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When Ray and Fraser set out on their quest for the Hand of Franklin, Fraser assumed it would be a relatively short trip. Maybe a month or two, depending on whether they were needed back for Muldoon's trial or how long their vacation days lasted. Once one or the other of those things happened, Ray would be on his way back home to Chicago, where Fraser knew he could never return permanently, no matter how much he would miss Ray. He'd never imagined it could go any other way, that there might be some way they could remain together, nor could he have imagined that their quest might have any bearing on that whatsoever.
They’d been out for a week, and Ray had been picking things up pretty well, better than Fraser could have hoped for, really. Ray still complained, of course - “Man was not meant to live outdoors in climates like this, Fraser” - but it seemed to be merely for form’s sake rather than any true complaint. Even that little bit made other things he said seem rather incongruous, however.
“We are out here until we find the Hand, Frase. I’m not packing it in until we’ve seen it,” he offered one evening while they were sitting down to eat.
“Well, that’s a very admirable sentiment, Ray.” Fraser rubbed his eyebrow vigorously and found he couldn’t quite meet Ray’s eyes as he said it.
There was no way they could continue on this way indefinitely, but that wasn’t the source of his discomfort, though things would have been much easier if it had been. No, the real problem stemmed from the fact that there was no Hand of Franklin to find, and he’d known so all along.
Fraser had always enjoyed local legends, and of course, they featured frequently when he was trying to make a point or otherwise provide a distraction. Ray had never taken any of the stories he’d told as fact before, and it was more surprise than anything else that led him to agree that an adventure featuring one of them was a fine idea. Even that wouldn’t have been so bad, except that it turned out Ray was actually serious, and before Fraser really knew what was happening, they were riding off on a dogsled together, and there was no time left to tell Ray that they were going off in search of nothing.
While they were on the move, Fraser could mostly ignore it, concentrating on keeping them both alive and making the most of the dwindling time he had left with Ray. The guilt got worse as time went on, however, and Ray mentioned their end goal with increasing frequency. It finally got to be too much a couple weeks later, when they were getting the dogs settled in for the night.
“-and, I mean, how great is it gonna be when we get there? I bet-”
“Ray, we can’t keep going.” This was it, time to tell Ray the truth. Ray shut his mouth abruptly and stared hard at Fraser. “I need to be back in a week and a half to take up my new posting.”
What was that? Fraser very nearly slapped his palm to his forehead. That might have been a truth, but it wasn’t the truth.
“I know that, Frase. I didn’t really expect us to find it the first time out.” Wait, first time out? “We’ll wait ‘til you’ve got more vacation time built up and pick up again where we left off.”
Clearly, this would really be the time for the truth, if Ray expected this to be drawn out even longer. “Of course, Ray, if that’s what you’d like.” Stupid, stupid lies.
Ray narrowed his eyes at Fraser, and had Fraser not had ironclad control over his reactions, he’d have been fidgeting.
“You don’t want to,” Ray said, not even framing it as a question.
“Certainly I do, Ray. I’ve always valued our time together, and this trip is no different.”
Ray stared at him for a moment longer before turning away, apparently satisfied that Fraser meant what he’d said. “Greatness.”
Fraser sighed. This was why he never lied; it was entirely too easy to get trapped up in them.
Four days later, they began the trip back to Ottawa. Fraser hadn’t let himself think too hard about what would happen once they had to turn back. He knew, logically, that it was likely he would take a posting as far north as they’d give him and live out his days trying not to think of his time in Chicago with Ray as the peak of his career. And Ray would surely go back to Chicago as himself and find everything he’d been looking for in life.
Fraser was shaken out of his depressing thoughts with a wave of Ray’s hand in front of his face. “Earth to Fraser.”
“I asked if you’d decided on a posting yet. I mean, I’d kind of like to know what to expect. Should I be chucking all of my summer gear, or are we actually gonna have a little bit of warm weather now and again? And more importantly, we’re going to have power and running water, right? Tell me we are not going to be living in some ‘rustic’ cabin that’s really just four walls surrounded by a whole lot of nothing."
Fraser just stared uncomprehendingly as Ray blithely continued on. “I mean, I can deal with the whole ‘cabin in the middle of nowhere’ thing, but not if there’s no toilet. That’s where I draw the line, Fraser. A month of it at a time is more than enough.”
“I-” Fraser fumbled for something, anything to say in response. “That is, I hadn’t really thought-”
“You still haven’t decided yet, have you? We’ll be back in a week, and they’ll expect you to have an answer.” Ray slapped his hands together, and it was a sign of how out of his depth Fraser was that it startled him badly enough to jump slightly. “Alright, top three choices? We can pare it down from there.”
“Well, there is a posting in Inuvik...” Fraser had considered that, being on his own again, he might like to at least be somewhere familiar.
“Going home, huh? That could work. Where else?”
“I don’t really...did you have any ideas?”
Ray grinned broadly. “Well, I’m glad you asked, Frase. I’m glad you asked. I did a little bit of checking around before we left.” Ray had been planning for this decision? “The general consensus seemed to be that there was a posting not far outside Edmonton that would let you have an out-in-the-wild position but put us close enough to the city that I could probably find something, too.”
Ray looked at him, obviously waiting for a reaction, but Fraser really had no idea what to say. “You want to stay with me until we get a chance to go back out?” Fraser really wished he didn’t sound quite as surprised as he felt.
“It’ll be a helluva lot easier than going back to Chicago.”
Fraser doubted that, but he refrained from saying so. “And you’re sure you wouldn’t be happier in a bigger city like Toronto?” It pained Fraser a little bit to think of moving to Toronto, but seeing as Ray seemed to be contemplating giving up his entire life for this, it didn’t seem right not to offer something a little bit more like home.
“No!” Ray’s vehemence surprised Fraser. “I mean, I don’t want you to be unhappy, and I don’t mind the change. Might be kinda nice, actually.”
“Right, well. I guess we have a plan then.”
Seriously, how did things get to this point? Not an hour ago, Fraser was planning for a life without Ray, and suddenly, not only was Ray talking about about staying in Canada, but Fraser was ready to go wherever would make Ray happiest? This seemed to be shaping itself into something far beyond Ray’s desire to continue their quest. Now really would be the time to come clean and send Ray back to his life in Chicago.
“Now all we need is a place to live.”
Fraser remained silent but nodded his agreement. Oh, dear.
Almost before Fraser knew it, he was accepting the posting he and Ray had agreed upon (which actually turned out to check in at the Edmonton office while giving him a patrol area that extended well outside the city limits) and looking for an apartment in the city.
And the thing was that even though Ray had made it sound like he was assuming they’d get a place together, until they started looking for a two-bedroom apartment, Fraser hadn’t really thought Ray could mean that they should live together. Though unexpected, it wasn’t at all an unpleasant idea.
It took less time to agree on an apartment than one might have imagined. Part of it was due to their limited choices in apartments that would allow dogs as large as Diefenbaker, but there were enough arguments (“Just because you’re happy to live like a Spartan doesn’t mean I am.” “Well yes, Ray, but a hot tub really is a bit beyond ‘not Spartan’.”) that it could have taken much longer than it did.
It wasn’t until they were sitting down with the realtor to sign the lease that Fraser fully understood that this was really happening, and that it was going to change everything. Naturally, that was when his conscience again prodded him to tell Ray that this entire situation was predicated on a lie. He just knew that if he didn’t say something now, the truth would end up coming out years down the road, and Ray...well, Fraser had to imagine he’d feel even less able to live without Ray when they’d spent years together.
He opened his mouth to confess right then and there, despite the audience, but Ray cut him off. “Geez, Frase, just sign the lease already. Or are you tired of living with me before we’ve even gotten there yet?”
Fraser shut his mouth and signed the lease.
Living with Ray was easier than Fraser might have expected, though he never could pinpoint exactly why he’d thought it would be difficult. Sure, they fought, as they always had, but it was...well, it was pretty much the same as it always was. No matter what they might argue about, they always managed to come to a consensus on the truly important things.
The other part of it, the part where they had to share space turned out fairly well, too. As he had on their trip, Ray picked a share of the household chores to do and took care of them. Based on the ease with which they slid into a routine, Fraser would certainly have to credit their prior experience. This was what Fraser would later blame for the complacency that quickly formed regarding how he and Ray lived their lives.
Fraser came back from patrol one day (fairly early, really; he was even home in time for dinner) to find Ray poring over a set of forms at the kitchen table, with no food in sight. That alone would have been worrying enough, but when he caught the words ‘job offer’ while peering over Ray’s shoulder, he dropped the coat he’d only just removed.
So, this was it. Ray had finally come to his senses and decided to go back home for his job. Fraser hadn’t quite thought the day would come so soon, but at least he’d be able to keep the apartment on his own until the lease was up. He only wished that was what he really cared about.
“So, you’ve ah...well, you’ve decided to-”
“Stop being a drain on your resources and get a job, which by the way, is the only way they’re going to let me stay in the country? Yes, I have. Wanna help me fill out the forms?”
Fraser sank slowly into the chair next to Ray, seeing that yes, there were visa application papers at Ray’s elbow and that the job offer was from an auto repair shop five minutes from the apartment.
“There never was any Hand of Franklin, Ray.”
Of all the times for Fraser’s conscience to finally force him to tell Ray the truth, this was both the best and the worst. Because Ray deserved a chance to get out before he tied himself to Fraser and Canada any further, but Fraser couldn’t help wanting to hold out a little longer, especially considering that Ray was making the kind of commitment that indicated he intended to stay on a long-term basis.
“What’s that got to do with immigration forms?” Ray barely glanced up from filling in their address on what was clearly the wrong line.
“Well, I...you knew?”
Ray let his pen drop to the table and ran his hand over the back of his neck before looking up at Fraser. His face was flushed and he looked like he’d rather be doing anything but having this conversation. Oh.
“Look, I didn’t really know how to ask, you know? We hadn’t talked about what would happen, and you seemed like you wanted to avoid it, and I just- I wanted to stay.”
“You wanted to stay with me that badly?”
Ray sighed his frustration. “Didn’t I just say that? I-” Ray paused as his voice cracked, and suddenly it was all Fraser could do to keep looking at him. “I love you, okay? And I don’t know how to be me without you around, and I just can’t do that again. I can’t go back to how it was after Stella.” Ray caught and held Fraser’s gaze as he continued on. “I don’t expect you to feel the same way, or whatever, just...let me stay?”
Fraser’s heart was thundering in his chest by that point, and though he didn’t know what to say or how to even deal with a situation like this, he also knew he had to try. “Of course you can stay, Ray.”
Ray smiled a hopeful smile which morphed into something fonder but just the slightest bit resigned when Fraser sat silent for a moment, unable to continue. And that was definitely not right; Fraser never wanted to disappoint Ray, especially not when he could truthfully admit to caring for Ray just as much. “I love you as well, Ray.”
“You really mean that?” Ray’s look turned shrewd.
“I never lie, Ray.”
Except, of course, that it was a lie that had led to this moment in the first place. Maybe reconsidering his stance on lying wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Then again, if truths ended up with Ray looking like he might want to devour Fraser whole, maybe he should stick to them.
Ray fisted a hand in Fraser’s sweater and yanked him forward into a heated kiss. Yes, sticking to the truth might be for the best.