The first night after he got Dief back from animal control, Fraser found himself waking up periodically, throat tight and hands shaking from the near-miss. It was ridiculous to worry, he knew. Yet still he had to sit up and look over at Dief, thoroughly worn out from his exertions and sleeping soundly beneath the table, before the faint sense of dread left him.
Diefenbaker was fine, Fraser reminded himself sternly. A capable hunter and protector both, there was no creature better able to take care of itself in the whole of Chicago.
He allowed himself one more moment to look at his friend, and then forced himself to lie back down and close his eyes.
An hour later, he was awake again, shivering with the memory of a cold dream devoid of fur and fierceness.
-- -- -- -- --
Three times that week, Fraser accompanied Dief on his visits to Maggie and Jackie, despite the tiredness which plagued him and made conversation with Jackie somewhat strained.
On Friday, when Fraser sat down on the bed to take his boots off, Dief padded over to him and jumped up to push his nose insistently into Fraser’s ear. When Fraser, rather than pushing him away as he usually would when interrupted, instead ran his hands through the thick fur at Dief’s neck, Dief woofed loudly in his ear.
Sighing, Fraser closed his eyes. “I suppose I am being slightly overprotective, yes. Can you blame me?”
Licking his ear, Dief woofed again, and wriggled away to sit at Fraser’s feet. Fraser managed a smile, and nodded. Sooner or later, he was indeed going to have to let Dief out of his sight again. It might as well be sooner.
“All right,” he agreed. “You can stay over with Maggie tonight. But only if Jackie says you may, understood?”
When Dief pushed his head into Fraser’s hand, encouraging the petting that he so rarely tolerated, Fraser had to close his eyes again and swallow down the lump at the quiet understanding. Then he made himself stand and finish changing out of his uniform, while Dief leapt up onto the bed and groomed himself in a most undignified manner.
-- -- -- -- --
Jackie invited Fraser in for dinner, but Fraser declined. Even though he knew it was for the best, when he walked away and heard the door closing, he had to force himself not to go back and check that Dief was still safe behind it.
It took only a moment of standing in his own apartment for Fraser to turn around and walk out again. Buttoning up his jacket, he shoved his hands in his pockets, and took the stairs slightly too fast, needing to be away from the silence and emptiness that echoed the uneasy dreams he’d been having all week.
-- -- -- -- --
His intention was simply to walk far enough to be thoroughly tired by the time he returned home. Whatever was steering his feet didn’t seem to be paying much attention to his intentions though. That being the case, he wasn’t entirely surprised to look up and find himself approaching the Vecchio’s house.
“Jeez, Benny,” Ray said upon opening the door. “Did you walk here?”
“Well, yes, I-”
“Never mind, just get in here before you freeze.”
Stepping in, Fraser couldn’t help shivering as he was enveloped by the warmth of the house. Although it wasn’t a particularly cold night, he’d left with neither hat, gloves, nor scarf. His jacket was only really suitable for short jaunts in the Chicago winter. He’d been walking for… Actually, he had no idea, having approached the neighbourhood by a rather circuitous route.
“Here, give me your jacket. It doesn’t look like it’s doing you much good,” Ray said.
With stiff fingers, it took more time to unbutton his jacket that Ray was apparently willing to wait. Pushing Fraser’s fingers aside before Fraser was half-way down, Ray did the rest of it himself. “Idiot Mountie,” he muttered as he hung the jacket up.
Gripping Fraser by the arm, he steered them into the living room, and pointed a finger at the sofa until Fraser sat down in it. “Don’t move.” Then he disappeared into the kitchen, while Fraser leaned back and breathed wonderfully warm air into his lungs.
By the time Ray came back with two steaming mugs, Fraser was feeling far more himself, enough to offer Ray a smile and thanks for the tea that Ray placed on the low table in front of him.
“Drink it slowly,” Ray cautioned, as he took a seat next to Fraser on the sofa.
While they drank, the rich smell of Ray’s coffee drifted over to mingle with the softer flavours of the really very nice cup of tea that Ray had brewed for him. Fraser was aware of Ray watching him, too. That concern, as much as the hot tea, started to loosen something that had been lodged deep inside for days now.
With a sigh, Fraser leaned back into the sofa, and let his half-empty mug rest against his thigh.
“You could’ve rung, you know,” Ray said.
“I wasn’t really thinking about that when I left,” Fraser admitted.
As he caught sight of the clock, and the lateness of the hour it displayed, he realised with a start that perhaps Ray had been hinting that Fraser should have rung ahead to check that it was convenient to come around. “I’m not interrupting your plans, am I?” he asked, turning around to look at Ray, already reaching out to place his mug down.
“Would you stop that?” Ray demanded, catching his wrist. His face held only slight annoyance, which faded when Fraser stopped at the touch of Ray’s hand. “You’re not interrupting anything. Ma and Frannie are upstairs having mother-daughter time, everyone else is out, and I was watching antique car shows on the tv. I meant, you could’ve rung, and I would have picked you up.”
Relieved that his initial interpretation of Ray’s statement had been correct, Fraser subsided back into the sofa, and took another slow drink of his tea.“I didn’t plan to come here,” he said. “I just started walking and… here I am.”
“Yeah?” Ray looked oddly pleased by that, as his hand returned to wrap around his own mug.
For a moment, Fraser’s gaze was drawn to the way Ray’s long fingers held the mug, carefully but securely. What would it take, he wondered, for Ray to treat him the same way?
Ray’s voice drew his attention. “I was surprised to see you, you know. You’ve only shown your face at the station what, twice this week?”
Guilt chased away the warmth. Ray was entirely correct about that, Fraser realised. What’s more, for both of those two times, he’d barely stayed long enough to exchange more than the most basic of pleasantries with Ray.
Looking up, he started, “I’m sorry, Ray, I -”
“Dammit, Benny,” Ray cut across him. He looked annoyed again, but the way he shook his head and looked away from Fraser indicated that it wasn’t directed at Fraser. “I didn’t mean it like that,” he said. “I meant… Look, you had a pretty good scare with Dief last week, right?”
Startled by the insight, Fraser took a moment to reply. “I hadn’t thought of it like that.” Worry, concern, responsibility; all were words that he was comfortable with applying to the situation. Scare… that was something he wasn’t entirely in control of.
Belatedly, he realised that his hands were shaking. When Ray reached out to take his almost empty mug away, Fraser pressed them against his thighs in an only slightly successful attempt to get himself under control again. It was only when Ray reached out to grip one wrist again, and then slide his hand down to cover the back of Fraser’s, that the trembling began to fade.
“Hey,” Ray said. Blinking, Fraser focussed on Ray’s face, familiar features giving him an equally familiar look, the one that Fraser earned whenever Ray had to explain something obvious to him. “I didn’t expect to see you at the station. Fact is, I figured you’d be hanging out with Dief all week. I sure didn’t think you’d turn up here tonight.”
“Diefenbaker feels that I have been… mother-henning him.”
Ray snorted. “He use those words?”
“Didn’t think so.” Ray’s knowing nod drew a smile from Fraser. “You’re freaking out because you’ve had to leave him by himself?”
“Well, he’s with Maggie and Jackie, but yes. I just…”
The shakes threatened to come back full force. A deep breath didn’t help, and Fraser slid his free hand over to grip the one that Ray had already offered. “Easy,” Ray murmured, shifting over so that his leg pressed against Fraser’s, and finishing off the pile of hands by placing his own steadily on top. “Easy, Benny. It’s OK to be shaken up, you know. Just let it out, talk to me, you’re allowed to do that.”
“I -” Chest tight, Fraser looked up at Ray, trying to find calm and steadiness in the eyes of his friend. It was there, but it didn’t help as much as he’d hoped. “I don’t know if I can.” Helplessly, he closed his eyes. All he could think to say was, “He’s been with me for five years, Ray.”
It didn’t even come close to explaining why Dief was so very dear to him. So much of it was feelings, memories, shared experiences; bitter cold and unreserved warmth; a lost pup choosing to rescue a wandering human; a life-saver who got Fraser into trouble more times than he could count; a brave, wild, unpredictable constant, and a thousand other things tied up with home and family and love that Fraser couldn’t even begin to decompose into words. How could he even begin to explain the smallest fraction of that to Ray?
“I know, Benny,” Ray said quietly.
When Fraser opened his eyes again, Ray was holding his gaze, looking for all the world like he did know. Perhaps, Fraser thought, it didn’t matter that he was unable to verbalise a bond that no-one had ever asked him about before. Perhaps Ray, who had been his partner for longer than any other human before him, didn’t need Fraser to tell him. Perhaps he simply understood.
Could he then also count on Ray to understand what he needed now?
If it wasn’t for the fact that his insides were still in turmoil, Fraser would have smiled at the pre-empting of his thoughts. “Would you…” It was harder to ask than he’d expected. “I could use a hug, if it’s not too much trouble.”
With a roll of his eyes, Ray slipped his hands free, and reached out for him. Closing his eyes, Fraser turned towards him, and let himself be drawn in by the arm that was strong around his shoulders. As Ray’s other hand started rubbing along his arm, Fraser clenched his unsteady hands in the bottom of Ray’s sweater, and let his head drop until it found a solid shoulder to rest on.
It wasn’t an entirely comfortable position. Ray’s embrace was soft and secure though, just as Fraser had hoped it would be. When he forced himself to draw in a deep breath, he was surrounded by the familiar smells of Ray’s cologne and freshly laundered clothing. The part of him which had been feeling adrift for days, shaken loose by worry and guilt and, yes, fear, began to settle as Ray held him.
He didn’t speak, and so Fraser felt no compunction to either, just let himself focus on the slow motion of Ray’s hands, soothing away the unsteadiness that Fraser hadn’t been able to banish, reminding Fraser with every touch that Ray was there.
As Fraser’s breathing slowed, and his hands loosened in Ray’s sweater, Ray’s gentle rubs ceased but his hands didn’t leave Fraser. Fraser let his hands drop to his own thighs, fingers finally loose and still, and opened his eyes into the shade of Ray’s shoulder. It seemed that Ray was in no hurry to get rid of him, and Fraser was in no hurry to leave.
“Ray,” he murmured after a moment.
“The other day, you said something. You told me that even you knew that Dief was my best friend.”
“I did say that, yes.”
“You weren’t wrong, but… I hope you know…. That is...”
Frustrated, Fraser lifted his head. It turned out that some things were actually harder to say without being able to see the person you were directing them at.
“Diefenbaker is my best and longest friend, and it goes without saying that I value him immensely. The fact is though that, while remarkable for his species, Diefenbaker is a wolf. You are my best human friend, Ray. I hesitate to draw comparisons between the two of you, but I hope you know how much I… how much your friendship means to me.”
A bright, surprised smile appeared on Ray’s face. The sight of it made Fraser glad that he’d pushed on to the end of his sentence, despite the discomfort he’d felt.
“Yeah, Benny, I know. I appreciate you saying it though. Thank you. Really.”
Relieved, Fraser nodded. Then he yawned, and Ray muttered something about hippopotami, before standing up and dragging Fraser to his feet. “C’mon, let’s get you to bed. You can take the spare room. And don’t even think about arguing, there’s no way I’m driving you back tonight.”
Suddenly too tired to protest, Fraser simply nodded his agreement.
Upstairs, Ray showed him to the room at the back of the house, small and dark, empty save for the bed and a chest of drawers. Fraser swallowed down the instinct which had him wanting to back out. Beside him though, Ray took one look around, then curled around his elbow and drew them both back out.
Shutting the door firmly, he told Fraser, “Never mind, you can sleep with me tonight.”
The tension in Fraser’s chest eased at the thought of lying next to Ray throughout the night, but he felt bound to point out the obvious. “Won’t your family think that a bit odd?”
“Will it help you sleep?”
“Yes. But that’s not -”
“You going to steal the covers?”
“I’ll certainly try not to.”
“Then I’m happy, and you’re happy, and anyone else can suck it up.”
Faced with that firm logic, and the fact that Ray had just closed his bedroom door behind them and locked it, Fraser gave in.
“Ray,” he said, as he looked at the admittedly very large bed. “I don’t have my pyjamas with me.”
Ray’s hand in the small of his back urged him towards the bed, as Ray told him, “We’ve got heating and extra blankets, Fraser, you’ll be fine.”
Fraser opened his mouth, then closed it as Ray retrieved a blanket from the bottom of the drawers by the bed. Never mind then, he decided. “I’ll just-”
“Get out of those,” Ray gestured to Fraser’s clothes. “And into that.” He pointed at the bed.
Beneath the covers with the lights out, carefully on ‘his’ side of the bed, Fraser closed his eyes and matched his breathing to Ray’s. It was comfortable and warm, even with only his undershirt and boxers on. The sound of Ray wriggling on the other side of the bed was a welcome reminder that he wasn’t alone. There was something nagging at him though, something he needed to do before he went to sleep…
Quietly, he murmured, “Thank you, Ray.”
There was no reply for a moment. Just when Fraser thought that Ray was already asleep, the blankets rustled, and all of a sudden Ray was a lot closer than he’d been a second ago. Then Ray’s warm hand closed around Fraser’s shoulder, and slipped up to squeeze the side of his neck gently.
“Anytime, Benny,” Ray said, just as quietly. “Go to sleep, alright?”
Fraser nodded, and then turned his head to press Ray’s hand between his jaw and the pillow. When Ray didn’t move it away, Fraser breathed out, and let himself drift off.
-- -- -- -- --
In the morning, Fraser awoke slowly, feeling no inclination whatsoever to leave the soft, warm place he was currently in. Ray’s bed, he remembered, with an entirely unwarranted but undeniable happiness rising inside of him.
“Morning, Benny,” Ray’s voice said, soft and amused from much closer than Fraser had been expecting.
Blinking open his eyes, Fraser managed to focus on Ray’s face. Inches from his own on the pillow, eyes brown and bright in the light of the morning, Ray was giving him a soft look that Fraser couldn’t help smiling in response to. “Good morning, Ray,” he replied, voice rough with the sleep that was reluctant to leave him. “How long have you been awake?”
“Long enough. You’re kind of adorable when you’ve just woken up, you know that?”
“I - ah -”
Ray moved closer, and slid his hand around Fraser’s neck again. “Close your mouth, Benny,” he suggested.
Heart pounding, Fraser asked, “Why?”
“Because neither of us have brushed our teeth recently, and I want to kiss you. That alright with you?”
Fraser rolled over to face Ray, and closed his mouth. Pleased surprise flashed across Ray’s face, which Fraser wanted to say something about. Then again, perhaps the most expedient way to reassure Ray that he really did want this was simply to keep quiet and -
- And then Ray’s lips were against his, a gentle touch that had Fraser’s breath catch and his heart thumping his his chest, and a surprised sound slipping from his throat.
“Alright?” Ray asked, drawing back just slightly, a hint of concern to his tone.
Fraser opened his mouth just long enough to say, “Yes,” and reached out to grip the front of Ray’s pyjamas to pull him closer again. This time, Ray lingered against Fraser’s lips, soft and careful as his thumb rubbed gently at the side of Fraser’s neck. Eyes closing, Fraser concentrated on breathing, and shook gently at the warmth and care of Ray’s hands and mouth against him.
Too soon, Ray’s lips left his, but his hands remained to rub slowly over Fraser’s skin. When Fraser opened his eyes, Ray’s smile was soft and smug and satisfied all at once. Fraser couldn’t help lifting a hand, brushing his thumb across it, as he asked, “Why…? I mean, how…?”
“How did I know?” Fraser nodded. “Because you came to me when you needed someone, and you looked at me like you wanted something else. You don’t say a lot, Benny, but you tried last night. Seems to me, you make an effort for me, and that’s gotta mean something.”
“It does,” Fraser assured him. Still looking at Ray, Fraser decided to borrow some of his initiative. “Ray?”
“If I brush my teeth, will you kiss me again?”
Ray laughed, and clapped a hand against his shoulder. “Oh yeah, Benny, count on it.”
-- -- -- -- --
After their (separate) showers and teeth-brushing, they spent an indulgent half-hour with their hands sliding under each others shirts to find still-damp skin, while Ray teased Fraser’s lips with his tongue. When Fraser, with a growl, tipped them onto Ray’s bed so that he could hold Ray’s face still with his hands, Ray looked up at him with a smirk. Fraser knew he’d been thoroughly manipulated into doing what Ray wanted. Seeing as it was also what he wanted, he decided to get his revenge later, and chased Ray’s smirk away by sealing their mouths together and sliding his tongue against Ray’s.
They parted reluctantly when voices and the thundering of footsteps outside reminded them that they had to leave the room at some point. Ray pressed his fingers to Fraser’s hot cheeks, and shook his head. “Give it ten minutes for things to calm down, I’ll sneak us out of here and take you back so you can pick Dief up, alright?”
Fraser nodded, and didn’t ask whether Ray was waiting for the commotion outside to die down, or something else. There were certain things it was best to avoid drawing attention to if they wanted to keep their hands off each other for the next little while.
-- -- -- -- --
It was gratifying to be greeted with a bark when they knocked on Jackie’s door, and Fraser couldn’t quite stop smiling when Dief trotted over to him with no prompting - after, of course, he had said goodbye to both of his hosts.
Thankfully, Dief waited until they were back in the apartment before he leapt up to sniff Fraser all over, and then do the same to Ray. Then he settled back on his haunches, and looked up at them with his head on one side, while Fraser exchanged a glance with Ray.
“I think he knows,” Ray pointed out.
“Well, I did spend all night in your bed, and his sense of smell is more than adequate to detect that your scent is….”
Coughing, Fraser realised there was no way to end that sentence delicately.
“All over you?” Ray suggested with a grin. Patting Fraser on the back, Ray said, “Go, talk to the wolf, I’ll make tea.”
As it turned out, Dief didn’t need an explanation. When Fraser settled himself cross-legged on the floor, Dief moved forwards to rest his paws on Fraser’s knees, and woofed at him, then looked over at where Ray was grumbling at the hob, and woofed again.
Fraser smiled. “I’m glad you approve.”
Nudging his head against Fraser’s chest, Dief barked insistently.
Dief barked again. Fraser stopped interrupting.
When Ray came back, having failed to light the hobs, Dief had finished. Licking Fraser’s cheek, he stepped backwards, and lay down on his stomach with his chin on Fraser’s boot.
Above him, Ray told him, “Your oven is broken. And I hope you know I’m not kissing you again until you’ve washed your face, Benny.”
“The oven is merely temperamental. And, understood, Ray.”
“I guess the wolf’s OK with us?”
Looking up, Fraser nodded. “He seems to think that you’re a very good match for me. He also added that he thinks it’s about time I found human companionship.”
“Smart animal,” Ray said. “He going to move his head off your foot?”
Turning away from Dief slightly, Fraser murmured, “Just because he’s happy I’ve found someone, doesn’t mean he’s not feeling slightly left out, Ray.”
Narrowing his eyes at Dief, and then at Fraser, Ray sighed and sat down gingerly on the floor next to Fraser. “Just this once, OK?” he told them both. “My clothes are not made to withstand dust from this neighbourhood.”
“Just this once,” Fraser agreed, and reached out to squeeze Ray’s hand in thanks. When Ray laced their fingers together, and leaned into Fraser’s shoulder, Fraser thought that maybe he wouldn’t have to work too hard to get Ray to forgive the crimes against his clothes.
Of course, Dief then leapt up, clambered into Fraser’s lap, and stretched over to lick Ray’s face before Fraser could stop him. While Ray was glaring at him and wiping it off, Dief wriggled so that he was resting on Ray’s legs as well, and made it very clear that he had no intention of moving.
“I think it’s probably best if we just let him stay there, just for the moment,” Fraser suggested, running his free hand down Dief’s back.
“Well hey, my clothes are already beyond rescue,” Ray sighed. “You owe me though.”
Fraser slipped his hand free of Ray’s, and put his arm around Ray’s back, shifting closer - or as close as he could with Diefenbaker impeding his movement. “Oh? What exactly will I owe you?”
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll think of something,” Ray told him, as he echoed Fraser’s move, and slid his hand somewhat lower than Fraser’s was lying.
Not quite able to hide his enjoyment of this familiar banter, overlaid with everything that was new and full of promise between them, Fraser told him, “I’ll put my mind to it.”
“Good,” Ray told him, before he started scratching Dief’s ears with a sigh.
Smiling, Fraser turned his attention to stroking Dief’s side, while he leaned against Ray’s side and let Ray hold him there with his arm firm around him. There were three of them now, and while that meant another person to look out for, it also meant another person to look out for them. Their chances, he felt, were greatly improved. And so, with Dief on his lap and Ray at his side, Fraser held them both close and simply enjoyed their presence.