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1997

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It's not that he doesn't like Christmas, Ray tells himself. It's just that it seems pointless decorating the place just for him. After all, since Stella left he's not really having any guests over for dinner, and it's not like he goes with her to visit her family anymore. Now it's just him. And why would he decorate his place just for him? He can see multi-colored light bulbs, stars and glitter if he glances out the window, the stores in his neighborhood apparently smitten with the same Christmas spirit as the rest of the damn city, making them put anything glowing and pretty and red and green in their windows, on their doors and pretty much everywhere.

So no, Ray doesn't really need any decorations. He doesn't have any little Santa figurines in porcelain or wood on his tables, he doesn't have any stars in his window, he doesn't even have a Christmas tree, and he's fine with that.

He does, however, have a box full of the stuff, sitting at his kitchen counter.

Ray stares hard at it, and reminds himself once more why it's pointless to decorate for just him. Tells himself he will not become one of those lonely people who gets their house all nice and shiny for Christmas Eve, and who doesn't even have someone to share it with.

Scoffing at his own self-pity, Ray started to take the box, lifts it and prepares to put it back in the closet where it belongs, thinks about maybe taking it to the salvation army in the morning, or a pawn shop, anybody who'll want it more than him, when there's a knock on his door. It's a soft knock, accompanied by eager scraping of what can only be paws, and it's Fraser--of course it's Fraser. Who else would it be? Ray puts the box back down and goes to open the door.

"Hey," he says, and Fraser isn't soggy from the Chicago sleet, or shivering from the cold, like everybody else. Of course he isn't, no, Fraser's cheeks are red and his hat has a lovely little layer of white snow along the brim, and his peacoat doesn't show signs of a single splashdown by a passing truck. He doesn't have his uniform on, but rather jeans, a blue flannel shirt that looks shamefully good on him, and a white turtleneck that sticks up by the collar. He looks like the poster boy for Healthy Woodsmen Anonymous. Diefenbaker's at his side as always, and even the damn wolf seems happy, a few scattered snowflakes in his coat, but the fur still not wet and foul smelling.

"Man, you just step right out of a freakin' postcard or something?" Ray asks, and Fraser looks confused.

"I'm sorry, what?"

"Nevermind," Ray says, and figured he can at least try to not project his bad mood at Fraser. Not like any of it is Fraser's fault. "C'mon in."

Fraser steps in and takes off his hat and coat without even dripping once on Ray's floors, and Diefenbaker carefully shakes his body outside in the hallway before stepping in and trotting over to lie down in front of Ray's TV.

"Ah," Fraser says. "Ah." And wouldn't it just figure that out of all the knick-knacks and general mess in Ray's apartment, the damn Mountie would zoom right in on the box of Christmas decorations still sitting on Ray's kitchen counter?

"You're decorating for the holidays, then?" Fraser says, and he sounds so eager that Ray wants to cringe.

"Nah, just puttin' some old stuff away, Frase," Ray explains, taking the box once more to put it away, but instead suddenly finds the way blocked by a six-foot Mountie.

"Why?"

Ray blinks, stares at Fraser's chest, then at Fraser's face, and scowls. "Why's it matter why? I'm putting this stuff away, Fraser, that's all. Now can you get out of the way?"

Fraser of course doesn't move, doesn't even look like he heard Ray's last question.

"You're not gonna decorate for Christmas?"

Ray takes a step to the left, and Fraser follows. Takes a step to the right, and still Fraser's there, blocking the way, and Ray sighs deeply and half wants to slam his head into something hard. Yes, this is your life, Ray Kowalski. You have no Christmas decorations, no family, no wife, but you do have a crazed Mountie who won't even let you stuff a box into your own closet.

"I'm not gonna decorate for Christmas," Ray replies, and then, already anticipating Fraser's fascinating story, Ray's sure, about how the traditions of decorating for Christmas came to be, quickly fakes a left and then moves to the right, around the other man.

"Ray--," Fraser starts, but Ray's not even listening. Is half tempted to stick his fingers into his ears and shout LALALALA until Fraser gets the point, but he figures it'll be one step too far into the childish side of things and doesn't. Instead he gets into his bedroom and shoves the box as far into the closet as it will go.

"--traditions," Fraser is saying in the living room. "And furthermore, in the central Europe, the celebration of Christmas--"

"Stop," Ray says, because really, having Fraser over is nice, it really is, but Ray can't listen to any of his stories or cultural knowledge babble tonight. Fraser, of course, shuts right up. Snaps his jaws shut so quickly that Ray suspects the guy would jump off a bridge if Ray told him to. Knows he would, actually, although Fraser's more the kind of guy who'd jump all on his own without anybody telling him to, and only because he saw some terrible injustice he could fix by jumping off said bridge.

"If you shut up and promise you won't tell anymore stories, I'll buy you pizza, okay?"

By the TV, Diefenbaker's head comes up from the floor, and he woofs softly, once, easily taking the decision out of his master's hands. Fraser of course, can only sigh and agree, and Ray grins to himself as he calls Sandor's and places his order.

"Pardon me," Fraser says as he sits down on Ray's couch, "but I have to ask, Ray. Why are you not decorating for Christmas?"

"I dunno," Ray shrugs as he picks at what was possibly once a slice of bread in a corner of the counter. "It's just so much hassle. Dragging it all out, and then packing it down again."

"But you had the box right here," Fraser says reasonably, "I'm sure it wouldn't have taken you long to maybe put up a few lights, a few--"

"Fraser," Ray warns, and this is dangerous territory.

"--a tree, then I'm more than amenable to helping," Fraser continues, as if Ray never spoke at all, and apparently the promise of shutting up is long forgotten already. It makes Ray wonder how a guy as smart as Fraser got so smart, when he's so stupid.

"I don't want Christmas decorations, let's just leave it at that."

Diefenbaker sits up then, growls and huffs, and damn if Fraser doesn't get a smug look on his face.

"Diefenbaker agrees with me," Fraser says proudly.

"Well, if he wants any of that pizza I got coming, he'll agree with me," Ray argues, and that shuts Diefenbaker right up.

"But I don't see how just a little--"

"Fraser!" Ray interrupts, harsher than he intended to, but Fraser is like a stubborn, old dog with a bone, and sometimes the man really doesn't know how to even listen, and it infuriates Ray, even more so than usual. "I told you, I don't want any damn decorations, and I'd think that as my friend, you'd fucking respect that!"

And yeah, now he's done it. He's hurt the Mountie.

Fraser looks at him with eyes that rival Dief, lips tightening and hands tensing on his knees, and Ray feels like seven kinds of shit. It's not like Fraser ever means to be annoying, Ray knows that, he does. But it's just that from time to time it's hard to remember it. Ray isn't quite sure when it became important for him to remember that, but somehow it is. Like a glowing neon sign, proclaiming DON'T HURT THE MOUNTIE in big, pink letters, that he's passed one time too many and gotten used to.

"Look," he starts, and then has to pause because he has no clue how to finish the sentence. "Look," he tries again, "I didn't mean to snap at you, Frase, I just--"

Fraser just looks at him when Ray stops, trying to find the right words, and for once Fraser doesn't interrupt or get a funny look on his face or starts to say, You know, Ray...

"I don't have Christmas decorations because I'm stupid, okay?" Ray finally offers.

Fraser just keeps looking patiently at him.

"I don't--I just--I don't think there's much point to it when it's just--me," Ray finally finishes lamely, and he hopes he doesn't sound too whiny, too pitiful. The last thing he needs is Fraser's pity, really.

Fraser thankfully doesn't look at Ray with pity, though. Instead he simply nods once, then looks over at Diefenbaker who seems to have eagerly followed the entire conversation between the two humans like a tennis match. For a second they exchange a look that makes Ray feel just a little bit like an outsider, and how stupid is that, really? Then Fraser turns back to Ray and quirks his lips into a smile.

"I'm here, Ray," Fraser says.

For the longest time, Ray can only stare back as something heavy settles in his chest and starts to climb up his throat. Outside, the dirty Chicago snow is still falling. Still turning into brown and piss-colored sleet on the roads, instead of settling like a white, peaceful blanket over Canadian tundra. Swallowing rapidly and blinking against something blurring his vision, Ray looks back at Fraser, and then eventually nods.

Fraser's here.

Ray gets it.

Ham and pineapple pizza probably isn't what Fraser would call a traditional Christmas dinner, but both he and Diefenbaker eat two more slices than usual, and that's good enough for Ray.

End.