a moment he's confused, of course she means Vecchio. Ray bows his head.
"What do you want me to do?" Ray blinks, he doesn't want to cry again.
"Put some space between you and Fraser. It'll help you work out what you want to do next, to make your own decision."
"Okay." The idea doesn't make him happy, but it does make a certain amount of sense, although he knows it won't stop him from worrying about Fraser. He's not sure he'll ever be able to do that. He wonders what Vecchio is saying. Will the man be suggesting the same as Stella? That Ray and Fraser need a break from each other? He doesn't suppose that will go down very well.
Fraser looks at the cup of tea sitting on the table in front of him and sighs. Maybe if he can work his way backwards he can figure out where things went wrong and start to put them right. But his mind is no longer the calm place it used to be, it is a maelstrom of passion and unfinished thoughts. He knows full well that people can and do change over time, but is it possible to change this much and still be true to yourself?
Fraser spent the night on the street. It was a sobering experience in more ways than one. Countless times alcohol was offered to him. Mostly in the medium of all night bars, and once in a bottle held in the hands of a man called Dave, at least he thinks it was Dave, the man was very drunk after all, and was slurring his words.
Finally at about 5am and just as the sky above his head was beginning to lighten Fraser had a revelation. He has a choice to make.
And so he came here. He is going to sit and wait for Ray. If Ray turns up then he'll know it's a sign that Ray really does love him, and then Fraser has decided he will move heaven and earth to be the man Ray deserves.
If Ray doesn't turn up... Well, Fraser has a bottle of whiskey in his jacket pocket, seal unbroken, so far.
The door swings open and Fraser looks up hopefully, but the man who comes into the diner isn't the Ray he was hoping to see.
His first thoughts are how well the man looks. He's wearing a suit, some things never change, and his face is relaxed. Relaxed that is until he sees Fraser.
He doesn't stand, doesn't speak. Maybe if he says nothing this Ray will disappear and be replaced by the Ray his heart aches for.
"Hi, Benny." Ray is sitting down uninvited, and Fraser glances up then goes back to studying his cup of tea.
The two men sit in silence. Ray orders a coffee and some pancakes. It is only once the food has been brought to the table that Ray speaks again.
"You wanna tell me what's going on?"
"Nothing," Fraser says, wondering how any of this is Ray's business.
"I saw Ray."
Fraser looks up.
"You really did a number on him, didn't you?" Ray's voice shakes. "I think I counted twenty bruises, and they were just the ones I could see. You want to tell me why?"
There is nothing Fraser can say. Ray he knows will not accept him saying that none of it was intentional, that he never meant to hurt Ray.
Ray is staring at him waiting for an answer, but all Fraser can do is shake his head.
"When Ray rang me I thought he was exaggerating, that he couldn't be talking about the Fraser I knew. When Stella was trying to convince me that we should come here I told her she was being overly protective." Ray shakes his head and looks down at his pancakes, he has yet to take one bite.
"Stella's here?" Fraser sits up at the mention of Ray's ex-wife.
"She's talking to Ray."
Fraser frowns. Stella never seemed to be very impressed by Fraser, although she had never seemed to be very impressed by Ray either. She will be filling his head with all sorts of ideas. Now Fraser regrets the decision he made to leave.
"I have to go."
"No." Ray's eyes are like flints, and he reaches across the table to catch hold of Fraser's arm. "I can't let you near Ray."
Anger flares inside Fraser and he sees Ray's eyes widen. "I still don't see what business it is of yours."
"It's my business because Ray called me when this thing started. It's my business because I'm damned if I'm going to sit by and do nothing while someone is being abused right in front of me."
Now it is Fraser's turn to recoil. His hand inches toward the bottle in his pocket. He's too sober to be able to deal with this, and then he stops. Fraser's recollections of what he has done while drunk are a little hazy, but hazy or not he can recall how the need for Ray, the need to be in Ray, drives him at those times. He tries to remember if Ray has ever shown reluctance, or tried to get away. He closes his eyes, pictures himself, hands gripping onto Ray, hard enough to leave bruises, hard enough so Ray can't get away from him. He's never forced him, he wouldn't, he couldn't.
Fraser opens his eyes. He knows that Ray is reading his expression.
"Now we've got somewhere to start. Talk to me, Benny."
He thinks he sees some sympathy for himself in Ray's eyes, maybe he is imagining it. Maybe Ray hates him as much as the other Ray, his Ray, must hate him. Fraser shakes his head. He mustn't think of Ray like that, He's not his, not anymore.
"You went looking for the hand of Franklin, what happened next?"
Fraser appreciates Ray prompting him. If he takes this step by step maybe he can see where he went wrong.
"We got caught in a blizzard," Fraser says, half closing his eyes as he remembers. "I wasn't expecting weather like that, so we pitched the tent in Deliverance Valley, to wait out the storm. We spent three weeks in that tent. There wasn't a lot to do." Fraser looks up wondering how much detail Ray wants him to go into. "We slept together for warmth, we talked, and one night I put my arms around Ray and I touched him."
He sees the look on Ray's face and decides to gloss over what happened next.
Ray had thrust into Fraser's hand, with a moan that would have given Fraser an erection even if he hadn't already had one. The two men slept naked that night, although Fraser hadn't slept much at all, too intoxicated by the feel of Ray's skin on his and the fact that Ray was suddenly and irrevocably his.
Considering what Ray is accusing him of, Fraser says, "It was consensual. Ray wanted me every bit as much as I wanted him."
"So what changed?"
Fraser sighs. "Eventually the blizzard blew over, but by that point we were running low on food, so we headed back to civilization. Inspector Thatcher had left several messages for me so we had to go to Toronto." Fraser looks down at his hands, remembering all too well the feeling of loss, the knowledge that although he had only just found Ray, he would be losing him again. Fraser had wanted nothing more than to find a way to keep Ray by his side.
"Having Ray in that hotel room..." Fraser blinks away tears and wonders if the man sitting opposite him will understand. He might, Ray has known loss in his life. "I felt lighter, better. But the next day the inspector told me she had a new assignment in the Middle East, she wanted me to go with her. It would have meant leaving Ray, so I said no."
"I don't suppose the ice queen liked that."
Ray is smiling and so Fraser smiles back. "She didn't. There's no need to go into details of what happened next." Fraser doesn't want to remember that. "Suffice it to say I resigned."
"Ray told me you weren't in the RCMP any more, but he didn't tell me why."
"I didn't tell Ray exactly why I resigned." Was that a mistake? "I didn't tell him until a lot later."
Ray nods, there's a thoughtful expression on his face, and Fraser thinks maybe he's beginning to understand.
"I resigned, I went back to Ray and I told him everything was fine. I lied." Fraser can't bring himself to look at Ray when he admits that, he is too afraid he will see condemnation in the other man's eyes. "Being a policeman is all I ever wanted to do. I felt like someone had just pushed me off a cliff."
Fraser rubs his hand across his face. "Just a few days before I felt as though I'd been given the whole world. But Ray was there, so I kissed him, pushed him down on the bed." Ray's eyes have gone wide but right now Fraser needs to confess, Ray's sensibilities will have to take a back seat. "I fucked him, and while I was in him everything else just disappeared." Fraser looks at Ray now. "He didn't say no."
"Did he say yes?"
Fraser can't answer that. Buried in his lover the question of Ray's compliance was not an issue, but afterwards when Ray rolled away from him, Fraser had wondered.
"I told Ray there was no reason not to come back to Chicago, but it felt wrong. The noise, the pollution, it was all too much. One night Ray asked me to meet him in a bar, but he didn't turn up, and while I was waiting I bought myself a drink."
"And there I was thinking you didn't drink."
"I'm not proud of my decision," Fraser says. "But for a while it enabled me to forget, and I really wanted to forget. People, other people drink to forget their problems, and I wanted to do that, I wanted to forget."
Ray picks up his cup, the liquid inside must be cold by now, but Ray drinks anyway.
"It helps, Ray."
Ray is looking at him strangely. "Yeah, I'm sure that's what it feels like. But what about Ray? Did you stop and think about what it was doing to him? Or did all that alcohol inside you make you feel that raping him was okay?" Ray is on his feet, anger clear on his face. "After all Ray's the reason you resigned, so it's only fair you take what you want from him."
"No." Fraser remains seated but his hand is resting on the pocket where the bottle is.
Ray dips his head, breathes out, and retakes his seat. The diner isn't exactly full but everyone is looking at him. He leans forward, lowers his voice. "While you were away on holiday a case landed on my desk. Guy by the name of Brad Simmons. He was an alcoholic who beat and raped his girlfriend. I persuaded her to leave him, told her she'd be safe, got her to agree to testify against him." Ray looks up at Fraser and he can clearly see the despair etched on Ray's face.
"Only she went back to her apartment. Brad was waiting for her. He raped her, and then he killed her." Ray shook his head. "I won't let that happen to Ray. Do you understand?"
Fraser nods. He wonders how long Ray has been holding onto all that pain for.
"I spoke to Frannie, she thinks you're depressed, that you'd benefit from counselling."
"What about you, Ray?"
"I'd like to see you charged," Ray growls, "but Stella disagrees."
"She says counselling would be the best way forward for you."
"That's it?" Fraser puts his hand back on the table.
"And you have to stay away from Ray."
Fraser's stomach roils. He really wants a drink. "No."
"Yes." Ray's eyes are implacable. "Otherwise you'll be arrested."
Fraser stares at his friend. Is any of this really happening? He slips his right hand into his jacket pocket. The bottle feels firm and reassuring under his fingertips.
Ray has gone and Fraser stands up. It is only once he is out on the street that he takes the bottle from his pocket and breaks the seal.
It has been two weeks since Ray last saw Fraser and he misses him. Even amidst the chaos of Fraser's drinking and his strange moods Ray was still able to catch glimpses of the man he loves.
He doesn't even have glimpses now.
Add to that Diefenbaker has gone. He let Vecchio take him. The man refused to tell him where Fraser was, but Ray knows that the wolf should be with Fraser, the pair belong together after all.
After Vecchio had gone Ray found himself wishing for a drink. The apartment is alcohol free and has been for some time, not that that has ever stopped Fraser. Halfway to the door Ray stops. A drink is not the answer, surely he knows that more than anyone else. He goes for a run instead.
Two weeks of early morning runs and then twelve hours days at the 27 follow. Welsh has got him going through cold cases. It keeps his brain occupied, means he doesn't have to think, not until he gets home anyway. He'd stay all night at the station if he could, but Francesca makes him leave.
"You need sleep," she tells him and he nods and pretends that he does sleep at night.
What he actually does most of the time is stare into the darkness. The bed is too big and too cold without Fraser in it, the apartment too quiet without Diefenbaker's snores.
Sometimes during his night time vigils he tries to concentrate on the things he doesn't miss.
He's written them down, the counsellor he has seen a couple of times now, says it's important, that he can read it whenever he finds himself missing Fraser.
He doesn't miss worrying over whether or not Fraser will make it home.
He doesn't miss the worry over how drunk Fraser will be when he gets home.
And he definitely doesn't miss wondering what Fraser will want him to do. He still feels Fraser's hands on him. Sometimes he can feel Fraser in him. He hasn't told the counsellor that.
Instead he has new things to worry about. He finds himself worrying if Fraser is okay, or if the man is now drinking himself into an early grave. And he yearns for the intimacy and the love, because when things weren't too bad there was love and closeness, and the knowledge that he had found his place in the world.
Tonight he can't sleep and his normal litany of words is not working. His body aches for Fraser and Ray puts his hand around his cock and brings himself to orgasm. It should help, but it doesn't.
At least Stella and Vecchio have gone back to Florida. Stella didn't insist that he call her so he suspects she has other means of keeping an eye on him.
"Use this time, Ray. Go back to work and try and figure out what it is you want."
"Fraser. I want Fraser."
"You don't mean that. Promise me you'll think about what's best for you, okay?"
"And that's why I want you to sign this."
"A restraining order? Stella, no."
"Please, Ray. It'll help put my mind at rest."
Two weeks and he still wants Fraser. He keeps this fact to himself.
No, it's no good, he can't sleep. Ray gets up and dresses, leaves the apartment. The air is warm enough he doesn't need a jacket. He's just going to walk and not think. Thinking is a problem right now.
There is very little traffic, every time a car swishes past him, he wonders if Fraser is in it.
He can smell coffee. His feet have brought him to Fraser's favourite diner, and because he's a little tired and he really wants some coffee and definitely not because he's hoping Fraser might be there, he pushes his way inside.
Fraser isn't there. Ray bites back his disappointment and takes a cup of coffee over to a corner booth. Other than the waitress there's only one other person in the place, but the height and frame are all wrong for Fraser so, after a quick glance, he moves on.
Now that person is sitting down opposite him. Ray looks up and frowns. The man smiling at him looks familiar.
"Do I know you?" Ray growls, hoping maybe he'll get the hint and leave. Ray doesn't want to talk to anybody.
"I met you in the park two weeks ago. You had a big white dog with you."
Now he remembers. "John, right?" The man seems overjoyed that Ray has remembered his name.
"And you're Ray." John picks up his cup and bumps it against Ray's. "Looks like we're getting to have that cup of coffee after all."
"So what do you do?" John it seems is not the type to sit in silence. "I have a couple of book stores."
"Books, really?" Fraser would probably find that interesting. "I'm a cop."
If anything John's smile is broader now. "Wow. That must be really exciting."
Ray shrugs. "Bad hours, bad food, bad guys, oh and if you're really unlucky you get shot." He shakes his head.
John's smile has dropped. "So why do it?"
Ray drops his gaze to his cup and thinks about Fraser, then he looks back up. "For the pride and honour of knowing that I make it possible for good people to tuck their kids in at night, turn out the lights, and know they'll be safe."
"That's quite the manifesto."
"It's something that a friend said to me once."
"Just a friend?" John gives him a look. "You sound unhappy."
"He was a bit more than a friend." Ray curls his hands into fists, talking about Fraser hurts.
"You're not together anymore?" John's eyes are intent on Ray's face.
"We split up." Ray tries to make his face look like he doesn't care.
Ray catches the sob that is trying to escape. "He was... he was everything to me and yet one morning I woke up and it was as though there was a stranger lying next to me. You ever been depressed? You know the way it just sneaks up on you?"
John gives a brief smile. "I've had some experience in that area."
"Yeah, that was Fraser. I thought I could help him. But he started drinking and... He was different when he was drunk, but I still thought I could help him." Ray looks at John and wonders if the man can see his despair. He is not going to tell a virtual stranger exactly what Fraser did, no matter how sympathetic he looks.
"I couldn't." And sudden anger boils up in him, he can feel himself starting to shake. "I couldn't help him." On the other side of the table John is silently watching him. "I can't do that again, I can't be in another relationship, not yet."
"How about a friend? Is there room in your life for a new friend?"
Ray smiles, he might be able to do that.
Life goes on. John's presence in his life is increasingly welcome. It gives him a new focus, something else to help him take his mind off Fraser.
There are times he imagines he sees Fraser watching him, but they are getting fewer, and he is beginning to convince himself that Fraser has gone back to Canada. He knows that would be the best thing for the man, but the thought of never seeing Fraser again that still hurts.
The shift is coming to an end. He can see Francesca pushing make-up and other paraphernalia into her bag. He's not going to go home just yet. John rang him last night all excited about some concert and Ray promised he would go. It starts in just a couple of hours. He might as well stay at work until then.
His phone rings and he picks it up automatically.
Just for a moment his heart stops beating.
"Fraser?" He's on his feet, phone clamped to his ear. He can hear Fraser breathing, it is the most beautiful sound in the world.
"Ray. I'm sorry. I know I'm not supposed to contact you, but I need to see you."
If it was possible Ray would slide down the telephone wire to Fraser.
"The Westside Diner." Fraser sounds desperately unsure, and Ray wants to say something to reassure him, but the words won't come.
"Westside Diner? 8pm?" The phonecall will be over soon, Ray doesn't want it to end.
"I miss you." His voice sounds pathetic, but he can't let this unexpected contact with Fraser go without trying to let the man know how he feels.
"I miss you too."
And then Ray is standing listening to a dial tone.
He sits down slowly, his legs shake, and inside him his stomach heaves. Around him everyone is carrying on as normal. Frannie is still packing her bag and in his office it looks as though Welsh is having a nap.
Ray replaces the telephone receiver, and then he picks it up again.
"Let me guess, you've had a better offer."
Is his friend upset? He doesn't sound particularly upset.
"You remember I told you about Fraser?" Ray keeps his voice low, he would really rather not be overheard.
"He wants to meet me tonight."
"Then go meet him. Go get your man." There is a pause and John chuckles. "Didn't you say he used to be a mountie?"
"You don't mind?"
John sighs. "Who am I to stand in the way of true love."
Was that it, Ray wondered as he ended the call? A feeling of hope suddenly blossoms inside of him, and Ray stands up. If he goes home now he will have time to shower and change before meeting with Fraser.
He leaves in such a hurry he doesn't see Francesca watching him with a worried expression on her face.
Ray sits close to the entrance so he won't miss Fraser's arrival. He is shaking with a mixture of anticipation and dread. Halfway here he realised that he had no idea what Fraser he was going to encounter. He kept walking once he realised he didn't care, that he simply wanted to see Fraser again, no matter what state the man might be in.
He hears the rattle of the door and there he is. There's Fraser. He doesn't look a whole lot different than he did when Ray last saw him, except for the eyes. Fraser's eyes are clearer than Ray has seen them in a long time, and when Ray stands up Fraser's smile is like a long lost friend.
As Fraser steps forward Ray sees a shadow behind him. A shadow that coalesces into two uniformed police officers.
"Mr Benton Fraser?"
Fraser nods, and Ray watches in stunned silence as Fraser is cuffed and led away.
Fraser stands on the edge of the sidewalk, watching as Ray Vecchio walks away, and takes the unopened bottle of whiskey out of his pocket. He twists the cap off and puts the neck of the bottle to his lips, letting the liquid light a blaze down to his stomach. It feels good, it feels better than good, and for a moment there is nothing but the buzz of the alcohol.
He feels better like this, and despite Ray's words he starts walking back to the apartment, back to Ray. Alcohol is good but now he wants Ray, wants to feel him, to touch him, to lose himself inside Ray. After what is in the bottle he carries in his hand he craves Ray.
When he gets to the apartment building they are waiting for him. Ray Vecchio and Stella Kowalski, a united front against him, keeping him from Ray.
Diefenbaker is being held on a short leash. The wolf looks sad and Fraser turns away.
"You can't go up," Stella says. She hands him an envelope. "This is an order requiring you to stay away from Ray, to not contact him. If you try you'll be arrested."
Fraser stares at her. "This is what Ray wants?"
"This is what Ray needs." She hands him a card. "I want you to ring this number and arrange counselling sessions. I think it would really benefit you."
Fraser stares up at the building. He can see a window in Ray's apartment, can see movement, is Ray watching him?
"C'mon." Vecchio gestures to a car. "I found you a place to stay, let's go get you settled in."
Fraser goes with him because what else is he supposed to do?
He knows that Ray can smell the alcohol on his breath, knows that all he has done is confirm Ray's worst suspicions. There is less aggression in Ray's manner now, the man seems merely sad.
Eventually the car stops. "Here." Ray gestures at a building. "You've got a room here for as long as you need it."
Fraser climbs out, followed by Diefenbaker. He bends down to the window. "Ray--"
There is a sad look on Ray's face. "Use this time, Fraser, please. Sort yourself out and stay away from Ray."
Fraser bristles with irritation at being told what to do. Ray simply doesn't understand, none of them do.
He goes inside, finds his allocated room. The only view from his window is of the building opposite. He looks out anyway, raises the bottle to his lips. Surprising really that it took him so long to discover the pleasures of alcohol. If he'd known sooner...
His train of thought is interrupted by Diefenbaker, who shoves his nose into Fraser's leg and woofs softly.
Fraser looks down at the wolf. "You miss him, you miss Ray too?"
"No." Fraser shakes his head. "I need this, but I need Ray." For a moment he feels torn, then he walks over to the sink in the corner of the room, and pours the remaining contents of the bottle away. He feels liberated, he feels sad, and when he looks over at Diefenbaker he wonders if he should take the wolf back to Ray. It would break his heart to be separated from Diefenbaker, but his heart is breaking anyway.
Fraser can see a reflection of himself in the window. "It's your fault," he tells it, his voice bitter.
Maybe he can get sober and stay that way, and then will Ray want him back?
Fraser looks over at the bed where he flung down the things Stella had handed to him. He's not ready to face anyone else, to discuss his behaviour.
He's not going to drink any more. He looks at his reflection in the window and mouths the words. He is resolved.
His resolution lasts until the evening. He tells himself he is just stretching his legs, but he doesn't take Diefenbaker with him, a tacit acknowledgement that he is going to find a bar.
When he comes back the wolf looks at him and Fraser feels ashamed. His body aches for Ray and so Fraser goes into the tiny bathroom to take care of the problem.
He closes his eyes as he masturbates, pictures Ray in front of him, and then after climax, when he is standing with a sticky hand, he feels a cold shaft of guilt slice through his body.
Right now he hates himself. The last time he felt anywhere near this bad was after Victoria, but at least he'd had Ray, Vecchio not Kowalski, to cheer him up. This time all he has is Diefenbaker, and Diefenbaker just makes him feel guilty. He has seriously neglected the wolf over the last few months, relying on Ray to take care of him.
Fraser washes his hands and splashes cold water onto cheeks that are already wet. There is a pounding pain in his left temple. The consequence of his alcohol consumption or something else? Perhaps it is the realisation that he has all but destroyed the two most important relationships in his life.
He walks into the bedroom and lifts the bag that Ray gave him onto the bed. Inside are his clothes, all neatly folded.
Fraser almost smiles, he remembers an afternoon spent teaching Ray how to pack properly.
"You see if you do it this way, you can fit much more in, it's much more efficient."
Ray's eyebrows shot sky high. "Efficient? I know how to pack, Fraser."
Obviously the lesson had stayed with Ray after all.
Near the bottom of the bag are his red long johns. He hasn't worn them in a long time, when he is in bed with Ray he prefers to sleep naked. But he no longer has Ray so he puts them on. They are warm and comforting and Fraser, although he is not sure why, puts his hand back into the bag. His fingers touch something hard and he pulls the object out.
It is a tiny model of a turtle. Tears flow down Fraser's face. He remembers Ray telling him about it.
"Stella gave it to me when I was in hospital at 14 having my appendix removed."
"It reminds you of her?"
"It reminds me that she cared. This turtle is all about the caring."
"All about the caring," Fraser says, putting the turtle on the nightstand. He wipes the tears from his face and climbs into bed, looking at the turtle until exhaustion closes his eyes.
He stirs in the night, it is strange sleeping without Ray, but when he puts out a hand he finds Diefenbaker. Fraser goes back to sleep, comforted.
The next few days are almost unbearable. Over the course of them Fraser discovers he has two addictions, Ray, and alcohol. Withdrawal from the first is a little easier to bear. He has the turtle to look at. If Ray put it in his bag it means he still cares about Fraser. There is still hope for them, and that alone gives him a reason to smile.
Withdrawal from the second is more problematic.
The first thing he notices is that his hands are shaking, so much so that he can't even hold a book to read. He's restless, striding up and down the small room until he thinks he will probably have to pay for a new carpet when he leaves.
He goes out for the shortest time possible and only to exercise Diefenbaker. There is too much temptation outside.
When the worst of the symptoms are over Fraser does allow himself to go a little further afield.
One night insomnia drives him from his bed and so he walks, Diefenbaker at his heels, back to his favourite diner.
It is lit up and the windows seem to glow in the darkness. And inside, bathed in that glow, is Ray.
He is not alone, but Fraser can only see the back of the man's head. He watches for a few minutes and then turns and walks away.
His route home takes him past a liquor store. It is closed but for a moment he wishes it wasn't. He hates himself for being weak.
Once morning comes he picks up the card that Stella gave him and calls the number. He is determined to keep moving forward, he is going to make Ray proud of him.
He's pleased to find the counselling helps. He still craves Ray, and when he feels at his worst he still struggles with the urge to drink. Sometimes Fraser looks in the mirror and he sees a happier version of himself, behind him there's a snowy landscape and Fraser knows what that means. He knows he needs to leave Chicago, that even without Ray he will be happier in Canada. He needs the wilderness, and he needs to be somewhere quiet. Chicago is never quiet, even in the middle of the night. Even when the noise of the traffic dies away, he realises he can hear the buzz of electricity. There is no peace for him here.
He makes the decision to leave, but he still can't go anywhere. He has to talk to Ray, has to let the man know what he is doing and why. He knows he can't ask the man to come with him. He doubts Ray would want to. Add to that Ray has a job and friends, Fraser won't ask him to leave all of that.
Despite knowing he shouldn't Fraser has been keeping an eye on Ray. So he knows that Ray has a new friend, and even the densest of people can see the attraction between them, even though so far Ray appears unaware.
And he's glad, actually, because it means when he leaves Ray will have someone, he won't be alone.
He has to talk to Ray face to face. They were too important to each other for him to contemplate doing it any other way. He still remembers the phonecall Ray made, the words they spoke to each other and the disorientation when he found his friend was gone. Of course that was also the day he met the new Ray, and even amidst all the madness, he had felt a strong pull of attraction.
Fraser picks up the telephone.
Fraser's heart stutters in his chest. "Ray."
"Fraser?" He can hear disbelief and hope in Ray's voice.
He tightens his grip on the receiver. "Ray. I'm sorry. I know I'm not supposed to contact you, but I need to see you."
"When?" The fact that Ray asks the question fills Fraser's heart with joy. He is going to get to see Ray one last time.
"Tonight." He will be leaving in the morning.
"Where?" Ray's breathing sounds heavy. Fraser imagines the man is on his feet, shifting impatiently.
"The Westside Diner." The place where he would go when he couldn't face Ray. But it is not far from Ray's apartment, the man won't have to travel too far to get to him.
"Westside Diner? 8pm?"
"Yes, 8pm." The call will be over soon, Fraser doesn't want it to end.
"I miss you."
"I miss you too." Fraser's hand is shaking so much he has trouble hanging up. He may well have just made one of the biggest mistakes of his life, but he doesn't care. This is important.
Time crawls and Fraser prowls around his room like a caged tiger while Diefenbaker watches. For the first time in days he showers, combs his hair, and dresses with care.
"You'll have to stay here," Fraser apologies to the wolf. "I won't be gone long."
Before he leaves he tucks Ray's turtle into his pocket. He hopes it will give him the courage to say the things he needs to say.
When he gets to the diner Ray is already there. Fraser touches the turtle for luck, and pushes the door open. Ray stands up.
There is so much he wants to say.
Movement behind him, and a hand on his arm.
"Mr Benton Fraser?"
He nods. What else can he do? He knew this might happen. He only wishes he could have spoken to Ray first.
They take him to the 27th and Fraser takes a little bit of comfort in that.
Sitting in his cell Fraser can't help but wish that things were different. Come the morning he will need a lawyer. There will be questions to answer and the officers who interview him will look at him with disgust.
He is worried about Diefenbaker as well. He told the wolf he wouldn't be long. He doesn't like the thought of him being alone.
And Ray? Will he ever get to see him again?
Fraser lies down and closes his eyes. He has nothing to do but wait.
He can hear footsteps and then a low bark. Fraser's eyes fly open.
It's Ray, with Diefenbaker beside him. Ray is smiling at him, that shy smile that Fraser loves so much.
Fraser sits up and rubs a hand across his face. Is he dreaming?
Fraser's heart leaps into his mouth.
"I've come to break you out."
Thank you to Ride_Forever for all her help and encouragement.
To be honest he had expected more questions from Fraser but the man is silent, as he shadows Ray through the building.
Ray puts his hand out to stop Fraser. He hopes the man won't notice how much that hand is shaking.
"Wait here, okay? I'll be right back." There is one person he needs to speak to before he leaves.
First Ray walks to his desk and picks up the piece of paper that he prepared earlier, then he goes to Welsh's office. Despite the late hour the lieutenant is still there. Ray hands over the sheet of paper.
"You're sure about this?"
"Yes," Ray says. He has spent what felt like an hour arguing with Stella, he's not sure he wants to have the same arguments with Welsh. "Here." He digs a key out of his pocket. "Key to my apartment."
"You don't intend to come back?"
Ray swallows. Welsh knows him as well as anyone who isn't Fraser does, he knows the man will see his uncertainty. "That's up to Fraser."
Welsh nods. "You know I'll have to put out an APB on Fraser."
"I'll delay as long as I can, that'll give you a few hours," Welsh says and holds out a hand. "Good luck."
Luck, Ray thinks, as he walks back to Fraser, would be waking up next to the solid form that is his lover knowing that it had all just been a bad dream. He doesn't feel lucky, he feels exposed. He is banking on Fraser being in recovery, on the idea that taking him back to Canada, taking him home, will reset whatever part has fallen out of place.
He knows that Vecchio and Stella think he is making a big mistake, but he can't turn his back on Fraser. He just can't.
Diefenbaker and Fraser are waiting for him right where he left them. He crouches down to pet the wolf so he won't have to look into Fraser's face.
He stands up. Now that it is time to leave he finds himself suddenly reluctant to go. He is stepping into the unknown with a man that he loves but doesn't entirely trust.
He looks at Fraser and smiles. "Let's hit the road."
Sitting in the car next to Fraser Ray's heart starts to race. His head fills with memories of all the times they have sat like this, of the things they have talked about, of the comfort they have given to each other.
"Where are we going?" Fraser asks, as Ray starts the engine.
Ray grins, he can't resist. "I heard Boliva's nice this time of year." He eases the car out of the parking space. "I'm taking you home."
"Home?" He can hear the longing in Fraser's voice.
"I'm surprised you managed to stick Chicago for as long as you did." Ray's hands tighten just a little on the steering wheel. "I've been meaning to apologise to you."
"For bringing you back here. I just... I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye."
"That's perfectly understandable, Ray. Chicago is your home."
"No." Ray is surprised by the vehemence in his voice, and he glances sideways at Fraser. "My home is with you. I wish I'd realised it sooner, maybe we could have avoided all this mess. So, I'm sorry."
"It wasn't your fault. You didn't put a drink in my hands. You did nothing wrong."
Ray bites back the words he wants to say. Part of the reason he's here is because he feels guilty, and Fraser saying otherwise isn't going to change his mind.
"You went and got Diefenbaker." Fraser sounds thoughtful. "I wasn't aware you knew where I was staying."
"I wasn't." Ray keeps his eyes fixed on the road. This is actually good. Talking to Fraser like this with no temptation to read his eyes, to reach out and touch him. He's not being completely honest of course, he does want to reach out and touch Fraser, he's just not sure if he should.
"After you were arrested I rang Vecchio. You have Francesca to thank for the arrest by the way."
Fraser sighs. "She was only doing what she thought was right. I did commit a crime after all."
"You mean like the crime we're committing right now? A crime that is the direct result of Stella's meddling."
"She was looking out for you, Ray. Some of the things I did, the way I treated you, it was wrong. Stella saw that. I should have seen that. She was protecting you."
Protecting me from Fraser. The thought makes Ray's blood run cold.
Ray huffs out a breath. "How about we wait and talk about that stuff when I'm not driving."
"Agreed. You said you spoke to Ray?"
Ray is grateful for Fraser putting him back on track.
"Yes, talked him into giving me the address so I could rescue Diefenbaker."
In the distance there is the sound of a siren and Ray tenses.
"Once I had Diefenbaker I knew I had to come get you. I saw your room, Fraser, and I saw you at the diner. I know you've stopped drinking."
"And if I hadn't?"
Ray can hear the catch in Fraser's voice. He knows the man wants him to be honest, and it wouldn't be fair otherwise.
"I would have taken Diefenbaker back to the apartment and left you in that cell." Ray forces the words out.
"Does Ray know what you've done?"
"I should think Stella will have told him by now." Ray gives a hollow laugh. "She wasn't very impressed."
"Why are you doing this, Ray?"
"Because it's the right thing to do. Because watching you tear yourself apart was the hardest thing in the world. Because at least some of this was my fault." He hears Fraser's intake of breath at that statement and hurries on before he can chicken out. "Because I still love you."
That statement is greeted by nothing but silence. Eventually he hears Fraser shift in his seat.
"Look, Frase, I know we've got a lot to pick through here. Once we get to Sault Ste. Marie we'll get it all out in the open, okay?"
Ray wonders if Fraser is thinking about what happened the last time they went to Sault Ste. Marie. The truth is of course that it is merely the most convenient point at which they can cross into Canada. THe doesn't want to think about the fact they are fugitives. The thought is enough to make his heart beat harder with fear. If they are caught he can't imagine that Fraser will be treated gently. He doesn't want his last glimpse of Fraser to be the man held at gunpoint.
An image of Fraser sprawled on the ground being cuffed while three cops point their guns at his head, makes Ray shiver and he presses down on the gas pedal.
"Ray, you really should stick to the speed limit."
Fraser's comment makes Ray smile. When they first met those sort of comments drove him mad. But he knows this time it's not just Fraser being pernickety. They can't afford to get pulled over. Ray slows down, just a little.
"It's funny, ya know. I always wondered what it'd be like to be on the run. It's not as much fun as I thought."
The drive the rest of the way is uneventful. At one point they stop and swap places as Ray is getting tired. He stretches out his legs and falls into a half doze.
He's in his apartment, naked, lying on the bed, his legs pulled up to his chest. His eyes are closed so he can't see the man he can feel inside him, but he can hear him, the little gasps as he thrusts, and the deep moan as he climaxes.
It takes him a while to work out that isn't part of the dream.
"Ray." Fraser, trying to wake him up as gently as possible.
"Hey." He rubs at his eyes, trying to rub away the dream. "Are we okay?"
"So far," Fraser says.
They drive across the bridge, doing their best to look relaxed without making it look like they're trying to look relaxed. Only once they have driven past the Welcome to Canada sign does Ray relax.
He finds the hotel he booked last night without too much difficulty. Separate rooms because he's not sure he's ready to be intimate with Fraser just yet.
They say goodbye outside their rooms.
"I need some sleep and a shower," Ray explains. "Then we'll talk."
Fraser nods but doesn't say anything and Ray, walking through the door, feeling Fraser's eyes on his back, wonders, just for a moment, if he's made a big mistake.
Ray naps for a couple of hours before admitting to himself that he can't possibly sleep until he's talked to Fraser.
The door swings open the moment he knocks. Fraser, fully dressed, looking wide awake and as alert as usual.
"C'mon." Ray turns and walks away. He needs to be outside. He tells himself it's because of the hours spent cooped up in the car, and definitely not because he feels safer with other people around.
Diefenbaker is trotting next to him and Ray takes comfort from that.
He doesn't speak to Fraser until they get to the park and they find a bench in the shade. There's a play area a few hundred yards away and Ray finds the screams of the playing children oddly soothing. He let go of the dream of children a long time ago when Stella left him and the thought of raising children with Fraser is a thought he doesn't permit himself to have.
The two men sit side by side and Ray watches Diefenbaker. He steals a glance at Fraser. The man is staring straight ahead, his hands clasped in his lap. He wonders if Fraser feels different now.
Ray takes a breath and next to him Fraser shifts.
"I'm sorry," Fraser says. "Sorry for what I put you through, for what I did to you. I could makes excuses and say it was the alcohol, but that would be unbecoming." Fraser turns and Ray finds himself held in place by those blue eyes. He has never before seen them filled with so much sorrow.
"That last time, it was inexcusable." Fraser's voice is full of so much anger it makes Ray shake, even though he knows the anger is not directed at him. "I forced you--"
"No," Ray says, even though he knows what Fraser is saying is at least partially true.
"Yes. I forced you, Ray, and I hurt you. And then instead of making sure you were all right I walked out on you."
There is less than an inch gap between the two but to Ray it suddenly feels like an immeasurable gulf.
"And if I'd paid more attention to you, if I'd looked and seen how much you were struggling sooner, I could have fixed it."
"Yes." Ray holds Fraser's gaze. "I'm not going to let you take all the blame for this. I didn't say no."
Looking at Fraser's face Ray wonders why he's arguing. Why doesn't he just let Fraser take responsibility for everything?
"I love you," Ray says, answering his own question. He wishes Fraser would say something or do something to show him the way forward. Ray stretches out his fingers, hoping Fraser will take the hint, but although the man looks at Ray's hand he makes no move to take it.
Ray stands up. "How about we get something to eat?"
They find a restaurant and sit down to eat. Anyone watching must simply see two male friends sharing a meal. At one point their knees bump together. Fraser moves his leg away so fast it makes Ray dizzy.
As they walk back to the hotel Ray thinks maybe Fraser is still too stressed. As far as Ray is concerned Canada is Canada but he knows it is not that simple for Fraser. That being here, albeit in the Ontario Sault Ste Marie, mustn't be a lot different to being in Chicago. Fraser was raised in the Northwest Territories. They need to go further north.
Outside his hotel room door Fraser stops and turns towards Ray. "Goodnight, Ray, and thank you."
Ray watches Fraser go into the room and close the door. He half turns toward his own room and then he turns back again.
He makes a fist but stops just short of knocking.
What if he's got it wrong? What if it's not the place that is causing Fraser problems? What if it's a person, more specifically him?
Ray stands in the corridor while his mind tries to come to grips with that idea. Of course it doesn't mean he can't continue with his plan, just maybe the outcome won't be quite what he was hoping for.
As he goes back into his room Ray reminds himself that he's doing this for Fraser.