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The state of being away

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June

The first day he got back from Canada, Ray slept. He didn’t open the fridge, he didn’t unpack his bag, he didn’t turn on the TV. That was Wednesday.

 

On Thursday he took the sheets off his bed and washed them. They smelled funny. He could have washed the clothes in his bag, but he wouldn’t be wearing them here so there wasn’t any rush. He watched the sheets going round in the washer for a minute, and then he went back upstairs.

When the sheets were done he washed everything else he could think of. Towels, clothes, the spare sheets. It all smelled - wrong. His stuff smelled like smoke and snow and wolf hair, and this stuff didn’t.

The rest of the building must have been at work, because the laundry room was empty except for him. It was warm from the dryers and he stayed down there for a long time. The chair in the corner wasn’t comfortable so he sat on the floor and didn’t think about anything except how it was good to be warm. Really, if a guy could keep warm, the rest was just details. It was important to keep that in mind. Keep things in perspective.

There was a message from Stella and a message from his mom on the machine when he got back upstairs with all the clean laundry. He thought maybe tomorrow he’d call them back, but right now he didn’t feel like it.

He still hadn’t washed any of the clothes he’d brought back from Canada with him. None of that new stuff he’d picked out with Fraser and had been wearing for two months – it was all still in his bag. That could wait till tomorrow. Or whenever. It would be easier to carry down in the bag, so he left it where it was.

 

There was still coffee in the kitchen cupboard. Two types of coffee in fact. The instant kind, he’d bought himself. It was fine to drink if you put enough sugar or chocolate in it. There wasn’t any chocolate left, but right next to the coffee was a whole bag of sugar, unopened. There was some real coffee too, the good stuff, in an airtight jar. Fraser had bought him the coffee and later he’d brought the jar to keep it in. He had one just like it in his dad’s old cabin, and every morning they were there Ray was woken up by the smell of Fraser brewing coffee for him. Once, Fraser brought a cup in to him while he was still in bed, but rather than getting Ray out of bed that ended up with Fraser coming back to bed and the coffee went cold.

Ray made a pot of the good coffee. He’d watched Fraser do it enough times and it wasn’t like it was hard, but it didn’t taste quite the same as when Fraser made it. He made too much but Fraser always hated things going to waste so he drank it all. Then he threw the jar and the coffee out - it wasn’t worth brewing up a whole pot every time just for him. There was a bag of Fraser’s weird tea too and he threw that out as well because no one was going to drink it.

Later he took the coffee jar back out of the trash. He was going to wipe it and put it back in the cupboard but it slipped out of his wet hands and smashed.

For the rest of the day he mainly watched the shopping channel. He only swept up the coffee and the broken jar when he nearly stepped on it in the dark. Otherwise he might not have bothered - there wasn’t anyone to see him being a slob anyway.

 

He must have done something on Friday, but in the evening he couldn’t quite think what it had been. He ordered a pizza, not from Sandor. Some new place which had filled his mailbox with fliers. You couldn’t always keep on doing the same old things, could you?

The pizza was fine. Not as good as Sandor’s, but fine. The delivery guy just took his money and didn’t ask where Ray’d been or how he was or anything.

He didn’t have any beer but there was a bottle of whiskey. Ray never really liked whiskey all that much but someone had given it to him one Christmas and it seemed like the thing to do. Drink a toast to a great adventure, with a macho drink like whiskey. Like the straight macho guy he was. Was pretending to be. Whatever.

 

He took his bag from Canada down to the laundry room on Saturday, but all the machines were already going so he went back to his apartment. His mom called again but he didn’t pick up. He had to go downstairs again in a minute to see if a washer was free, so it wasn’t a good time. After a while he opened the bag and tipped everything out on the bedroom floor.

Most of the clothes were clean because they’d washed all their layers at the cabin and even the outdoor gear got washed in Fraser’s rented house in Yellowknife, sleeping bags and everything.

Everything smelled of Fraser all the same. Of Fraser, and sex, and the two of them. Ray lay on the floor with his head on the pile of clothes.  When the phone rang he rolled over and pulled a sleeping bag over his head and didn’t answer it.

Ray’s sheets still smelled funny when he went to bed, so he took the top one off and spread the open sleeping bag over him instead. That was better for a bit. Then it was worse, but he slept for a long time anyway.

 

On Sunday Fraser called. Maybe it had been him on Saturday too, but he hadn’t left a message if it was.

He spent a long time telling Ray all about a really boring case of insurance fraud he’d uncovered following a burglary, and Ray didn’t interrupt once. The pile of clothes was still on his bedroom floor, and he sat on the end of the bed and looked at it while he listened to Fraser.

Then he realised Fraser had broken off.

“Ray? Are you still there?”

“Yeah. Sorry. I was just – I was listening, that’s all.”

“Yes, that was what took me by surprise,” Fraser said dryly, but there was a smile in his voice.

“Hey, I listen to you! I was listening to you for months, you know.” To his stories about the north and how to survive there. The sound of his breathing at night. The noise he made when Ray touched him, right before he – but it was no good thinking like that.

“I know, Ray. You bore it with great patience and forbearance.”

“No, it was good. The whole trip was good.” Better than good. There wasn’t a word for what it was. “Best adventure I coulda hoped for,” he finished lamely. Fraser would know what he meant though.

“For me too,” Fraser said quietly.

“Feels really weird, being back here.” That wasn’t quite it, so he added, “Without you, I mean.”

Fraser cleared his throat. “It’s weird here without you too, actually.”

“Yeah,” said Ray. Then he couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Perhaps, when you have some vacation time, you could come up again. And visit. Diefenbaker was quite insistent that I ask you.”

“Yeah. That’d be good. Gotta keep the wolf happy, huh?”

“Indeed.”

Neither of them said anything for a while and if he listened hard he could hear Fraser breathing. It should have been weird, not saying anything down the phone, but somehow it wasn’t.

 


 

 

November

 

It took 16 hours to fly from Chicago to Yellowknife. Longer, if it was snowing.

Today it was snowing. It had been dark forever, and for a while it looked like the plane wasn’t going to leave Edmonton.

Ray wasn’t so good with waiting in airports. He drank a lot of coffee and then couldn’t sit still, so he bought his first pack of cigarettes in two years and stood outside in the swirling snow to smoke them. When his fingers went numb he went back inside and had a beer, and then he had to piss.

It was one of those freakishly clean Canadian bathrooms with no graffiti on the walls, that looked like someone polished the taps and scrubbed the floor like they cared or something. He killed a few minutes staring at himself in the spotless mirror. His hair had gone kind of wild from the wind and snow outside, and his eyes were red from smoking. Usually he thought his face was ok, but today he didn’t look like much of a catch. Not that that was why he was going up there. If Fraser still wanted to do stuff, that was fine, that was greatness. But if he was settled back into his Mountie thing and didn’t want to, that was fine too. Probably he wouldn’t want to. Ray hadn’t asked. They talked a lot, but not about that.

When he came out of the men’s room, they were calling his flight.

His boarding pass wasn’t in any of his pockets and he dumped everything out of his backpack onto the floor at the gate before he remembered the bathroom, it must be in the bathroom –

“I know where it is,” he told the girl at the gate. “You gotta wait for me, ok? I’ll be right back, I swear, it’s in the men’s room - don’t let them leave without me, ok?”

“Don’t worry sir, you’ve still got 15 minutes while they de-ice the windshield.”

He was so panicked about the plane leaving without him he didn’t even stop to worry about ice on the damn windshield until he was fastening his seat belt and listening to the captain tell them:

“They’re still having some weather up in Yellowknife, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. Might get a bit bumpy up there but you folks don’t need to worry about a thing!”

He sounded really fucking chirpy for a guy about to fly a frozen plane into a blizzard.

The flight magazine was even more boring than flight magazines usually were, all about mineral exploitation and endangered fauna of the arctic. Ray looked at the pictures, then put the magazine back in the seat pocket. Then he took it out again and put it in his inside pocket because maybe Fraser would think it was interesting. Then he took it out and put it back again because Fraser probably knew all about exploited minerals and the fauns and what kind of loser brought someone the flight magazine?

He ate the peanuts and then he was thirsty. This time he asked for water because he could hear Fraser’s voice in his head telling him how it was best to avoid caffeine and alcohol when flying so as not to get dehydrated. It was maybe too late to worry about that though.

 

Fraser had said he’d be there to meet him, but with all the delays it would be 1am before they landed so he’d probably been and gone. Or not made it in the first place, because when Canadians said a place was “having some weather”, they meant a terrifying white-out with screaming wind that knocked you flat and snow that wanted to kill you. Even Fraser had to respect that. Maybe the pilot was on crack and thought there was nothing to worry about, but Fraser knew what the winter could do to you.

The pilot on crack got them there though. Four hours late, but he got them there. The terminal building was all clean and empty and kind of spooky, half the lights shut off like they weren’t expecting anyone to land at this time of night, much less in the middle of a storm. There were no other flights in baggage reclaim, and Ray seriously considered ignoring the no smoking signs and having one more cigarette before he headed out. Since Fraser wouldn’t be there, he wasn’t in any rush.

In the end a really pretty girl smiled at him and apologised for it being a no smoking zone. “But there’s a smoking area right out ahead once you’re through Customs!” So he put the pack away and went out.

He was sort of looking at his feet rather than the few people waiting around the terminal to meet someone. There were a couple of courtesy car guys with names on cards, but none of the names said Ray Kowalski. He didn’t think Fraser would have called him a taxi anyway.

Three guys who looked like oil industry went off with one of them, and someone else who might have been Davy Crockett's first cousin started shaking hands with a short back and sides type and Ray would never have matched them up. A woman his mom’s age was hugging a guy his dad’s age, which would have been easier to guess; and a rugged outdoor type of guy, younger than Ray, was making out with a girl in a huge parka.

That was pretty much it. He couldn’t help looking at the other waiting faces, just in case, but none of them was Fraser. Fraser was kinda distinctive.

 

He was so distinctive that Ray recognised him from all away across the rinky little terminal building, even though he was already convinced Fraser wasn’t there. Fraser recognised him at the exact same time, so then Ray had to look at his feet again while they walked towards each other. He looked up a bit too soon and didn’t know what to do with his face. Fraser was smiling so probably he should smile too, but before he could get that message into action they were right in front of each other and he didn’t want to smile at Fraser. He wanted to plant one on him right here in the airport like Parka Girl and Outdoor Boy were doing, and then maybe do him behind that polar bear statue, was what he wanted.

Fraser probably didn’t want to go back to that. He was holding out his hand. Ray dropped his bag and took it anyway and Fraser’s other hand came up to grip his elbow, hard, and they were having a big manly handshake here, ok, that was fine, that was fine.

“God, it’s so good to see you, Ray,” Fraser said, still smiling. Was that relief in his voice? “They said the flight might be diverted, but I waited around just in case…”

Ray was already talking over him. “How the hell did you get here through this? You didn’t need to - ”

“Oh, I just – I came a little early, before the storm hit, but - ”

Fraser’s hand was big and impossibly warm and still holding onto Ray’s hand. That was fine by Ray.

“You did?” he said stupidly.

Fraser licked his lips. “Well you’ve had a long journey, and I didn’t want to waste any – for you to lose vacation time in the airport.”

“Hey, airport’s great – they got this nifty polar bear. I forgot the polar bear,” Ray babbled. Maybe smooth lines were wasted on Fraser, but even he had to know D-U-M dumb when he heard it, right?

“I’m glad you like it. I’ve always been fond of it myself.” Guess not. “But – well, I’m afraid the roads will be rather more challenging by now. We could make it through if you wanted to go now, but it’d take several hours, so...”

His gaze dropped to Ray’s mouth then up to his eyes again and he seemed to lose his train of thought.

“It’d take several hours, so…?” Ray prompted, squeezing Fraser’s hand. He might actually die from several hours sitting next to Fraser in a warm car right now, but Fraser didn’t need to know that.

“Yes. Sorry, Ray.” Fraser shook his head as if to clear it and still didn’t let go of Ray’s hand. “It’d take several hours, so we could set off now and arrive by morning, or we could – there’s a hotel here, maybe it would be wise to - ”

“Yeah, hotel, great,” Ray interrupted breathlessly, and the smile Fraser gave him was maybe the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

 

***

 

Afterwards Fraser curled up close and put his head on Ray’s shoulder, fingers tracing idle patterns over Ray’s belly. The heating hissed softly and the storm outside the hotel seemed a long way away.

“You know, I thought you might not wanna do this any more,” Ray admitted.

Fraser made a soft sound of surprise into the side of his neck.

“Yeah, cause you’re like Canada’s Most Eligible Bachelor up here, I get that. So I thought maybe you mighta met someone, or wanted to meet someone – which is fine, if you do, I understand that…” and that wasn’t true at all, he realised as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

Fraser tensed slightly.

“Have you met someone, Ray?”

“Course I haven’t. I don’t mess about on the side. And I’m not the one with half a small town trying to get in his pants.”

“But if you were?”

“Whaddaya mean, if I were?”

“I mean, if half a town were trying to get into your pants, would you have met someone?” Fraser’s voice had got that pissy note in it. Ray had never heard it from this close up before, in stereo.

“Would I have – oh…

Fraser thought he was only not fucking someone else because no one would fuck him? Was he translating right from Canadian? That didn’t sound a lot like the sort of thing Fraser said. Aside from it being really mean – which Fraser could be, sure, but he hardly ever was with Ray – Fraser had just come all over him, gasping his name like it was a religious experience, and that didn’t seem to fit. In fact it suggested to Ray, who was a detective after all, that Fraser thought he was plenty fuckable. Like maybe Fraser was kinda invested in Ray not fucking someone else. Or was that just what he wanted Fraser to mean?

Ray made his voice carefully casual.

“Nah, probably not. I mean, like I said, I’m not looking to meet anyone.” Then he didn’t like how that sounded and added, “Anyone else, I mean.”

“Oh,” said Fraser. “Well. Neither am I.”

“You’re not?”

“No.” He paused. “No, I like – this. With you.”

“Yeah, me too,” said Ray.

His voice came out funny, but it was very late and very dark and he never could keep his game face on around Fraser anyway.

 

***

 

Fraser insisted on driving him back into Yellowknife for his flight home. He claimed he had to go in anyway for some Mountie thing so boring Ray’s ears stopped listening, and besides, Fraser didn’t lie so it had to be true.

Just, it didn’t seem like it ought to be time to leave yet. The date was right on his watch but it coulda got scrambled by the north pole or something. Fraser didn’t have a TV so he listened to a chick on the local radio read your typical kid-forgets-lunchbox small town news until she finally said the date.

“This station is live, right?” he yelled to Fraser in the kitchen. “They don’t like, record it and then broadcast it on the wrong day or anything?”

Fraser looked a little puzzled by Ray’s sudden interest in local radio production, but if there was a question weird enough to phase him, Ray hadn’t asked it yet.

“Not as far as I’m aware, Ray, no,” he said.

“Ok. Just wanted to make sure I got the right day. For the flight.” Fraser nodded earnestly and went back to stirring oatmeal. “Cause it don’t feel like Tuesday today. Does it feel like Tuesday to you?”

Fraser looked up at Ray then down at the stovetop again, very quickly.

“No, now that you mention it, it doesn’t feel anything like Tuesday,” he said, much more vehemently than Ray was expecting.

 

Ray ducked back into the bathroom. There was his toothbrush next to Fraser’s on the sink, and his razor next to Fraser’s old-fashioned barbershop thing. Ray’s clothes were scattered all over Fraser’s bedroom, and together they’d pretty much wrecked Fraser’s bed. When he got back from the airport, Fraser would probably change the sheets and pick up all the clothes that were his and then there wouldn’t be any sign that Ray had ever been there at all. There wasn’t that much to show that Fraser lived here either, without Ray around to mess it up: he hardly had any stuff, and the little he did have was all put away neatly out of sight. Like he could close the door behind him and walk out into the great white north and never come back, any time he wanted. No one up here to miss him, and nothing to prove what he was to Ray.

Not that Ray’s place give anyone any clues either. He still had pictures of Stella and him together, for fuck’s sake. That was maybe even sadder than the way Fraser just accepted the way his life had gone.

When it came down to it, even in his own apartment, where nobody ever went except him, Ray wouldn’t be swapping that photo of Stella for one of Fraser, would he? Even if he had a picture of Fraser to swap it with, which he didn’t.

There was something sickening about the smell of the oatmeal as he shoved clothes into his bag. He didn’t stop to fold anything. If he didn’t look too hard at whose undershirt he was snatching up off the floor then it wouldn’t be his fault if anything ended up in Chicago that wasn’t his.

 

Even the drive to Yellowknife went quick.

Maybe time actually went faster right up this close to the Arctic, because two hours in a small space with Fraser plus Fraser’s driving really ought to feel like two hours. But it didn’t.

Ray started looking away when he saw roadsigns coming. He still couldn’t translate kilometres into miles in his head, but he could damn well read the numbers getting smaller and smaller and the end getting closer and closer.

When he caught “Yellowknife, 103 km” out of the corner of his eye without meaning to, he asked:

“You got any vacation time left?”

Fraser didn’t take his eyes off the road.

“Yes.”

“You wanna – you wanna come visit? Chicago, I mean? ‘Cause me, I’m out till like, the summer. But you could come to Chicago, right?”

“Yes. Of course I could.”

“You could, uh, stay at my place…”

“If you want me to,” Fraser said cautiously.

“I’m asking you, ain’t I? Course I want you to.” Then he added, “Moron,” and Fraser did take his eyes off the road then, to give him one of those smiles that just about made him drop dead with – with something.

“Well, since you ask so nicely, Ray…” he said.

 

Even knowing Fraser would come visit couldn’t stop the highway signs counting them down to Yellowknife and all the way to the airport.

Fraser parked his car and followed Ray into the terminal, even though Ray told him not to bother. The place was full of people today: hunters and oil industry and tourists and even a couple of nuns who had maybe gotten lost. Fraser drank a bad coffee with him, and bought him a donut. Ray looked at some weird tourist shit in the shop while Fraser helped one of the nuns with her bag, and since he still had Canadian money left he bought a postcard of a polar bear. He’d never seen a polar bear, not even on the quest, but this one looked like the airport one so he figured that was close enough. He was going to get a Mountie card too but at the last minute he changed his mind and put it back on the stand.

Fraser came right up to the gate with him, and then there was no time left at all. It had all been swallowed up by the distance, and even Fraser couldn’t get it back.

They were shaking hands again, another manly public handshake for the airport crowd. Fraser’s shoulders were very stiff and he was standing very straight.

“Goodbye, Ray,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed your visit more than I can say.”

His hand held Ray’s very tightly.

“Yeah, me too, Frase.” Ray squeezed back, tight enough to hurt, and couldn’t think of anything else to say. But Fraser nodded like he’d said something intelligent.

“You will come see me, right?” he blurted out. No, Chicago, he meant to say come visit Chicago.

“I’ll book a flight as soon as they approve my leave.”

“Promise?” Because fuck it, if Fraser hadn’t noticed him being needy by now, it was past time to get this one out in the open.

“I promise, Ray,” Fraser told him solemnly.

Ray studied his face for any sign he was telling one of those lies that sounded like the truth, but Fraser just carried on holding his hand and didn’t blink or back off or anything.

 


 

August

 

Ray’s mom always mailed him a birthday card. She would write it, and his dad would sign it, even when they weren’t speaking to each other, so that was something. The cards usually had pictures of a wild animal on them, and that was cool. Ray liked wild animals as much as the next guy. They came from some kind of conservation charity selling them to raise money.

Once they split up, Stella started mailing him a card too. And he had to hand it to her, it was always something chosen for him – a picture of a muscle car, a still from Bullitt, that kind of thing. Nothing that came from that drawer full of greetings cards she could pull out and mail to just anyone. Stella was organised like that. She had cards, she remembered birthdays. And for Ray, she bought a card specially and mailed it so as not to have to see him.

Last year, he’d had pizza and watched a game with Fraser on his birthday. They weren’t doing anything together yet, and the Hawks lost 3-0, but it was pretty much the best birthday he’d had since Stella left. Not that it was facing much competition, seeing as birthdays after Stella left, he’d mostly stayed home and got drunk.

This year though, he wouldn’t be home to open his two cards and get drunk. He was going to see Fraser in the Northwest Territories instead. It wasn’t like his birthday was a big deal – he was turning 38, no one needed to make a big deal about 38. He’d thought about going up a week later so Fraser wouldn’t think it was a big deal and that Ray had deliberately chosen to come up for his birthday or anything when actually this was just the week they offered him as vacation time, but then in the end he left it as it was. It had been a long time, and he wanted to see Fraser, and you could always count on Fraser not to mention this sort of thing. Fraser was great like that.

Plus, if he was really honest with himself, he actually did want to spend his birthday with Fraser. Probably he wouldn’t even tell Fraser it was his birthday, so there would be no pressure and no expectations. He could just have a cool day messing about in the woods and hang out with Fraser, and if Fraser still wanted to do the other stuff – which he thought Fraser probably did – then maybe he could get Fraser to fuck him. 

 

***

 

He ought to have guessed Fraser would know when his birthday was. Not that Fraser made a big thing about it or anything – he was right about that part.

“Isn’t it your birthday tomorrow?” Fraser asked him as he was putting on his coat ready to go to work. It was that voice he had that meant he wasn’t really asking a question at all, or at least, not the one it sounded like he was asking.

“Uh, yeah. But I don’t wanna – uh, you know, make a - ”

“Well no, we aren’t set up for extravagant celebration here. But we could always go out for dinner. Or a drink. Not that there’s a lot of choice where to go, but still, if you wanted…”

Ray dipped his head for a second, trying to get his face back under control. But he knew he was grinning like a fool when he said, “Uh, yeah, sure, that’d be - that’d be great, Frase.”

“Ok then. Well. Great. I’ll - see you after work.” Fraser was looking at him all bright-eyed, like it mattered to him that Ray’d said yes.

“You wanna - should I come meet you somewhere, or…”

Fraser twirled his hat and licked his lip. “Oh no, you sit tight here; I’ll come by and pick you up. 6 o’clock?”

“Sure. Great. Yeah.”

Ray picked up his coffee cup. It was already empty so he put it down again. He couldn’t think of anything to say that wasn’t dumb so he just carried on smiling at Fraser, and Fraser smiled right back.

“I look forward to it,” Fraser said as he put his hat on. “And - it’s my treat. For your birthday.”

 

Fraser had showered and changed before picking him up. His hair was still slightly damp, and Ray nearly told him he smelled nice then thought better of it.

Fraser got him a gift too. It was a carving of a polar bear that looked just like the one in the airport, but small enough to fit in his pocket.

“Since you admired the original so much.”

“Hey, thanks Frase!” He was absurdly, stupidly touched. That probably said more about the sad state of his last few birthdays than the gift, so he tried not to get all overemotional at Fraser. Fraser could probably tell how pleased he was because he rubbed his eyebrow and gave him this really goofy smile.

 

Fraser didn’t usually drink, so seeing him come back from the bar with two beers was like a second birthday gift. It was a small town where everybody knew everybody, so Ray couldn’t exactly give in to his first instinct and kiss him: people kept nodding at Fraser and looking curiously over at Ray, and he wasn’t going to give them any reason to look longer.

He maybe leaned in a bit closer than he needed to get his beer, but they were right at the back and it was kind of dark so he didn’t think Fraser would mind. It wasn’t like he was in uniform.

So it couldn’t have been the uniform that brought two women over to say hi before he’d had more than a sip. Ray resigned himself to Fraser telling a long boring story and pulling on his ear a lot then deciding it was time to go home, but that wasn’t what happened.

Maybe someone had been giving Fraser lessons, because he gave an outstanding display of Friendly local cop is part of the community but does not now and will not ever want to fuck you, thank you kindly for suggesting it all the same, with maybe a little hint of Because he’s fucking his good friend Ray instead. Fraser definitely didn’t say that, but something about the way he never stepped out of Ray’s space, and told them, “Ray and I were partners in Chicago. We haven’t seen each other for some time, so we’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” made it sound like catching up was something consenting adults did in private. Both of the women – Susie, and Laura, apparently, because of course Fraser knew their names – seemed to get the idea pretty quick. Or maybe not exactly that idea, but the idea that Fraser wasn’t interested and he didn’t want to be flirted with. So being polite and Canadian, they left him alone.

Then he took long drink of his beer and looked at Ray over the rim of his glass with a mixture of guilt and relief, and Ray burst out laughing.

 

When he noticed a dart board on the back wall, Ray promoted his 38th birthday right up there into his top five birthdays, ever. Maybe it wasn’t going to beat his ninth birthday when he finally got a bike, or his18th when Stella’s parents were away and they did it in every room of her house, but darts and beer and Fraser all to himself was more than he’d ever expected to get from today.

Ray was good at darts and he was sure Fraser would be too: Fraser threw knives and he was competitive as hell about some things, even though he wasn’t all in your face about it. Mostly you had to goad him into really showing his teeth, but there was something exhilarating about it when Fraser went all alpha on him and really set out to show him. He let it go real easy after too; Ray liked that about him – the competitive and the letting it go.

“They got darts, Frase.”

“So they do.”

“Wanna play?” Ray asked, slipping his glasses on to make it clear he was serious about this.

Fraser didn’t even answer, just put his beer down and started checking the flights on the darts.

 

He was just as good as Ray thought he would be, but Ray was better.

“You ain’t letting me win ‘cause it’s my birthday, are you?” he asked half way through the first game, suddenly suspicious.

Fraser didn’t look at him: he had one eye shut and all his focus was on the board as he lined up his shot. “Who says you’re going to win?”

“Me. I say I’m going to win,” Ray told him.

Fraser threw a textbook perfect 80 and almost managed to keep the smirk off his face into the bargain.

“Oh well then, go right ahead Ray,” he replied.

Ray fluffed it.

 

They played best of three. Ray had three more beers, one for each game, and they were each the best beers he’d ever had in his life. Even Fraser had another.

Beer always improved Ray’s game and tonight was no exception. Fraser didn’t seem to be taking losing too hard either, and it felt good to be right about that. Some guys would get all macho on you about shit like this, but not Fraser. Ray stood too close to him while he threw and he never said anything except, “Maybe you are going to win, at that.”

“You betcha I am,” Ray told him, hands in his pockets and rocking on his heels. “We shoulda bet something on it. S’not illegal gaming up here, right?”

Fraser raised an eyebrow. “No, we’re free to play for whatever stakes we like, if that would add to your birthday entertainment.”

Maybe it was the four beers (but then, when had four beers ever made Ray’s mouth run away with itself? Since never, was when) or maybe it was something about the way Fraser said it, but Ray just knew he wasn’t expecting to see Ray slap a 20 down on the table. Fraser was setting him up to say something else, if there was something else he wanted to say.

Ray wasn’t even aware of time passing in which he could have thought better of it. He just leaned in real close and whispered right in Fraser’s ear.

“If I win, will you fuck me?”

 

And they never talked about it. After that one time they agreed neither of them was looking to meet anybody new, they never said anything else about it – either they were doing it or they weren’t, but they did not talk about it. So why Ray’s mouth thought that was a smart thing to ask in a dark but really totally public bar was anyone’s guess. Ray’s mouth coulda thought to check with the rest of him before it went off asking for things like that.

But it turned out Ray’s mouth knew exactly what it was doing and maybe it knew what he wanted before he did. Because Fraser shivered and looked at him all wide-eyed, like he couldn’t quite believe he was hearing it right.

“For my birthday,” Ray added, heart thumping.

Fraser stared at him like he was in a trance.

Then he took aim and threw his dart into the wall a deliberate inch away from the board before turning back to Ray.

“You’re on,” he said, licking his lips.

 

Ray hadn’t realised how badly Fraser wanted to fuck him until Fraser had him naked and spread out on his bed, ass in the air as Fraser licked him till he couldn’t take it any more.

“Stop, Frase, you gotta stop, I’m gonna - ”

“What?” Fraser’s voice was blurred with sex, his lips still touching Ray’s skin like he couldn’t bear to let go. But he had stopped, and no, Ray didn’t mean stop stop, he meant give me more stop. They hadn’t done this before, but now he wanted it so bad he was crazy for it.

“Now, Frase – c’mon, do it now,” he panted. “Fuck me already.”

Fraser moved up over him then, rock hard and leaking precome wherever his cock brushed Ray, and grabbed lube out of the nightstand. Slick fingers replaced his tongue, pressing inside, opening Ray up.

Fraser was good with his hands – Fraser could probably make him come like this in two minutes flat, but that wasn’t what he wanted, it wasn’t enough.

Now, Fraser.”

“Ray, are you sure?” Fraser’s fingers twisted inside him and Ray didn’t even try to muffle his moan.

“Yeah, I’m sure – now.”

So Fraser took his fingers away, and then the blunt head of his cock was pressing in.

Somehow Fraser managed to start slow, but that didn’t last long. His cock was huge and impossibly thick in Ray’s ass, he couldn’t catch his breath even with Fraser holding still for him to get used to it. He was being split open, one of those old-fashioned Bible words like cleaving was happening to him. Fraser’s breath harsh in his ear, Fraser’s weight pressing down on him, Fraser’s cock deep inside him, and so much wanting it wasn’t enough, it would never be enough for the two of them. His erection faded until Fraser’s hand fumbled round to stroke him. Then it was like closing a circuit, and Ray pushed back against him experimentally.

Fraser gasped, “Oh Ray…” and gave a little thrust that sent a wave of pleasure through Ray so intense that he cried out. Fraser froze.

“No, s’good, you’re good, don’t stop…” he panted. So Fraser did it again, careful at first, then deeper and harder as Ray urged him on and thrust back against him. He shouldn’t be giving it all up like this, he knew he shouldn’t – it had to be the alcohol taking his defences down, making him spread his legs wider to let Fraser in as far as he could go. He was dimly aware of the noises he was making, desperate wordless sounds as Fraser fucked him deep and hard and took his pleasure in Ray’s body.

Fraser pulled them back, one hand gripping Ray’s shoulder and the other still on his cock, and the change in position drove Fraser even deeper into his ass.

When he looked down he could see Fraser’s big hand on him and his legs on Fraser’s legs and he could feel Fraser’s body everywhere. Ray shut his eyes then because if he looked at that any more he was going to come and he didn’t want to, he didn’t want it to be over. He wanted to always be doing this, always feel Fraser this close.

He fumbled his hand over Fraser’s on his cock to slow him down but Fraser groaned and then he had to reach up to Fraser’s other hand too. Fraser pulled him even closer like something about touching hands meant more than the way his cock was driving into Ray’s ass. Maybe he was right.

Then Fraser’s hand under his gave a twist, and his cock seemed even bigger and even harder and no, no, he didn’t want it to end, not yet -

but he couldn’t hold it back now, he was shaking and coming and falling apart in Fraser’s arms as Fraser kept fucking him through it, triggering wave after wave till he couldn’t take any more.

Fraser was muttering, “Yes, go on, oh, Ray, oh…” and he gave one hard thrust that made Ray see stars it was so good and then Ray could feel his orgasm, he could actually feel Fraser’s cock pulsing inside him.

 

Ray could feel it in his whole body afterwards too: the strain in his thighs like he’d been running, his hands still shaky from how hard he’d come. His ass fucked open and wet with lube and Fraser’s come.

Fraser had collapsed at his side, one hand on Ray’s hip, a light sheen of sweat on his chest. His thumb was tracing a pattern on Ray’s skin and neither of them said anything for a while.

Fraser sat up first. He ran a hand a through his messed up hair and looked down at Ray.

Ray didn’t move. He was lying in Fraser’s bed, the still centre of Fraser’s attention, and he couldn’t read anything off Fraser’s face.

“Are you alright, Ray?”

He couldn’t read anything in that voice either, so he just nodded. His head was so full he didn’t know what to say anyway.

Fraser licked his lips and carried on looking at him, like he was waiting for – what? Marks out of 10? Absolution? Probably he knew something had changed. He had to know you couldn’t fuck like that and it not change anything. With the way things were, the way they both were. Fraser wasn’t a casual guy. He was even less of a casual guy than Ray was, and Ray had hidden behind four bottles of beer to ask Fraser to fuck him for a reason, hadn’t he?

After a while Ray reached out and Fraser lay down again and put his arms around him.

“I’m not drunk, y’know.”

“Yes, I know Ray,” Fraser said. There was a smile in his voice, like they were both thinking Ray’s next line. And Ray was going to say it. He was going to say, you don’t have to get me drunk to fuck me. You just gotta buy me a drink and let me win at darts. That was what he was going to say.

Only at the last moment he didn’t say that.

“What if I stayed?” 

And Fraser said, “God, Ray,” and he held on to Ray tight tight tight.

 


December

 

It ended up taking longer than he thought, to stay for real.

Welsh twisted his arm to finish up the year, and he couldn’t just walk away from his apartment and his credit card bill and the leasing on his VCR, and the police pensions lady insisted there were forms he had to sign in person, so after three days on the phone he flew back after all.

Fraser thought he was going to get cold feet and not come back at all, or at least not for good. Ray could see it in the way he stood and the way he hugged him goodbye even though they were in public, and most especially in the way he kept smiling like he believed it all and was really happy. Fraser was a great liar, right up until when he wasn’t.

Ray couldn’t think of any way to convince him except doing it. So he worked his four more months. He signed forms, he paid his bills, he cancelled things. He gave stuff to Goodwill and threw out junk and packed up boxes. Some of them he shipped to Canada in advance, just so Fraser would see he meant it.

Welsh scowled at him on his last day and poured them both a shot of bourbon and told him he was an idiot and he was doing the right thing so Ray didn’t know which part of that to take to heart. Probably both parts were true.

 

And then he was flying north again.

17 hours, this time, which was pretty damn good for December. Like the weather was telling him he was doing the right thing too. Or maybe it was a coincidence and he was an idiot, but he was in the air already so it was too late to change his mind even if he’d wanted to. Which he didn’t.

And then there was the polar bear, and there was Fraser, waiting for him.

No handshakes this time either. Fraser pulled him into a fierce, fast hug then let him go again.

“Shall we go home, Ray?” he asked.

 

 

It was dark and the roadsigns didn’t count down the distance to Fraser’s place until you were practically there, so when they pulled off the highway it took him by surprise.

He was surprised Fraser had unpacked the stuff he shipped too. There were his chili pepper lights on the wall, and his CDs and his Spiderman comics looking weird on the bookshelf next to Fraser’s old-fashioned books. Ray’s sheets were on the bed when Fraser insisted he unpack his suitcase right away, and half the dresser was empty waiting for his clothes to fill it.

He knew right then that even all his boxes arriving hadn’t convinced Fraser he was really going to come, but it just seemed mean to call him on it. Besides, there were better things they could be doing in Fraser’s bedroom - their bedroom - than picking apart Fraser’s reaction to Ray sending him 15 year old bed linen and a gym towel he’d had since high school.

 

 

In the morning Fraser brought him coffee in bed. Real coffee out of an airtight jar, that didn’t need chocolate in it.

It seemed like a shame to let good coffee go cold, but Fraser got back in bed with him and Ray knew where his priorities lay. He reached out to put the mug on the nightstand and then he had an armful of Fraser on top of him, kissing his neck and pressing him down into the mattress.

“Ray…” he murmured, and his breath tickled Ray’s ear.

“Mmm?”

“I just wanted you to know, that if you - ”

“No,” Ray told him firmly.

“You don’t know what I was going to say!” He sounded almost indignant at being preempted, but he tilted Ray’s head with a hand in his hair and carried on kissing his neck, so he probably didn’t really mind.

“You take me out on my birthday and show me a good time, and now you make me coffee when I come back? Nothing in Chicago even comes close.”

He could feel Fraser smiling. “If I’d known that was all it took, I would have made my move sooner.”

“Yeah well, didn’t want you to think I was easy, you know?”

Fraser pulled back to look at him.

“Oh, I would never think that, Ray. I flatter myself that you wouldn’t let just anyone - make you coffee.”

“Damn straight,” he managed breathlessly.

Then Fraser kissed him properly, and he let himself get lost in it - the warmth, the smell of woodsmoke and coffee, and sex, and Fraser, and the two of them - and that was all he wanted, really.