For Ray, romantic relationships went in a certain set of steps. They weren't strict rules or anything, mostly because Ray hadn't gone through every single step but the one time, but Ray still had this pattern he went through.
Step one: attraction. Ray would have thought that one was pretty simple and obvious, but even there he tripped up. With Stella he'd been twelve years old and seen her dancing, and he hadn't had a name for the funny feeling in his stomach but he hadn't been able to stop staring at her all night, and somehow he'd found the courage to ask her to dance with him. Without Stella there'd been a few others: the bad checks lady who'd left him in Mexico for a poncho dealer, whose name Ray couldn't remember anymore but who'd had a definite zing with him from the moment he sat her down to write her up; Luanne Russell, who'd made Ray feel like the whole world was made of china and soft perfume.
And Fraser, of course, even though Ray only understood it when he looked back on it, and every time he thought about it, he had to look further and further. He'd been attracted when he spent two days being worried crazy that a card shark was playing mind games with Fraser. He'd been attracted when he lashed out and punched Fraser in the jaw after one bizarrely dangerous situation too many. He'd been attracted when he was lurking in a crypt feeling like a fuck-up and listening to Fraser tell him without a shred of sarcasm that they did their job so that innocent people could sleep safe in their beds. He'd been attracted or he wouldn't've sounded Fraser out to see whether maybe Fraser was attracted back, even though they'd known each other for about a week. Hell, he'd been attracted when he'd known the guy for about three hours and had stepped in front of a bullet for him, vest or no vest.
But Ray always did things backwards with Fraser. Out of order, upside-down, hanging off rooftops, putting the sled before the Dief, all that good stuff.
Because step two, at least outside bizarro-Fraser-world, was being impressive. Ray found someone attractive, he had to do everything he could to be attractive back, whether it was lying to Stella about what had gone down in the bank, or not wearing his glasses even when he needed them because they made him look like a dork, or even flying down to Mexico on a whim like a total nutbar. But again, with Fraser, Ray had done it backwards, because stepping in front of a bullet had apparently impressed the hell out of Fraser, and his pre-Fraser cop record had impressed Fraser, and at the time Ray wasn't even trying, because he hadn't noticed the attraction yet. When Ray did figure it out, he did dumb shit like driving motorcycles through windows and jumping to Fraser's rescue through skylights, and of course Fraser assumed that this was normal behavior, because by then it was. At least Stella had noticed when Ray did dumb shit to impress her.
Which brought Ray to step three: acting on the attraction. This was as far as he'd got with Mexico lady and Luanne, because after step three there was this little flowchart, an invisible box with the question have you screwed this up yet? If the answer was yes, then Mexico lady ran off with the poncho guy and Luanne Russell shut the door in Ray's face; if the answer was no, then Ray got to go on to step four. With Stella, he hadn't screwed up: sixteen years old, he kissed her real soft across the clutch of his amazing new GTO, and felt Stella smile against his mouth. Thirty-six years old, on a stakeout and going out of his goddamn mind, with no wolf even in the back seat to chaperone, Ray leaned across the same stupid clutch and kissed Fraser, a hard quick kiss he didn't have any explanation for, except that Ray suddenly knew his flowchart had three options:
Because the answer to whether he'd screwed up with Fraser was yes, yes all the way, yes when he couldn't even keep up his undercover gig for a week, yes when he hit Fraser and almost took a damn transfer, yes when he freaked out and did the first few steps with a couple of attractive women he barely knew, and definitely yes, yes to the power of infinity, when he worked up the courage to just lean over and kiss Fraser without even asking first or having a single word to stammer after.
It took Ray a moment to realize that, while he hadn't felt Fraser smiling against his mouth like Stella had, it was only because he hadn't given Fraser the time.
Fraser was sitting there, smiling this soft weird smile like Ray had just given him the world, like Fraser was a little frightened by the responsibility but it was still the best gift Ray could possibly have given, and Ray got it. In bizarro-Fraser-world, screwing up was okay.
"Okay?" Ray rasped, still wound up, fight-or-flight no matter how Fraser was looking at him. Somehow the question came out like it was the middle of a conversation they'd been having, or an argument. He wasn't looking for confirmation; he was looking for a real answer, even if he wasn't sure of the question.
But, "Yes, Ray," Fraser said, mostly whispering, and he sounded a little scared but he didn't actually stop smiling either, which was -- weird, freakishly weird, which of course meant situation normal. Ray relaxed a little, nodded, turning his eyes back to the front where they were supposed to be watching a warehouse. For the rest of their shift the thrumming awareness of Fraser sitting beside him in the dark was almost impossible to bear, but that didn't make it any less strangely wonderful.
So this brought Ray to step four.
Step four was a little scary, because before Fraser, Ray had only gotten to step four with Stella. It had been scary then, and it was scary now, for essentially the same reason, namely that Ray had no idea what he was doing.
Step four was acting on the attraction in every possible way Ray could think of and maybe a few that he couldn't. Sex with Stella had been the best and most terrifying thing ever when Ray was seventeen and had only the vaguest idea of how this was supposed to work, and sex with Fraser -- it was terrifying for exactly the same reason, and the reason wasn't the mechanics of it, and it wasn't something Ray thought of as a step. It was more a state of being. Attraction was a step.
Lying in his bed, his naked limbs tangled up with Fraser's, Fraser's face pressed against Ray's shoulder and Ray staring down at him in the lamplight, a little awed, both of them shivering minutely with the immensity of it but neither of them mentioning the obvious, that was the state of being Ray meant here.
Step five was where he got kind of tripped up.
A month or so after he'd started having sex with Fraser -- and sleeping with Fraser, too, that was a big part of it, something Ray was a huge fan of, the part where after they'd both come Ray would just collapse and fall asleep with Fraser warm against his side, the part where if he was lucky Fraser would wake him up with a blowjob and if he wasn't lucky, if Fraser had to walk Dief or open the Consulate early, the mattress would still be indented where Fraser had been and the sheets would smell like both of them -- Ray discovered the toothbrush. It was sitting innocently in the toothpaste-encrusted old cup where Ray kept his own, nestled right up against Ray's, all clean and well-bristled and making Ray's toothbrush look weirdly scruffy in comparison. "Oh," Ray said out loud, and sat down with a thump on the toilet seat.
A toothbrush was important. Really important. Huge.
Ray shuffled out dazedly to look at the rest of his apartment with fresh eyes. Rumpled Fraser-smelling bed, check. Spare jeans, flannel shirt, and ironed snow-white boxers stashed in Ray's bottom drawer same as they'd been for months, since one too many run-ins with a dumpster or the lake they call Michigan or something, check. Magazines neatly stacked, coffee table dusted, last night's takeout cartons licked clean by an eager wolf and piled into the trash bin by Ray's front door, check check check. Coffee was percolating in the kitchen -- Fraser seemed to be under the weird impression that Ray deserved better than instant -- and he'd left a little bag of something that claimed to be Smarties but were actually M&Ms in Canadian disguise. Check.
Fraser had left a note on the refrigerator door, trapped there with a magnet in the shape of a pine tree with goofy cartoon features. Ray -- We're out of fresh milk. I may be a few extra minutes on Dief's walk collecting some. BF.
"Okay," Ray muttered to himself, "okay, okay," even though it wasn't, and he wasn't sure what it was. He poured his coffee, counted out his Canadian M&Ms, and was most of the way through the cup by the time Fraser got back, bearing a gallon of milk, Diefenbaker in tow.
"Hey, thanks," Ray said, taking the milk and a quick kiss. Fraser pulled away reluctantly, smiling at him and opening the refrigerator door. Ray's heart twisted. "Frase -- listen --"
His fucking phone rang.
It was Welsh, wanting to tell Ray the latest developments in a particularly hot case, which at any other time Ray might have appreciated. "You have the Mountie with you?" Welsh asked, and without thinking Ray said, "Yeah," and barely had time to panic and say something stupid about how they always got breakfast together before Welsh was derailing that, saying, "Good, good, bring him in too. I'll clear it with the Inspector."
"Thanks, sir," Ray said, and stared at the phone for a long moment before putting it down and going to find his holster.
He didn't remember what he'd been meaning to say until they were most of the way to the station. When he did, he accidentally ran a yellow (maybe red, maybe) light, and the opportunity was gone again, because Fraser had to lecture him on road safety and he couldn't get a word in edgewise.
When they were actually in the station, no way. They spent the morning on the case -- yelling at Frannie (okay, Ray yelled at Frannie and Fraser did damage control and thanked her kindly a lot) and crosschecking files for leads, mostly. Welsh finally decided they could go to lunch; for time and convenience they went to a sandwich shop about a block down. Once they settled in with their sandwiches, Ray took a deep breath. "Fraser --"
But Fraser was already halfway out of his seat.
Of course a purse-snatcher had to go around committing felonies right outside the sandwich shop, right under Fraser's nose, while Ray was just trying to have a life-altering conversation here.
They had to book the purse-snatcher, and after that it just seemed like the best idea to eat their sandwiches over the afternoon paperwork. Ray made himself concentrate on that, although the sideways glances he caught Fraser giving him now and then told him he wasn't doing too well controlling the jitters.
Around dinnertime Ray'd had enough. "I'm beat," he said, shoving his chair back. "I read anymore and it's not gonna take. I am an information-soaking sponge, Fraser, but I am officially at capacity."
"Yes, it does feel that way," Fraser agreed, pinching the bridge of his nose and standing slowly.
"Dinner?" Ray offered.
Fraser collected Dief and ordered from the car, so they arrived at Ray's apartment around the same time the food did. They settled in, Dief on his Dief-chair that was covered in wolf fur, Fraser and Ray sitting together on the couch with their thighs pressed against each other and the food in front of them on the coffee table. Ray ate, and listened to some rambling Inuit story Fraser was just dying to tell, and felt that twisting in his chest, which he recognized because he'd lived with it most of his life, even if it used to come in a slightly different flavor.
Now that he had Fraser to himself, no interruptions, Ray had run out of words again. Somehow he doubted that just giving Fraser a desperate look and asking okay? was going to cut it this time. Fraser was smart enough to understand what a single scared kiss meant, but Ray had no idea if Fraser was smart enough to understand what leaving toothbrushes and notes willy-nilly around Ray's apartment meant.
With Stella, step five involved a diamond chip, some nice crushing terror, a Protestant church that made Ray feel itchy and uncomfortable, a lot of new matching kitchenware, and the beginning of everything falling apart. With Fraser, step five -- step five sure as hell couldn't involve a ring or a church, no way, and Ray liked his dented mismatched old kitchenware just fine, and anyway if step five was the beginning of everything going to hell ...
Fraser had stopped talking. Caught, Ray gave him a guilty smile.
"Something on your mind?" Fraser asked. He asked it a little suggestively, which really turned Ray's crank, but he asked it with real concern, too, which was just as wonderful in its own way.
"Yeah. Uh." Ray rubbed the back of his neck. "I just noticed. You got a toothbrush here."
"Ah," Fraser said. He didn't add anything, though, just stared at Ray, looking sort of expectant and sort of anxious, and Ray understood all at once that Fraser was smart enough, Fraser was a hell of a lot smarter than Ray, Fraser knew exactly what it meant if he was leaving a toothbrush and writing Ray notes and preparing his morning coffee. Ray understood too that he was back at the flowchart, and that he hadn't screwed up yet, but he lived in Fraser's freakish Twilight Zone world now. If he screwed up in Fraser-land, he screwed up for real this time.
"I just thought," Ray said, and took a shivery breath.
Fraser didn't help him. Fraser just looked at him steadily, and without meaning to Ray found himself imagining Fraser's steps. Everyone got to step one with Fraser, but just feeling attraction back, that had to be big. He could skip step two entirely, because by just existing Fraser was impressive ... but maybe he'd done that too, because Ray knew better than probably anyone that Fraser was human. And doing something about the attraction -- how many times had Fraser done that, taken any kind of initiative? Probably only a handful, because Ray was fairly sure that Fraser'd hit step four about as often as he had. Twice. Great.
Fraser'd never, ever reached step five before. But Ray had, and now Fraser had a toothbrush in Ray's bathroom, and he was sitting here on Ray's couch, and it was up to Ray.
"You got spare civvies here," Ray said. "But, um. I figured you could keep your spare uniform here too. And. And whatever else you'd like, too. Even if it's matching kitchenware."
"I don't have much in the way of kitchenware, Ray," Fraser said, confused.
"Forget the kitchenware, forget it. Just -- wanna bring over your stuff? The rest of your stuff?"
"Yes," Fraser said, and started smiling his Ray-gave-me-the-world smile again. "I'd like that."
"Okay," Ray said. "Okay, well, good," and in a fit of generosity and sheer nerves, he actually got up and rinsed out the takeout cartons for the recycling. Fraser snuck up behind him in the kitchen and stood there, front pressed to Ray's back and his arms wrapped around Ray's waist, breathing into the back of Ray's neck and huffing a warm and utterly evil laugh into Ray's hair the second time Ray dropped a carton into the soapy water.
"You suck," Ray told him, and Fraser said something that sounded suspiciously like, "Mm, if you like," so Ray turned around and dragged Fraser into a kiss, wet soapy hands and all.
The thing about step five, Ray thought some time later, lying in his bed all tangled up with Fraser, Fraser snoring lightly against Ray's shoulder and Ray staring down at him in the half-dark, shivering a little with the immensity of it; the thing about step five was that it wasn't the beginning of everything going to hell. It wasn't even really a step. It was more a state of being.