Ray lasted a year up in the north.
A year of intense cold, and living hand to mouth off his savings and odd jobs – a few days as a mechanic here, delivery driver there. A year of boredom, and of Fraser, and more sex than he’d had since he was 20 and him and Stella got their first place together.
The only time he was properly warm was when he was in bed with Fraser, the two of them buried under the blankets and breathing each other’s air. With Fraser curled around him afterwards and whispering nonsense stories into his hair, both of them panting and sweaty and dazed by how good it was, every damn time.
Keeping warm wasn’t the reason they were doing it so often. Every time Ray told himself he should back off a bit, he wasn’t 20 and he was gonna freak Fraser out, flinging himself at him like that, Fraser would look at him hotly and lick his lips and drag him into the bedroom (like he needed dragging) and all his good intentions about playing it cool would go right out the window.
The whole year was like that.
When Ray and Stella got married, one of Stella’s aunts sent them a penny jar. No one talked about things like that in Ray’s family, but apparently the joke was to put a penny in the jar every time you had sex in the first year of marriage and take one out every time you had sex after that, and you’d never get all the pennies out. Ray wasn’t sure how to take it: was she trying to tell them they only had a year of the good times? That she knew they’d been having sex before they got married? Like that was such a big secret.
Stella pursed her lips and didn’t want to speculate, so that probably meant her aunt disapproved. Most of Stella’s family disapproved. She told him one of her cousins had called Ray her “bit of rough”, and if Stella hadn’t been so thrilled with the phrase he probably would have been insulted. He was obviously meant to be insulted.
Back then, Ray and Stella were too busy having sex to bother putting pennies in jars to keep count of sex. At first Ray was pretty sure they would have got them all out again and then some, but it was true they were doing it less and less and then they weren’t doing it at all and then they were splitting up. So slow there was no one moment he could look back and say then, that’s the day we broke up. But it happened all the same.
The penny jar got broken in the move. All the buttons and store coupons and dead batteries and allen keys that had ended up in there got dumped in the trash along with the pieces of glass, and none of it was any loss to anybody.
They slept together plenty of times after they split, but by that point it didn’t count any more.
Ray didn’t have any pennies to spare, that year with Fraser, and that was half the problem. He’d already been the less successful one, the one who had stuff paid for and could never return the favour, and look how that turned out.
Even if he’d had money to burn now he still wouldn’t have been putting pennies in a dumb jar just to keep count. He tried to just let it happen, enjoy what they had while they had it. Sometimes, he’d catch himself lying there, breathless and sated with Fraser’s come cooling on his belly, and think, wow, twice in one afternoon? Stella’s aunt was right; no way can we keep this up. I’ll die of it if we do.
He never said that though. Fraser would smile at him like Ray made him happy, and something ached high up in his chest so that he couldn’t say anything anyway.
He kept count enough to know it was actually over a year when they offered him the rig security job and he accepted. Fourteen months and three days.
He only applied for it because Fraser was out on a patrol that got delayed. He radioed – he was great at that. You’d think there’d always been someone home alone, waiting for him, when Ray knew for a fact that there hadn’t been, ever. Jen from the detachment passed the message on, so it wasn’t that he was worried. He couldn’t honestly say he filled in the form because he thought Fraser wasn’t coming back.
It was more that he’d spent two days in the house with nothing to do and not speaking to anyone. Then the storm broke, so he went into town because he was going stir crazy. Fraser always left money on the kitchen counter but Ray didn’t take it unless there was something they needed, and today there wasn’t. He had 10 bucks and some change in his pocket, so he had a cup of coffee at the diner and read the situations vacant, and there was a big fat nothing as usual except an oil rig security consultant job, six month contract over the summer.
He only read it because it said it was based out of Tuk and Tuk was only a few hours away. In good weather, anyway.
Ray took the paper with him and stopped at the bank. There was $392.51 left in his account. Next week he had two delivery jobs lined up that would pay 50 bucks cash in hand, but after that nothing. Nothing to do and no money coming in.
His last trip to Chicago had cost just over $400. It wasn’t like he was planning a trip to Chicago, but now he couldn’t make one even if he wanted. That was when he thought, what if something did happen to Fraser? I wouldn’t even be able to leave town.
If he’d have gotten killed in the line of duty, Stella would have gotten a widow’s pension. She earned twice what he did so it wasn’t like she needed it, but she would have gotten it all the same.
Then his brain took a left turn on something happening to Fraser and he shivered in his parka and made himself stop thinking like that. Just because Ray wasn’t there with him, being his partner, didn’t mean something was going to happen to Fraser. He was a smart guy, he knew what he was doing out there. That was why they were here, wasn’t it? So Fraser could do what he did.
Ray stopped at the library next. It was free and warm and not their house and Anna who was the librarian was always real friendly on account of how Fraser was like her number one customer. If libraries had customers, which maybe they didn’t, but he didn’t know what they had instead. Anna probably thought making nice with Ray was a good way to get in with Fraser, and Ray never told her different because what was the point? It was better for Fraser in the long run if nice ladies in town still thought they were in with a chance, because then if Fraser changed his mind he could take them up on it.
They had computers at the library so while he was there Ray looked up the security job. The job description made it sound almost like being a cop, just on an oil rig. The form was almost half the length of some of the other stuff he’d filled in so far, so he completed it just so he could feel like he’d done something about his $392.51 situation today. The pay for six months was more than he’d earned in a year in Chicago.
Then he walked home, and since Fraser wasn’t there to say anything he had a shot of bourbon when it got dark at 4pm. Fraser never did say anything, but then when Fraser was there Ray had better things to do than start drinking in the afternoon.
He kept the radio on in the kitchen and the TV in the sitting room and sat on the couch with a blanket round him, and he was still cold. He had a couple more shots just to keep warm.
Once it sounded like the radio and the TV were talking to each other and that was pretty funny for a moment. Then it was annoying so he turned the radio off and watched a really stupid movie about skiing where the hot young guy lives off a rich chick. Rather you than me, buddy, Ray thought. He turned it off before the end. Maybe there was a happy ending, but he couldn’t see how they’d work one in.
He was almost drunk enough to sleep on the couch but he made himself get up and go to bed.
Fraser got back on Thursday, unshaven and hollow-eyed with exhaustion. He dropped all his kit on the floor by the door and put his arms around Ray’s waist and buried his cold face in Ray’s warm neck and breathed against him for a second.
“How’d it go?” Ray asked.
“Ok,” he said without lifting his head, voice muffled by Ray’s collar. “I had to go further than I’d planned to get across the river, that was all.”
It was two o’clock so Ray asked, “You eat yet?”
“No. Have we got anything?”
“Course we have.”
“Right,” Fraser pulled away at last, swaying on his feet very slightly. “I’ll just go and - get cleaned up”
He didn’t ask what Ray had been doing while he’d been away, so Ray didn’t tell him. It wasn’t like he’d done anything worth telling anyway.
While Fraser was in the bath, Ray hung his coat up to dry and shoved all his dirty gear in the washing machine and put his boots away. When he went back to ask what Fraser wanted to eat, he was asleep on top of the covers. Ray stood in the doorway just watching him sleep with a strange tight feeling high in his chest until Dief wound around his legs and whined at him. Dief was still interested in Ray’s question about lunch, so he flipped the end of the quilt over Fraser and let the wolf eat at the table with him.
“Don’t tell Ben, ok? We’ll both get hell for it, you know that, right?”
Dief fixed him with a look that seemed to say, I won’t tell if you don’t.
That was when the oil company phoned about the job, wanting him to do a phone interview next week.
So it wasn’t that he wasn’t telling Fraser on purpose. There wasn’t any point to waking him up just to tell him he had a phone interview, not for such a long shot.
Fraser came wandering blearily into the sitting room a few hours later. Ray held up a corner of the blanket and Fraser collapsed next to him on the couch, warm and tousled and yawning like he wasn’t really awake at all.
He ate the soup Ray gave him though, and then he looked more like himself. Ray would have mentioned it then, but his body was reacting to having Fraser pressed against him, shooting him hopeful little looks, so rather than spoil the mood he gave a happy sigh when Fraser kissed him, and then he let Fraser push him down on the couch and tug the blanket up over them as he slid his warm hands up Ray’s shirt.
They did it again in bed later. Ray wasn’t sure if this was still adding pennies or taking them out. He knew it had been more than a year, but the cutoff point seemed pretty arbitrary.
On Monday morning, he said,
“I got a phone interview later. Security job.”
Fraser looked up from buttoning his shirt in surprise.
“That’s wonderful, Ray! Who’s it with?”
“Some guy from HR and the head of corporate security.”
“Yes, I meant – what company? Where are they based? Here in town?”
“Uh, no, it’s – based outta Tuk. The offices are anyway. But it’s on a rig. Somewhere near Tuk.”
Fraser’s face didn’t change at all. Ray was watching him in the mirror so he knew it didn’t change at all. He maybe paused for a split second, but that was it.
“Ah. One of the rigs offshore?”
“I guess, yeah.”
“Well.” Fraser turned away from the mirror, and he’d managed a smile by the time he looked back at Ray.
“They’d be lucky to have you, Ray. Some people struggle to cope in those conditions, so they always need good security.”
“Might not get it. Seems like a lotta money, maybe they’re looking for someone who’s done this before.”
“Well, good luck. Tell me about it tonight?”
“Sure. Yeah. Thanks.”
Fraser gave him a quick hard kiss on the mouth, and then he was gone.
They offered Ray the job then and there, on the phone. He said yes in case they changed their minds, but he figured he could always back out if it didn’t seem such a good idea once he’d had time to think it over. The rig was 50km off shore, they told him, and it wasn't really anywhere near Tuk. A chopper flew guys into Prudhoe Bay once a month to blow off steam, so it wasn’t like you were really stuck there for six months. The HR guy laughed, like being 50km off shore for six months was totally different to being there for a month then getting 48 hours in Prudhoe Bay. They’d even pay his flight up there, they said.
Ray paced around the house then he chopped a load of wood, fast, until he was sweating. He came back in and washed all the dishes. He did that fast too and broke a glass. They were only cheap but he felt dumb anyway.
He went into town after that. He walked the long way because it was nicer, and to clear his head. He went to the bank first, and he was down to $361.16. He read the paper at the library and there was a big fat nothing again. At least, nothing within 100 miles of Hay River for an American ex cop. Anna was behind the desk and gave him a great big smile when he came in. It was like she didn’t care that Ray was the mostly unemployed odd-job mechanic in town.
“Say hi to Constable Fraser,” she said when he left. So that explained that.
He thought about calling by the detachment – they always gave him free coffee and asked his advice on something, even if Fraser wasn’t there – but in the end he didn’t.
Fraser sat in the kitchen cleaning his boots as Ray stirred stew. It was a comfortable, domestic sort of noise in the background. He hadn’t asked about the interview, and Ray wasn’t sure if he wanted him to or not. Maybe it was better to pick the moment himself. Maybe Fraser could help him decide whether to take it.
He glanced over his shoulder at Fraser just as Fraser looked up at him and smiled. Even after fourteen months and three days, Fraser’s smile could still get the pennies out of the jar alright. Except Ray couldn’t let him sit there not knowing. It wasn’t Fraser’s fault there wasn’t any work in town.
“So they – they offered me the job,” he blurted out.
Fraser froze, boot in one hand and brush in the other. There was a second of heavy silence until he started up again, the brush moving swish, swish, swish, over the leather.
“I thought they might,” he said.
Ray shrugged helplessly at him and Fraser raised his hands in return, boot and brush and all. It wasn’t anybody’s fault.
Fraser was always brave. That was a thing Ray admired about him. He’d asked Ray to stay, fourteen months and three days ago, and now he leaned back in his chair and asked, “Did you accept?”
There were all kinds of ways Ray could have answered that. He could have said no, because he hadn’t signed anything. He could have started with all the reasons he didn’t have much choice, and how he couldn’t live off Fraser forever. That would have made Fraser go quiet, because in bed he’d said once, panting and like he was high on how hard Ray had just made him come, he’d said “Everything of mine’s yours, you know that don’t you? You can have everything…” and Ray had kissed him quiet because that sounded like a wedding vow, and no. Ray could have pretended he was talking about sex – Fraser gave it all up in bed, every time: Ray knew he could have anything and Fraser would be glad to give it – but it seemed safer not to even let him say anything.
Fraser was looking at him steadily, waiting for the blow to fall, so Ray just nodded. He’d known all along he’d made up his mind. He was always going to take the job. He just didn’t want to say it to Fraser, have to watch him take it on the chin like he took everything. Because Ray was a fucking prince like that, apparently.
Ray turned back to the stew, stirring it blindly. He was holding the spoon very tight. He heard Fraser putting the brush down on the table, letting the boot fall to the floor.
“How - ” Fraser cleared his throat. “How long is the contract?”
“Six months,” Ray told the stew.
“And will you,” he stopped. Ray heard the deep breath he took. Taking it on the chin, attaboy, Ben. “Are you planning to come back here, afterwards?”
Ray turned to face him.
“Only if you want me to.”
“I don’t want you to leave in the first place,” Fraser said. His voice sounded like it came through clenched teeth.
“Me neither, but what can I do? You think I can just keep house for you for the rest of my life?” He leaned back against the stove, still clutching the wooden spoon - way to make a point, Ray.
“I’m not asking you to keep house, Ray.” A muscle in Fraser’s jaw twitched but otherwise you wouldn’t know if he gave a damn. He was sitting at the kitchen table, hands folded in front of him, like they were talking about the dinner. “I don’t care about the house. I appreciate what you do, I hope I’ve made that clear, but if you don’t want to do it, then you shouldn’t.”
Ray pointed the spoon at him. “That is not what this is about! The person with more free time does more – that’s buddies, that’s good roommates.”
Fraser just raised his eyebrows a tiny bit, and Ray could translate that one too. I wouldn’t know, Ray. That was what that meant.
“This is about how come I have all this free time, Ben,” he continued. The damn spoon was still in his hand and he tossed it into the sink with a clatter rather than turn his back on Fraser. Stupid oblivious Fraser who was so smart when he wanted to be and so dumb when he didn’t. “It’s about there not being any work here. You know I took every shitty job going, and I’ve still only worked, like, what? Three, four days outta every month?”
Fraser nodded stiffly, like it pained him to have to agree it was true, but he was so damn honourable he wasn’t going to argue. For a split second his right hand clenched into a fist then relaxed onto the table again.
“So if I take this one, yeah, I’m gone six months,” Ray insisted, taking a step towards him and willing him to understand, “but then I got some money, I don’t have to worry about where my next 20 bucks is coming from, you know?”
Fraser’s fist clenched and relaxed again, as if he didn’t even know he was doing it. He was staring sort of past Ray’s shoulder, at the stew maybe, and sitting up very straight. He always sat up straight, but it didn’t always look like this.
“And there wasn’t any earlier point when you could have mentioned this before you actually accepted? Perhaps I haven’t been clear on this – and I’d be the first to admit I lack practice at this sort of thing – but I thought you knew that I - ” he swallowed and his voice was strained when he continued, “that I am – that I’m - ”
Ray should have taken pity on him then. But a little clingy part of him wanted to hear it, even now.
Fraser looked up and met his gaze, face unreadable. “I’m in love with you, Ray. I thought you knew that. It matters hugely to me whether you stay or go. You don’t have to discuss anything with me if you don’t want to, but I would just have appreciated a little more time to get used to the idea.”
Well that was fair, wasn’t it? Ray knew that was fair, even if he wanted to shake Fraser for being such a kicked fucking puppy about it. You don’t have to discuss anything with me if you don’t want to? Yeah, fuck you too.
He stepped back again and folded his arms across his chest, glaring down at Fraser’s calm dark head.
“What, I shoulda asked if it was ok right about when I asked you for housekeeping money?”
Fraser just stared at him for a second. Then he got up so abruptly his chair crashed to the floor, and stalked out of the room. In his place Ray would have slammed the door, but the way Fraser didn’t do it made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
He was sitting on the porch when Ray went to look for him.
Dief was next to him, and they both turned at the same time as Ray came out. Either Dief looked very human or Fraser maybe looked wolfish, but for a second they had the exact same expressions on their faces. Well, that’s what you get for letting a wolf eat at the table, Ray thought wildly.
He shrugged into his coat and sat down next to him, close but not touching. Dief gave a soft growl – just a reminder.
“Dief…” Fraser chided, hand in the wolf’s fur.
“Sorry. I was totally outta line,” Ray said.
Fraser’s jaw clenched then he shook his head. “No. It’s ok. I - hadn’t realised you felt like that. I thought - well. Never mind what I thought.”
Ray wasn’t going to ask, and he sure as hell wasn’t going to start explaining again. It was hard enough to say once. Fraser had to understand that.
They sat there in the cold, neither of them speaking for what felt like a long time. Ray’s mouth was dry and there was something heavy in the pit of his stomach.
“I got no choice, Ben,” Ray said finally. He wanted to sound calm and reasonable and sorry all at the same time, but when he heard his voice it came out a lot closer to pathetic. Which, what the hell, that was the long and short of it, wasn’t it? If Fraser hadn’t spotted that in fourteen months of Ray hanging around his house without a job, it was time someone pointed it out.
But if Fraser noticed, he must have decided to ignore it. “I know. I apologise for my reaction. It’s well-paid work, it will use your police skills,” he said stiffly, looking out into the dark away from Ray. “You’re quite right to take it.”
Ray nodded and huddled deeper into the down of his parka.
“It’s just, I tried everything. I got no money left. I can’t live off of you, you gotta understand that…”
Fraser looked at him hard then and didn’t answer. That was pretty much the best rebuttal in the world, and no one delivered it better than Fraser.
They went to bed early and Fraser reached for him wordlessly as soon as they slid under the covers. Ray went to him, rolled on top of him so Fraser wouldn’t know how hard he wanted to cling. Here at least, he could still take everything Fraser was offering. For a couple more weeks, anyway.
The rig was two hours by chopper out in the Beaufort Sea. The chopper was pretty much the coolest thing Ray could imagine – it was noisy and cold and fast, moving at impossible angles, and if he had his time again, he’d be a helicopter pilot. No doubt about it.
50km off shore was what they told him, but once you were out of sight of land, it might as well be a thousand. If you fell in the water, you weren’t getting out again, that was for sure. Especially not if you fell from the rig platform – it was 100ft or more down to the grey sea. It sent shivers down his spine just thinking about it.
It felt good to work again after a year of odd jobs and daytime TV. It wasn’t like police work, not really, but they gave him a uniform and a gun so you could still pretend. It was more like crowd control and that summer job he had as a nightclub bouncer, mixed with social work for the guys who looked like they were losing it.
Ray was pretty good at all of that. Keeping a crowd or a club from kicking off was all about attitude. You didn’t need to be bigger than everyone else – once he’d seen a 90lb girl throw a drunk out of a club with her left hand and a glare that could strip paint – which was good, because there were a lot of big guys on a rig.
Ray gave anyone who started trouble his interrogation stare, the one that said yeah, you can start it, but I can finish it.
The ones who were losing it were harder. There wasn’t a whole lot you could do for someone who thought his wife had someone keeping his side of the bed warm, or a kid away from home for the first time, except listen to them. Fraser would have been good at it. He would have listened like he cared, and told them a dumb story that made no sense until it sank in an hour later. But he was better off not thinking too much about Fraser. Things hadn’t worked out and he’d made the only choice there was to make, which was no choice at all.
When they said goodbye, Ray’d said,
“I’ll call you, when I get there, ok?”
Fraser had that blank face and stiff shoulders that gave nothing away. “Only if you have time. I’m sure you’ll be very busy.”
“Yeah, well I can’t be so busy I can’t even make one phone call, right?”
Fraser just raised his eyebrows a tiny bit and for a second Ray wanted to hit him so bad he could taste it like sand in his mouth. Fraser always knew how to press his buttons, for better and for worse, and he could do it all with a straight face too.
“Ok. Fine. I’ll just call, and if you don’t wanna talk to me then just don’t pick up the phone, ok?” Ray said through gritted teeth.
Fraser twitched ever so slightly. “If I’m here, of course I’ll answer the phone.”
“Don’t do me any favours here, buddy. I can talk to the machine like anybody else.” He could hear the snarl in his voice and this wasn’t how Ray wanted to leave things. But apparently it was exactly how Fraser wanted to leave things.
“I’d appreciate if you’d leave your contact details, yes,” he said. “In case anybody needs to get hold of you, or any mail comes.”
Just for a second Ray was speechless. “In case any mail comes? That’s why you want my contact details?” he managed.
Fraser had just looked at him with that stone face and not said anything.
It was definitely better not to think about Fraser too much. That was easier said than done though.
Ray was working security with another ex-cop. Rob had worked his whole career in some rough mining town Ray’d never heard of, but it must have been good practice for rigs because Rob was right at home. Did it for the money, he said. Maybe Ray wouldn’t have chosen to hang out with him on land, but he was an ok guy to have around here. Gave Ray his whole life story and the lowdown on the rig the first day. Why he left his wife, when to get the best fries in the canteen, which of the hookers in Prudhoe Bay would give you the clap.
That wasn’t information Ray was counting on testing. He had his own room, with a door that locked, and he reckoned that was plenty private enough to jerk off in.
In the end he was almost never in the mood. Maybe a year with Fraser (fourteen months, three weeks and two days) had ruined him. He didn’t want to think about Fraser, he couldn’t let himself think about Fraser, and nothing else in the whole world seemed to turn him on.
Rob asked him if he was married.
For a second Ray had a vivid flash of memory of their bed and Fraser whispering in the dark, Everything of mine’s yours, you know that don’t you? You can have everything… before Ray kissed him quiet.
“No,” Ray told Rob. “I’m – no. Divorced.”
“Uh huh. Me too. Anyone since?” Rob asked a lot of personal questions.
“Yeah,” said Ray shortly. Rob must have been pretty good at reading a crowd himself, because he left it there.
Ray mostly concentrated on the job. Everyone worked 12 hour shifts because there wasn’t much else to do out there, except eat and sleep and go to the gym. He did his fair share of all of that and even after a month his body was different. One day he caught sight of himself in the mirror after showering and realised he had muscles, visible muscles, like he hadn’t had since he gave up boxing. Not that there was anyone there to notice.
Between work and working out, he slept like a stone. The first night was the only night it was weird, lying in a single bed on his own and listening to the faint hum of the rig. Nobody breathing next to him and stealing the covers, and nobody to say “Go back to sleep, Ray,” and put their arm round him and their warm feet on his when he woke up at 3am and didn’t know where he was.
After that he was so wiped at the end of the day he slept fine. The rig hummed 24/7, but he got used to it.
First shore leave, he didn’t know what to do. Prudhoe Bay was a cold port town with too many men and too many bars and not enough women. That was fine, though. Ray wasn’t looking for women and he was looking for a bar. Rob had given him a post-it note with an address and the phone number of two girls he insisted Ray should look up, but Ray threw it in the trash before he even left the rig.
He walked around in the cold for a while just to get used to being on land. Then he found a bar that didn’t look too sleazy or like they had to call the cops to break up fights too often, and had a beer. After that he had another beer, and then another one. There wasn’t much else to do. Plus it was the kind of thing he hadn’t done, the whole time he’d been living with Fraser and hardly working. One of those was a reason and one was just circumstances, only he wasn’t sure which was which any more.
Halfway through the fourth beer some women came in. Ray only half noticed until one of them sat down next to him and smiled at him. She was probably about his own age, and she would have been pretty if she hadn’t looked so tired. Ray wasn’t feeling too perky himself either though, so it wasn’t like he was criticising.
She got right to the point, too.
“You looking for some company? Wanna buy me a drink?”
“Uh, no, sorry. Thanks anyway, though.” He gave her a polite smile he must’ve learned off Fraser and turned away.
Maybe a lot of guys said that at first or maybe he hadn’t sounded like he meant it, because she sat down anyway.
“So you work out on one of the rigs, right? Just in town on shore leave?”
Ray had been in Canada too damn long. He tried not to answer - he knew he wasn’t interested, why string her along on small talk? But ignoring her wouldn’t be courteous, and he found he was nodding in spite of himself.
And once he’d nodded, she carried on talking to him. She wasn’t all pushy – if it hadn’t been for her opening line he might have thought she was just lonely and talkative. He knew something about lonely and talkative, as a type.
They talked about the rig, and the town, and the beer Ray was drinking, until his inner Canadian couldn’t take any more.
“Look, I don’t wanna waste your time, but if you’re gonna sit here anyway then I’ll buy you a beer at least.”
She gave him a really nice smile that brightened up her whole face. She didn’t know him and that smile it didn’t really mean anything, but still. It was nice. It looked genuine enough from where Ray was sitting, and he wasn’t going to go any closer to find the cracks.
“But I don’t want anything, ok? So if you see – you know. If you wanna talk to someone else, you should do that,” he added, and she smiled at him even more.
Her name was Melissa, and they had quite a lot of beers. The salary the oil company was paying him, Ray figured he could afford to put beer money into the local economy. When he lurched out of the door at closing time, Melissa’s arm was wrapped round his waist and she kept him on his feet and pointing the right way to where he was staying.
Swaying slightly, Ray unwrapped her arm and squeezed her hand to make it friendly.
“You really don’t want me to go back with you?” she asked, incredulous.
“No. Thanks.” His thinking was sorta blurry, but he was pretty sure of that. “I got – I got a - ”
“Girlfriend. Right.” She’d probably heard all this before.
“No. Uh, not – I mean, yeah.” Something twisted inside him when he said it.
“So she won’t know. You’re lonely, long way from home – everyone does it, especially in this town…”
He knew everyone did it, but that didn’t make it ok. Melissa put her arms back round him and leaned into him.
And it was weird, but he wasn’t even tempted. Surprised, and wondering if she wasn’t just hoping to steal his wallet afterwards, but not tempted. Not even his lizard brain was responding, like the switch had been turned off.
He peeled her off again.
“Look, thanks, but I’m really ok. You should go back inside.”
She looked at him narrowly, then said slowly, “Hey, you know what, I got a friend you should meet – he’s clean, cute - ”
Ray was backing away now, shaking his head. “No, ok?”
He was going to go right back to the boarding house and go to bed. Instead he ended up in another bar having another beer.
He was maudlin drunk by the time he called Fraser, and the conversation was a bit of a blur when he woke up to a bright white dawn that made his head hurt. He wished he could have recorded it or something, like an interview, so he’d know what he said and what Fraser said. To have some kind of evidence. He just didn’t know whether it would send him to jail or get him off.
Then he remembered whining,
“This sucks. I hate this. I just - I’m lonely out here, I really miss you, Ben…”
Maybe Fraser heard something accusatory in his tone, because instead of saying he felt the same, or offering to come up for Ray’s next shore leave, Fraser said,
“I don’t know what you want me to say, Ray. You left me, remember?”
“I didn’t leave you, I left Hay River!” Ray protested.
“Yes, well, the end result is pretty much the same though, isn’t it?” said Fraser. His voice sounded a hundred years old.
Ray wasn’t sick in the chopper on the way back, but it was a damn close thing.
He didn’t call Fraser for a couple weeks after that, and if Fraser tried to reach him he never got the messages. He thought he would have got them, if there had been any, because someone wrote it down every time his mom called and once there was even a note saying Stella had rung but he never called her back.
Once he dreamed about Fraser. He dreamed they were in a tent somewhere, like the one they’d had on the quest only much bigger, and Fraser was rubbing his shoulders and telling him something that would keep him alive. Later they were fucking, and it was some of the sweetest most desperate sex he could remember in his whole life. Except it never happened.
He woke up with the sheet wet.
When he plucked up courage to dial Fraser’s number that evening, a woman’s voice answered.
Ray slammed the phone down and stepped back like it just bit him. His heart was pounding and he stood there like a fool, glaring at it as if it could undo what he just heard if he only leaned on it right. Ben wouldn’t, not so fast, he just wouldn’t, so it couldn’t be. He wasn’t like that. All sorts of rational explanations went chasing each other round Ray’s head - I called the wrong number; she’s a friend; he’s sick and she’s looking after him; he got someone to come in and clean the house. But none of them convinced him, and none of them did a damn thing about the sick feeling that had settled in the pit of his stomach. You left me, remember?
He backed away from the payphone, fists clenched and head down, and hit the gym. He couldn’t think of anywhere else to go - hell, there wasn’t anywhere else to go. He found his hands were shaking when he went to lift the weights but nobody was paying him any attention so he did his reps anyway and nearly dropped the weight on his head.
After half an hour he couldn’t stand not knowing and called back.
This time Fraser answered. However they might have left things last time, as soon as Ray said “Hey, it’s me,” Fraser said, “Ray…”
There was the sound of a door closing and the background voices (who the hell was there?) faded out so it was just him and Fraser. Ray hadn’t noticed before how Fraser had a voice only for him. He had that public hello? and that private Ray…
“Was that you, before? June said the line went dead.”
“Yeah, that was me.” He didn’t even care who June was. Fraser wouldn’t say his name like that and talk about her in the next breath if there was anything going on, would he?
He answered the question Ray wasn’t going to ask right away. “Apparently they heard you’d left and thought I must be lonely, so they all came. June. Patty. Eric, Sarah and Innusiq. They’ve taken over the whole house, Ray. They’re being very kind and I know I mustn’t complain, but…”
“You like it better on your own, yeah.”
“Not entirely on my own, no,” Fraser replied.
Ray let that one go.
“So who are all these guys? I met Innusiq, right? With the hair?”
“Yes. I grew up with him and June. We had our own scout troop.”
Then he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Maybe Fraser couldn’t either, because he asked,
“So are you having storms?”
“I thought. When the line went down…”
“No, it’s – I hung up. When June picked up, I thought - ”
“You thought – oh.” Then he got it. “Oh, that’s rich.” His laugh set Ray’s teeth on edge.
“I’m not accusing you, ok? I just – you’re right: I left, and then some woman answers your phone, and I got no hold on you, if this is no good for you and you don’t wanna be waiting -”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Ray!” he burst out. “If you aren’t going to come back, you can just tell me! Because otherwise, I have reached the unhappy conclusion that I will actually be waiting around, almost indefinitely, for you. Of course you have a hold on me, whether you want it or not!”
He didn’t sound like that was a good thing though.
“Thought you were divorced, Ray my man.”
“Huh?” Ray looked up from his plate as Rob sat down across the table from him.
“I walked past while you were on the phone, and man, I do not talk to my ex like that.”
He gave a good-natured mime of someone simpering into a phone, mouthing I love you to the imaginary caller.
Ray hadn’t said I love you on the phone. Maybe he was dumb about plenty of things, but getting known as a queer guy on an oil rig 50km out in the Beaufort Sea wasn’t one of them. More to the point, Fraser didn’t want to hear that. Possibly not ever, but definitely not now.
“Wasn’t my ex wife,” he said. Friendly banter, he told himself. One of the guys, c’mon Kowalski, you can do this.
“So, who was it?”
“Someone else,” Ray told him with a wink. That wink felt like the biggest lie he’d ever told. There was nothing winkable about what was going on with him and Fraser. Nothing at all.
“Oh, yeah.” That was true enough.
“So, what? Girlfriend? Friend with benefits?”
Ray shook his head.
“Nah. It’s complicated, you know? I guess we’re – I dunno what we are. ‘Cause I’m here, and – and - ” the pronoun stuck in his throat.
Rob nodded in sympathy, slathering ketchup on his fries.
“So you’re on a break. You can see other people, then see how you feel about her when you get back.”
Ray just shrugged. Maybe that was what Fraser was doing. Just because June had been in his scout troop and his voice dropped when he said “Ray,” didn’t mean shit.
“When’dyou last get laid, anyway?” Rob was asking through a mouthful.
And in spite of himself, Ray remembered the last time he’d fucked Fraser. He remembered Fraser under him in the dark, spreading his legs even further and gasping, yes, Ray, like that, harder, as Ray sank even deeper into him. He remembered lying there, neither of them saying anything afterwards, because Ray was leaving in the morning.
Ray was suddenly done eating. He pushed his plate aside and stood up, and the grin he put on his face got there by sheer force of will.
“You know what they say, Rob. If you gotta talk about it, it’s cause you ain’t doing it.”
“Well shit, I’m stuck out here, of course I ain’t doing it! So talk to me about it, at least!”
“They got magazines for that kinda thing, buddy,” he shot over his shoulder.
He kept the smile on all the way out of the canteen.
That smile could go on his fucking resume, right up next to being Italian.
Two weeks before his contract was up, Ray emailed Fraser. That would be enough time to think of somewhere else to go if Fraser didn’t think it was such a good idea for him to come back to Hay River.
He wrote out something long and stupid and deleted it because he couldn’t write pretty. It all sounded fake, written down, and he knew it wasn’t. The message he sent just said
I finish up here on the 27th and I’m gonna rent a car in Yellowknife and drive straight back down to Hay River. If that’s ok with you I mean. I hope that’s ok with you. You need anything from Yellowknife? I can pick it up if there is.
Ok well I’ll see you soon I hope. This feels like it’s been a really long time and I really missed you.
Ray turned off the computer and didn’t check if there was new email for two days. But Fraser had written back right away.
Of course that’s ok with me. It feels like a very long time to me too, and I look forward to seeing you more than I can say.
So that seemed pretty clear that Fraser wanted him to come. He re-read it quite a few times just to be sure that he wasn’t only seeing what he wanted to see.
The company paid for the flight back to Yellowknife, but the hire car place didn’t have the 4x4 they’d booked for him there.
They were very sorry,they said, but it had been in a traffic accident this morning just as the previous customer was coming to return it. They were doing their best to get him a replacement that would withstand the drive to Hay River. They’d give him a 25% discount for the inconvenience, they said, but Ray was still stuck in downtown Yellowknife for the night. It wasn’t a bad omen because Ray didn’t believe in omens so it couldn’t be. It was just inconvenient.
He’d been in Canada plenty long enough to know there was no point getting mad and yelling – they’d just look disapproving and take longer to get him a car. He tried his best smile and they showed him everything they had in the lot. None of them would make it through to Hay River.
He called Fraser from the diner across the street. The phone rang and rang as he looked out on glowering skies and rising dark until finally Fraser said, “Hello?” just as he was about to give up and get a coffee to warm up.
“Ben, it’s me,” he said.
“Ray! Where are you? Is everything is ok?”
“Sure. Fine, Just, they don’t got my hire car today ‘cause some dumbass crashed it this morning, so I’m gonna get a room here for the night while they find me another one. Just wanted to let you know.”
“Oh. I see. Is that – I mean, can you - ”
“Yeah, I can afford it, Fraser,” he almost snapped.
“No, I meant – I was going to say, perhaps I could drive up and pick you up.”
“Oh. Uh, well yeah, but it’d be a hell of a round trip for you,” Ray said doubtfully.
“I have tomorrow off, as it happens,” Fraser said.
And it wasn’t like he wanted to spend the night in one of the rooms behind the diner, smelling of scorched coffee and bleach, was it? Fraser was offering. Ray wasn’t going to prove anything by refusing.
“Uh, well, then – yeah. Yeah, that’d be great, Ben. Thanks,” he said.
When he hung up, it occurred to him that Fraser had thought he was calling to say he’d changed his mind and wasn’t coming.
He sat at a table in the window to wait. He wasn’t watching out for Fraser, but there wasn’t a lot to look at in a one horse town like this to distract him. A few trucks went by, some locals came and left. It started to rain, and didn’t stop.
The waitress refilled his coffee four times without even getting pissy with him.
“You waiting for someone?” she asked.
“Yeah. They don’t have the rental car I booked, so my - ” your what, Ray? He’s on his way, better work it out quick “- my friend’s driving up to give me a ride.”
She gave him a big rueful smile at that.
“Wish I had a friend like that,” she said with a wink.
He spotted Fraser’s car go past at the crawl of someone looking out for someplace he’d never been before. The tabletop was littered with empty sugar sachets and scraps of paper napkin he’d shredded, and Ray swept them all hurriedly into the ashtray. The paper and spilled sugar stuck to his clammy palms.
At least he’d got some warning, though. It was good he’d seen the car, he was prepared. He didn’t know what he needed to be prepared for, but it felt like there was something.
All the same, his heart started thumping when he saw Fraser push the door open a few minutes later and look around for him. Ray stood up too fast and knocked the ashtray over again. The gust of wind from the door sent all the torn up paper skittering to the floor.
Fraser was wearing jeans and his beat up leather jacket, so apart from the Stetson, Ray couldn’t honestly say it was his clothes that were eye-catching. It was just Fraser. His jacket glistened with rain and when he took off his hat to shake the water off, there was a glint of silver at his temples. Ray couldn’t remember if that had been there before. He didn’t think it had. Fraser looked thinner too, or maybe it was just that his hair was longer seemed to change the shape of his face.
Dief bounded in after him and shook himself in the doorway, sending a shower of water flying. Then he barked and headed straight for Ray, and he had an armful of eager, wet wolf making friendly with his entire face.
“Hey, furface!” he said, ruffling the white fur and letting Dief jump up and lick him all he wanted while Fraser hung back.. But Dief cut it out pretty quick and looked up at Fraser with a yip like he was saying, hey, didn’t mean to tread on your toes there, buddy.
They looked at each other for a second and Ray didn’t know what to say. He reached out without knowing what he meant to do with his hands, and Fraser reached out at the same time so that it turned into a quick awkward hug with Dief there between their feet. They both slapped each other on the back at exactly the same time but Fraser let go just a second before Ray did.
It was maybe only then Ray realised he really he didn’t know where they stood with each other. I look forward to seeing you more than I can say wasn’t exactly the same as and I want you to live in my house and sleep in my bed, was it?
It rained all the way back.
Ray was almost asleep and Fraser was watching the road, so they hardly spoke. But in spite of the uncertainty, it didn’t feel weird. It felt like getting used to the shape of Fraser and the space he took up.
When they got in, Ray half expected to see the spare room made up for him. But the door was ajar and he could see the cot still folded in the corner where it always was.
Unpacking felt like way beyond anything Ray was capable of tonight, after the chopper and the plane and the wait and the drive and the not knowing if he was out on his ass in the morning.
“Can I just leave this here?” he asked, dropping his bag in the hall and rubbing his eyes.
Fraser gave him an odd look. “Of course, Ray,” he said. “Why don’t you go to bed? I’ve just got to feed the dogs, I came straight from work.”
So Ray emptied his pockets out onto the dresser like he always used to and crawled into bed in his t shirt and shorts.
It seemed like much later when Fraser slid in beside him. He stayed all the way over on his side, but after a minute his hand reached out to grasp Ray’s arm and they lay there like that in the dark until Ray fell asleep.
The bed felt strange after six months away, and Ray woke up at dawn.
They had moved closer during the night and now Fraser was warm against his side. He didn’t stir when Ray propped himself up on one elbow and looked down at him.
Fraser asleep looked younger and more vulnerable. Awake, he always carried a kind of stiffness in his jaw like he was clenching his teeth to keep something under control. He didn’t have that now.
Ray watched him for a minute with a complicated ache in his chest. Then he lay down again with Fraser’s breathing deep and even at the back of his neck. It didn’t sound anything like the hum of the rig.
When Ray woke up next Fraser wasn’t there.
He blinked into the corner of the room and pulled the covers right up to his nose. He couldn’t tell how long Fraser had been gone. Maybe it was all the travelling and the bad diner coffee yesterday, but his stomach felt strange and heavy. He ought to have been hungry but somehow he wasn’t.
Ray wrapped his arms around himself and pulled his knees up to his chest, and wasn’t thinking at all about what he should do now when Fraser appeared in the doorway with a tray.
“Ray? Are you awake?” he asked softly.
Ray uncurled from his ball and came up on one elbow. Fraser’s hair was still sleep-messy and he was wearing the t-shirt and sweats he slept in.
“Yeah,” said Ray, and Fraser came properly into the room and held the tray while Ray untangled himself enough to sit up.
There were two mugs of coffee and two plates, and a thistle in a tall glass on the tray. Ray’s coffee was in the Hawks mug he’d brought up from Chicago, the one he always had his coffee from. Fraser’s was in the mug with a wolf on it. That had come from Chicago too. Ray gave it to him for his birthday, the first year they worked together, before anything. Most of the stuff they’d shipped north was stupid stuff like that. Fraser had another mug with the RCMP logo on it and two tin cups that had been his father’s, but the only one he used now was the wolf one.
When Ray had settled the tray on his knees, Fraser asked, “May I?”
“Yeah, course,” Ray said, and Fraser got back into the bed next to him.
It was warmer with Fraser’s shoulder brushing against his. The coffee helped too. When Ray stretched out so his foot nudged Fraser’s, Fraser nudged him back then left his foot resting against Ray’s. Their feet made a misshapen mountain under the quilt.
There was milk and sugar in Ray’s coffee, and honey on his toast. Fraser never took sugar or put anything except butter on his toast. “You’re sweet enough already, right?” Ray had said once.
Fraser had played it straight, made like he was thinking about that.
“Sweet isn’t actually a word I’ve ever heard anybody use about me, no,” he’d said after one of his perfectly timed pauses.
“Yeah, well, they don’t know you like I do,” Ray told him.
Dief had whined at them. “Nobody asked you,” Fraser said without taking his eyes off Ray.
When Ray had eaten his toast and honey he put the plate on the nightstand and settled back a bit closer to Fraser, mug resting against his belly. Now he could feel two points of warmth where they touched: shoulder to elbow, and where their feet met.
Fraser licked his lips and flicked a glance at Ray before putting his plate down.
“Was there anything in particular you wanted to do today? I thought you might like to hike up the forest trail, while the weather holds?”
“Maybe later,” Ray said, relaxing further into his pillows. Now his leg was pressed up against Fraser too, ankle to hip. He was pretty warm actually.
“What time is it anyway?”
“A little after nine.”
“Oh, well – ‘s still early...”
“If you’ve got any washing that needs doing, I’d be happy to - ”
“Nah, no need. Had a laundry service out there.”
“Oh.” Fraser licked his lips again and looked over at Ray then away. Ray turned his mug slowly round in his hands.
“Thanks, though,” he added.
“It’s no trouble.”
A muscle twitched in Fraser’s jaw. Ray could smell him, this close. He could tell the sheets were clean on - or maybe he couldn’t, maybe he just knew Fraser and he knew Fraser would have put clean sheets on the bed even if Ray wouldn’t notice - but they smelled like Fraser too. That piney outdoor scent he had. Right from the first day they met, he liked how Fraser smelled. Liked how he tasted too, but he didn’t find that out till later.
Ray put the mug down on the nightstand too and when he turned back to Fraser, Fraser was already watching him.
He was going to ask where they stood. That would be the smart thing to do. Talk about it. Tell Fraser he still wanted this, that he hadn’t even thought about anybody else and he was starting to think he never would.
Instead they just looked at each other and Fraser’s foot rubbed against Ray’s. They were looking at each other and Ray was getting turned on, he couldn’t help it. Fraser was all solid muscle and heat next to him; his hair was tousled and there was just a shadow of stubble on his jaw and Ray knew what that felt like against his bare skin. On his belly, his inner thigh. He knew Fraser’s weight, and his strength, and how he let Ray hold him down anyway.
“Ben,” he said. His voice came out rough. “You still wanna…?” Do it with me? Live with me? Be partners? He didn’t know what the end of that question was, but maybe Fraser did.
“Yes,” Fraser said, like he was sure, and they were both reaching at the same time. Leaning in so that maybe neither of them moved, maybe the space between them just wasn’t there any more. That was how it felt. Like the space vanished all by itself and Fraser’s mouth was soft against his because that was where it was meant to be.
When he opened to it it was like he’d forgotten how to kiss, it had been so long. Then he was pushing Fraser down and Fraser made a soft sound like a sob into his mouth and he couldn’t understand how he’d lived six months without this. Fraser’s arms were tight around him and Fraser’s cock was hard against his hip and it was like lighting the touch paper. He was desperate for it, he had to have Fraser now but he couldn’t stop kissing him long enough to get his clothes off and he had to get Fraser naked. Fraser’s hands were everywhere: up his back and on his ass and then pulling his shirt off over his head so Ray had to break the kiss for a second to get loose. Fraser pushed him off enough to twist out of his own shirt and now Ray could see as well as feel – he was thinner, he was even more fucking beautiful, he was perfect.
He lay back down as Ray pushed him, just going where Ray wanted him, lifting his hips to wriggle out of his sweats. They both gasped when Ray let his weight come down on him again, all that bare skin pressed together, and then Ray was kissing him, hot and deep and hard enough to leave beard burn. Fraser just opened up and took it for a moment before rolling them over to the side and closing one big hand around Ray’s cock.
And Ray was losing it, he knew he was losing it, but that was ok – Fraser ought to know, maybe he couldn’t get the rest of it right but he could give Fraser this.
Fraser’s hands were perfect and they were kissing again as Fraser jerked him off with those perfect hands and why had he ever been away? He couldn’t think of anything in the world worth missing out on this for.
He was going to protest when Fraser’s mouth left his but then Fraser was moving down the bed and suddenly all that wet heat was on his cock.
Fraser’s eyes were closed, his lips stretched around Ray’s cock as he took him deeper. Ray’d never really had any doubts that Fraser loved doing this, but when Fraser looked up at him through his lashes, all wide blue eyes and wicked mouth, Ray remembered all over again how much Fraser loved sucking his cock.
He slid his hands into Fraser’s hair and Fraser just carried on looking up at him as he blew him and his tongue fluttered and then Ray was coming, coming apart as Fraser watched him.
Fraser swallowed everything and when Ray finally stopped shaking with the aftershocks he leant over him, jerking himself off until Ray batted his hand away and took over, and said, “You can fuck me,” and he threw his head back and came and came and came, all over Ray’s chest and belly and hand.
Fraser tried to go get a cloth but Ray wouldn’t let him: he caught his wrist as he got up and pulled him back down. With more force than he meant to because Fraser landed on top of him and then they were both sticky.
“Don’t. I wanna smell like you,” he muttered into Fraser’s neck.
“Oh,” gasped Fraser and bit him, hard. Then he pulled the covers back up over them and licked at the spot he’d bitten. Ray tilted his head and let him.
They didn’t quite go back to sleep. At least, Ray didn’t. He thought Fraser didn’t either because his arms around Ray never let go. After a while he could feel Fraser starting to get hard again and that was enough to get Ray going again too.
Fraser was already on top of him, pressing him down into the bed as he kissed him, and when Ray shifted slightly Fraser’s cock pressed up against the crack of his ass, making them both shiver.
Fraser raised his head.
“Yeah,” Ray told him and pulled him back down, and the next time Fraser moved it was to press a slick finger into him and make him arch his back in pleasure.
Just when Ray thought he was about to get fucked, Fraser stopped. He pulled back a bit and looked down at Ray.
“Should I wear a condom?”
“What? No! I didn’t - “
“No, I meant me - I mean, I didn’t either, but you don’t have any proof of that, so if you wanted me to -”
“If you trust me, then I trust you,” Ray said and Fraser laughed breathlessly then kissed him, hard.
Then his fingers were pressing back inside, and then his cock was splitting him open. It did hurt, a little, in spite of all the slick, but Ray wanted it anyway. He wanted Fraser heavy on top of him and breathing hard in his ear like he was about to lose it. He wanted Fraser groaning, “Ray…” when he was all the way in, and trembling like he couldn’t take it. And when he lifted his head and looked right into Ray’s eyes, Ray came without so much as a hand on his cock.
“How many times you think we did it last year?” he asked the ceiling.
Fraser shifted next to him.
“Well, you were here for fourteen months, thirteen days, which makes - ” he paused and Ray didn’t even try to help with the math.
“…439 days. Minus the ones I was on patrol, which are around 40 – no, 41.”
“Yeah, 41,” Ray agreed. That was math he’d already done.
“And assuming a minimum of once a day for half of those, and twice for the others – and perhaps 10 days when it was more – then that makes…”
He muttered numbers under his breath for a second. “I’ve lost count now. But a lot, I would say. It felt like a lot to me.”
“Yeah. Me too.”
“Seven hundred and something?”
Fraser’s hand moved hypnotically up and down his side.
“You think it’ll always be like that?”
Fraser gave an un-Fraserish shrug.
“The popular perception is that after a while, frequency declines. But as you know, I’ve never had the opportunity to test that empirically. “
He didn’t say, you’d know more about that than I would, Ray, and Ray appreciated that. How Fraser hardly ever said the obvious thing. There were lots of things he appreciated about Fraser.
Ray was nearly asleep when Fraser spoke again, very softly.
“I’m sorry I reacted the way I did, to you going away.”
Ray rolled on his side to face him and Fraser turned too.
“Diefenbaker maintains I have been insecure and unreasonable – he came out with some gender-based insults that I objected to, and we had to have a talk about stereotyping and cultural constructions of masculinity...”
He was saying it like that on purpose to make Ray laugh, so Ray grinned at him and reached out to take his hand, lacing his fingers through Fraser’s.
“Perhaps he had more faith in you than I did,” Fraser continued. “But then, he’s not quite as invested as I am. I mean, he missed you, but - ”
“Hey, I missed him too,” Ray put in.
“I’ll tell him,” Fraser said gravely. “But as for me, I missed you to a different order of magnitude, I think. Not to make light of his suffering, but he doesn’t lack for other companionship. And besides, I didn’t want other companionship…”
Ray leaned in and kissed him.
“Me neither,” he said when he pulled away.
“And I shouldn’t have got angry when you asked about June. But the idea that I could just make do with someone else, replace you – that you didn’t know…”
“Shh,” Ray said and kissed him again.
“No, but that I hadn’t managed to convey that message in fourteen months – I think that’s a pretty poor effort really, isn’t it?”
“Shut up,” Ray rolled on top of him, held his head so Fraser had to look up at him. “I said I was staying and then I didn’t, so this ain’t on you, ok?”
Fraser didn’t say anything but his eyebrows raised ever so slightly.
“Look, I got $80k in the bank now. I can last two years on that, easy. And then, if nothing’s come up round here, then…” he trailed off.
Fraser was watching him not have an answer.
“Yeah,” said Fraser. “Exactly.”
When they got up at last it was 1pm. Ray dragged his bag in from the hall and started searching for his shaving kit while Fraser banged around in the kitchen. Then he came out looking embarrassed.
“I was going to offer you lunch,” he said rubbing his eyebrow. “But I’m afraid there isn’t really anything to eat except three tins of Spam, and I don’t think we’re hungry enough to resort to that.”
Ray was definitely not hungry enough to resort to that. He made a face and Fraser looked almost ashamed.
“I meant to go shopping yesterday, but then you called and I drove up straight after work and forgot all about it. I’ll just go now...” he continued, reaching for his jacket.
“I’ll go with you.”
“You don’t need to to that, Ray. Make yourself comfortable at home, I’ll be back in no time. Or we could eat in town, if you’re really hungry.”
“Nah, I can wait. I been eating at a canteen for six months. I’ll go with you, unless you’d rather…” What? Not be seen in public with me?
“No, I’d love - I mean, if you don’t mind, then yes, I’d very much like it if you came with me.”
Ray found a stupid smile creeping across his face.
“Ok then. Lemme get dressed, I’ll be ready in five.”
He bumped into the coffee table when he finally turned away from Fraser, and Fraser didn’t even laugh at him.
Buying his own food again was great. Ray never would have thought he could have such a deep appreciation for grocery shopping, but there was something about canteens that made a guy get sick of them after a while, even when the food was really good.
“Hey, what about olives?” he said to Fraser. “They got olives in here?”
Fraser grinned at him and with some sleight of hand produced a jar of black olives as if out of thin air. They would have been cheap and nothing special in Chicago, the kind you threw on a pizza and didn’t think twice about. Up here though, it was kind of a big deal. Ray grinned back.
“You read my mind!” he said.
Anna from the library was in there buying groceries too. Anna who always asked after Fraser, and smiled at Ray like he might put in a good word for her.
Ray tensed when she noticed them, not sure he wanted to know what would happen next. He believed Fraser, of course he did - Mounties could lie, and Fraser could lie, but he wouldn’t lie about a thing like this. He’d ‘fess up and take the pain. But still. A lot can change in six months. A guy like Fraser, on his own -
“Ray, welcome back! I missed my best customer!” she exclaimed, flicking a look at Fraser.
“Yeah, you know, I was working, so…”
“On the rig, Constable Fraser told us,” she said. “How did you find it?”
“Uh, ok, I guess. Good food. But it was kinda - ” he cleared his throat. “Kinda lonely, though. I missed - ” he waved a hand in a gesture that might have meant the town or the store or dry land or pretty much anything, and his knuckles brushed Fraser’s sleeve. “You know.”
“Oh yeah, I bet,” she nodded, smiling back and forth between the two of them. “Well, I’ll let you get on. Great to see you back, Ray.”
Fraser put beer and chips and chocolate in the cart without Ray even having to ask or defend his diet or endure any raised eyebrows or anything.
His face was stuck on smiling like a fool. “Thanks, Ben,” he said. “Guess I should go away more often, huh?”
But Fraser looked dead serious. “No, you shouldn’t.”
Ray paid for the groceries and Fraser let him.
As he turned the jeep onto the road out of town, Fraser said out of nowhere, “I was just thinking, about…” Then he trailed off.
Ray watched his careful profile and waited.
At last he continued. “I was thinking, we don’t have to be here forever.”
“This far north. This remote.There are - other places.”
“Well - yeah,” said Ray. “But…”
Fraser glanced over at him, like he wanted Ray to have the end of that sentence but knew perfectly well there wasn’t an end.
Ray was starving when they pulled up in front of the cabin. He had the bag of chips open before they were even in the door and headed straight for the kitchen, Dief trotting at his side like he always stayed this close, yes sir, nothing to see here, those chips have nothing to do with anything.
“How ‘bout steak, Ben?” he asked, throwing packets into the cupboards just to clear some space.
Fraser winced, but all he said was, “Steak would be great, yes.”
As the pan sizzled with the meat, Fraser came to lean next to him. He set two plates next to the stove then folded his arms across his chest.
Ray knew he was going to say something but there wasn’t any point prompting Fraser in this stuff.
“I just meant, there are other places we could live. If you wanted.”
Ray looked at him quickly, then kept his eyes on the steak.
“Huh,” he said, just to show he was listening. He was listening.
“I thought, I could even get a city posting, in fact – with my experience in Chicago to draw on, I think I’d be a credible candidate somewhere urban.”
Fraser held out the plates, and Ray slid the steaks onto them before he answered.
“Nah. This is where you wanna be. This posting is what you wanted. You told me that.”
“Well, yes.” He rubbed his eyebrow then continued, “But I also want an end to poverty and injustice, and my own dog team, and excellent Chinese food on my doorstep. But I accept that I can’t have all of those things, and indeed that some of them are contradictory. So I have to make choices.”
He looked Ray right in the eye while he said that.
“We gotta let these rest for a couple minutes, ok?” Ray said. Fraser nodded earnestly and put the plates on the table.
When they’d both mostly finished eating, Ray said,
“I’m not asking you to move for me, you know.” Fraser looked up at him, mouth full. “I like it here too. Something might come up.”
“It might, yes. But I do understand that if it doesn’t, you can’t get by on odd jobs and the beauty of the wilderness indefinitely.”
“Don’t forget sex,” Ray added. “That buys you a year, easy.”
Fraser fought back a smile. “I’ll bear that in mind,” he agreed solemnly.
It was only mid afternoon but Ray sprawled on the sofa and put his feet on the coffee table and seriously considered a nap. Over the TV he could hear comforting sounds of Fraser in the kitchen, restacking the tins and combing the rice or whatever it was he did that made him enjoy making everything neat. Maybe that was why they got on so well: if Ray wasn’t there to mess stuff up and put it in the cupboards wrong, what would Fraser have to straighten up?
Eventually it went quiet in the kitchen and Fraser appeared at his elbow.
“Is there room for me here?”
Ray grunted and sat up, but as soon as Fraser sat down he lay right back down again and put his head in Fraser’s lap.
First something in Fraser’s pocket was digging into his cheek, and then his arm was squished under him and he had to wriggle around and shove at Fraser with his shoulder.
“You will tell me if I’m disturbing you, won’t you?” he asked dryly.
Ray ignored the tease in his voice. “Nah, m’good. You’re fine.”
When Ray finally got comfortable Fraser slouched right back into the cushions, and settled one hand warm on his ribs as Dief leapt up to lie on his feet. Ray had to curl closer into Fraser to hide his face for a second.
He felt Fraser’s other hand came down gently on the back of his neck.
They sat like that till Ray trusted his voice again.
“You wanna get down here or what?”
“Getting you comfortable was difficult enough - are we really prepared to do this with both of us?”
“Oh, stop complaining, I made you steak.”
And Fraser did. He pulled his boots off and nudged Ray up for a second so he could swing his legs up and stretch out next to him.
“There,” he said, but Ray wasn’t quite done. He turned so he could sling one leg over Fraser’s and drape himself half over Fraser’s chest.
“There,” Ray told him. “Now I’m comfortable.”
“Glad to be of service.”
“Oh, you’re plenty of service, trust me on this, Fraser.”
Fraser was the guy who sat up straight and got up early. Getting him sacked out on the couch, in the middle of the day, just because Ray asked, was as much of a gift as everything else about today. And a gift like that, you had to show your appreciation for, so Ray shifted again to get himself properly on top of Fraser, letting him take most of his weight and really feel that Ray was there with him.
Dief finally jumped off the couch with a yip of complaint.
“We are consenting adults in the privacy of our own home,” Fraser told his retreating tail. “I don’t know why you’re being so prudish about this.”
Ray kissed him for that, because he was there and he was warm and relaxed under him and he could, and if it would piss off the wolf at the same time, he had no problem with that. Fraser opened right up to it, no hesitation, no holding back, letting Ray kiss him all he wanted.
He wasn’t done talking though. He was flushed and hot eyed as Ray looked down at him, but he still said,
“What I was saying before, about having to choose - ”
Ray undid the buttons on his henley to kiss his neck, and heard Fraser’s sharp intake of breath as he used his teeth.
He still managed to say, “I just wanted to say that if I have to choose, I’d rather be somewhere else, with you, than here on my own. That’s all.”
Ray pulled his shirt out of his pants and and slid a hand up the soft warm skin of his side.
“You just sayin’ that cause you wanna get laid?”
Fraser huffed a laugh. “No, I just wanted to be clear on that, from the start.” His voice seemed to get deeper as he added, “and I think I’m going to get laid anyway...” pulling Ray closer and kissing him hard.
“I’m not making you choose, you know,” Ray told him when he came up for air.
“No, I know you’re not. But if I have to, then I’ve chosen.”
They looked at each other for a long moment, and that was a vow Ray knew he couldn’t kiss quiet. He could choose to leave or he could choose to stay, but Fraser had already made his choice and Ray couldn’t pretend he didn’t know.
It wasn’t riding off into the sunset, and maybe the pennies never all came out of the jar. Maybe the jar would get broken. But if Fraser still wanted to try, then it seemed like it was worth Ray trying too.
“Ok,” Ray said. “Ok then.”