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By The Grace

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They don't have a Christmas tree, and they don't exchange gifts.

*

He spends his days wrapped up in blankets and watching white and white and white through not-quite fogged up windows. Smiles weakly in relief when Fraser comes home, and smiles bravely with heartburn when he leaves. Eats, but only because Fraser told him to. Reaches down to scratch Diefenbaker's ear and smokes about a pack a day, and the silence swallows him whole, cradles him and lulls him into a blissful state of improvement.

The tears are like a river across warm skin, like diamonds in orange light from the fireplace, and Fraser never questions them. Ray hopes it'll get better. Thinks it'll get better. Maybe knows it, and Diefenbaker stays with him, both too old to come with Fraser on patrol and too stubborn to leave Ray's side. Serenity and improvement and better, until Fraser cradles him at night and he shakes with memories and something dark he can't name, and Fraser says, I can't do this alone anymore, Ray.

One week later, to the day, they pack up their stuff and move to Yellowknife.

*

Fraser's office sits heavily in Ray's nostrils, smelling clean and ugly with a green carpet that makes his fingertips crackle with static electricity, and Fraser wasn't ever supposed to end up behind a desk. Ray goes to see his shrink twice a week like he promised, doesn't want to disappoint Fraser and doesn't want cigarettes and lukewarm beer and diamonds in orange light. He looks up at a bird flying overhead, too high up for him to see what kind, just a black shadow against gray clouds, and he wonders how far the bird can fly before it has to rest. Thinks about wings and wants to glide on hot air and the grace of God, and look down without fear of falling.

Diefenbaker whines at his side and Ray waits in the street just so he won't have to go into the RCMP building.

He's only been in Fraser's office once, and he never wants to go in there again. A man in a suit rushes by him and smells of hot dogs and hookers and death, and Ray shivers, tells himself it's only the cold, and shivers again.

*

It's somewhere in the middle of the third month that Ray's parents call. Ray stares at the machine for a long time and contemplates killing someone. Doesn't, but instead calls Stella and doesn't even yell at her, just calmly tells her to please not give out his number to anyone. She says, I'm won't Ray, I'm sorry, and he can't stay mad at her, hasn't got the energy right now, and makes idle chitchat about Florida weather versus Canada weather. It's no wonder why talking about the weather has become such a cliché. It's horrifyingly easy to fill a conversation with bullshit exactly like that.

They say their good byes and hang up, and Ray stares hard at the black magic marker that sits next to the phone. Tosses it in a drawer along with his badge and hopes Welsh is still alive, that he hasn't been taken out on the job. The badge reflects the light briefly as Ray closes the drawer.

*

His shrink wants him on medication again, but she knows he's not gonna go for it, knows it's just like the past fifteen times she's brought it up. Knows he won't fill his prescriptions, and if he does, he won't take them. Ray considers filling them and selling the drugs on the street, just to be an ass, but then she says, I can't make you, Ray, it's up to you, and her smile is gentle, so he doesn't really say anything else.

*

On the twenty-second Wednesday with Fraser, Ray sleeps until noon. Rubs the sleep out of his eyes and blinks to find himself staring at the other man, sitting silently by his bed. Shouldn't be home, shouldn't be home at this hour, and something has got to be wrong.

I won't hurt you, Ray, Fraser says and there is anger spiking through Ray then. Gasoline to a fire, and they both burn.

Fuck you, he says back, fuck you, and there are flames licking up his back. Skin peeling away and leaving him raw and bleeding. Fuck you, Fraser.

Fraser's lips are warm and moist and taste faintly salty, and it's tender, and Ray trembles. Trembles so hard and swallows against the lump in his throat, and finally goes under, like a drowning man at sea. Slipping and sliding and sinking into darkness, endless darkness, and he doesn't even fight, just welcomes eternity with open arms, because even this--even this--feels better than anything else has ever felt, and it feels...

*

Ray is down to ten a day when Diefenbaker dies. Fraser takes him out of the city to bury him and doesn't come home for hours and hours and hours, and the next day he calls in sick, even though he has no fever and no flu and no stomach bug.

He was the best friend I ever had, Fraser confesses quietly to Ray, teary-eyed with a quivering voice, and just a little bit broken.

Later, warm in Ray's arms, Fraser sleeps, and Ray thinks he probably should have said something before Fraser left with Diefenbaker's body, said something the night before if he'd known he was going to wake up that morning and find Diefenbaker dead. Thinks he could have let the wolf lick his ear for once, fed him a donut maybe, told him, Say hi to Turtle when you see him, willya? but then he thinks it's just cheesy. Something people do in the movies and bad drama novels. And Ray's glad he didn't say anything at all.

He wonders if Fraser said anything.

Fraser turns in Ray's arms and kisses Ray's neck softly, and continues to snore.

*

It's the first day of fall in Yellowknife, and Ray breathes deeply. Welcomes the weather changing slowly, clouds gathering and rain pouring down as the winds pick up. The trees shed their skin and start fresh, and there's cigarette smoke and fresh air in Ray's lungs.

He feels just a little bit like smiling.

His face has somehow become hypersensitive, he can feel his cheeks move, his eyelids slide across his eyeballs as he blinks, and when Fraser exits the building he looks at Ray oddly.

Ray blows out the smoke in his lungs, like an old fashioned locomotive letting out steam, and considers making a choo-choo sound, and the smirk is strange and familiar. Fraser almost looks worried then, and Ray says, What? It's fall, Fraser. Then Fraser smiles as well, and they're smiling together, tentatively and trying, and around Ray a world of black and white is fading back in focus.

They go to a small diner to eat, orders burgers with extra cheese and mayo. Fraser steals nearly all of Ray's fries, and Ray doesn't mind one bit. Tries instead to calculate how many cups of coffee the waitresses serve a day and comes up with a completely different number than Fraser. Fraser's probably right, but Ray still argues the point and speaks more words than he has in almost a year.

*

The ceiling has a crack that runs from the corner over the bed, to nearly where the lamp is.

Ray wonders briefly if the house will some day fall down. Crumble in a cloud of smoke. Ray thinks of demolitions he's seen in Chicago and on TV and of the World Trade Center and the one time he managed to build a fifteen story house of cards. It never fell down as he worked on it, not once--completely perfect the first time around, from the first card to the last, and there's irony in there somewhere, Ray knows. It makes him smile in the darkness of their bedroom, smile, and one tear hits the pillow, for love and postcards and houses of cards that doesn't fall down after all.

Throws one leg across Fraser's and turns on his side, eyes closing, and he falls asleep with Fraser's heartbeat in his ear and Fraser's breath on his skin. He dreams of snow and ice and solitude in a cabin that looks like it's from a postcard, Fraser's application for a transfer back home is being processed and will be ready in another week. They'll be home in a few months, and Fraser will buy a puppy and call him Denendeh, and Ray will smile again.

Down to one appointment a month, no cigarettes a day, hasn't called Stella for over six months, and Ray wakes up just in time to see the sun peek above the horizon.

It's morning.

*

They have a Christmas tree, and they exchange gifts.

End.