Fraser flew in on the 9:30 from Manitoba which, of course, was on time, because he was Fraser and it wouldn't dare be late. Ray waited by the gate, elbowing his way between families of squirming children to get a clear eyeshot. He bobbed and weaved on his tiptoes, craning his neck to watch the flow of passengers exiting the plane. It was all totally useless, which he should have known, because Fraser was the last one off the plane.
Ray heard Fraser before he came into sight-- actually, he heard the old lady Fraser was talking to. A shrill, elderly, woman's voice, telling some incomprehensible story about a child and a poodle ay the top of her lungs. The crowd had thinned out and Ray grinned. Had to be Fraser. Who else would a crazy deaf old lady be talking to? And, sure enough, soon she and Fraser came into view.
She was leaning on Fraser's arm; her purple-haired head barely came up to his shoulder and her orange pantsuit clashed horribly with his red flannel shirt. Fraser was holding her carry-on in one hand while he steered her with the other. In spite of her bottle-thick glasses, she was clearly as blind as a bat; she kept veering into walls whenever Fraser's grip faltered.
Fraser was nodding politely along with what she was saying, but his eyes glanced away from her to scan what was left of the crowd outside of the gate. They lit on Ray and the corners of his mouth curved up in a little Fraser-smile. Ray grinned back, and raised his hand in a casual wave.
Almost at the same time, a squealing child ran up to the old lady and seized her out of Fraser's grip. The little girl was followed closely by a young couple in nice clothes, and Fraser handed his charge over to her grateful family. Ray made his way over to them just in time to hear Fraser's ". . . And a very happy New Year!"
"Hey, Fraser," Ray said.
Fraser turned. He was still smiling, but it changed from his usual vaguely polite good cheer, to something warmer and more genuine. "Hello, Ray," he said. They stood there staring at one another for a couple of seconds before Ray threw caution to the winds and wrapped Fraser in a big bear hug which Fraser, amazingly, returned.
"Welcome back, buddy," he said into the side of Fraser's neck.
"I'm glad to be here," Fraser murmured, and his breath was warm on Ray's ear.
He leaned back and held Fraser at arms' length. "Come on," he said, "Lets get the rest of your stuff and get going." He snapped into action, leading the way. "I think we ought to hav etime to stop off at my place, let you clean up if you want -- not that you need to, but you might want to, seeing as you've been travelling for forever -- before we head out to Vecchio's. I've got the car parked in the short term lot, so after we get your bag and pick up Dief. . . "
"Ray, Ray, Ray," Fraser was saying, then set a hand on his should to pull him up short just before he stepped on the escalator down to baggage claim. "Dief stayed behind—I’m needed back before the New Year, and the trip is difficult for him when he has to travel in the cargo hold. And this is my bag." he gestured at the pack thrown over his shoulder. If anything, it looked a little thinner than usual.
"That's it?" Ray asked "Really?" Fraser nodded.
"As I am officially on vacation, I didn't see the need to bring my uniform, which allowed me to travel much more lightly than might otherwise have been then case," he explained.
"Yeah, I guess so," Ray said, shaking his head bemusedly. "You really are a freak, you know that?"
"It wouldn't be the first time you've said so," Fraser agreed.
“And I’m really sorry the Furface couldn’t come,” Ray said. He’d been looking forward to seeing Dief again, almost as much as Fraser. Funny how the wolf had turned out to be one of his best friends, too.
“As am I.” Fraser paused, sounding almost hesitant. “But there will be other opportunities.”
“Yep,” Ray promised. “There will.”
Fraser coughed and rubbed his eyebrow, and Ray clapped him on the shoulder. "Well then, no need for baggage claim," Ray said. "I guess we can go straight to the car."
Fraser nodded again. "Yes," he agreed. "And I certainly wouldn't mind taking the time to wash my face and sit for a moment vetoer we proceed on to dinner with the Vecchios."
“Greatness,” Ray said and, as Fraser followed him towards the parking shuttle, "How was your flight?"
"Oh, it was very pleasant," Fraser said and, really, only Fraser would call a sixteen hour plane trip with three stopovers pleasant. But Fraser continued, "I met a most delightful woman in Edmonton; she was travelling to be with her family over the holidays and we struck up a conversation. . . "
Ray kind of tuned Fraser out as he talked about the old lady he'd come off the plane with. He kept Fraser talking about his trip, and a couple of cases he'd worked and hadn't already had the chance to tell Ray about during one of their phone calls, until they got to the car.
Ray had the car unlocked and the driver's side door open before Fraser even realized he'd stopped. Fraser paused, then gaped at the car. "Ray, your GTO. . ."
Ray shrugged, thumping the ugly sedan on the top of its roof. "She just don't do so good in the snow," he said. "I got this one out of the pool. More room for luggage, anyway. Not that you need it."
Fraser nodded in agreement and tossed his satchel into the back seat. "I shall have to visit again in spring, then, to see your car." He slipped into the passenger seat and closed the door behind him.
Ray got into the driver's seat and looked at Fraser kind of sideways. Fraser was rubbing his eyebrow and. . . was he blushing? Ray said, "Yeah, maybe you should."
On the way back to Ray's place, of course, they got into an argument.
"I think you'll find that if you take a left turn on Irving, the trip will be at least ten minutes shorter than--"
"I got it covered," Ray said, and made his turn.
Fraser being Fraser, Fraser pushed. "But that this route will take you through downtown, and you have to--"
Ray braked hard at a light. "Listen to what I'm saying Fraser," he said, gesturing wildly at the street in front of them. "I know where I'm going."
Fraser's eyes followed his hands before snapping back to his face . "But, Ray, I think you'll find that it you. . ."
Ray pinned Fraser with a sharp look and a pointing finger. "Fraser. Am I or am I not the one of the two of us who grew up in Chicago?"
"Well," Fraser licked his lower lip. "You are, of course." He was starting to sound irritated.
Ray grinned ferally. "So believe me when I say i know where I'm going. Ok?"
Fraser sighed dramatically. "Well, then, by all means," Fraser said, his voice all snippy. "Dont let me stop you."
The car behind them honked. The light was green. "Yeah, yeah, I'm going," Ray muttered.
Ray's skin was itching under Fraser's glare, the irritation ratcheting up the heat between them until it was almost enough to burn. Ray's hands were twitching on the steering wheel-- they wanted t oreach out and touch, touch something other than the plastic steering wheel of the stupid borrowed car. And he had to shift in his seat, because his pants were starting to get uncomfortable.
Just like old times
I hope this letter finds you safely home and in good spirits. I send it after you, only one day behind, though I know it will surely take longer to reach Chicago than you did, having to travel over land rather than by direct chartered flight. But still I send it on it's way, hoping that it will, in a sense, meet you when you return to your home.
I wanted to thank you again for accompanying me on the adventure. If you were still here, I know you would not let me say it-- you would insist the whole adventure had been your idea in the first place, and you would surely mock me (you are surely mocking me) for thanking you. But I am here and you are there and I do thank you for it. It was my pleasure and my privilege to show you my home and I cannot exprerss how glad I am for your enjoyment of it. I had feared that our sojourn in the North would be a time of interminable boredom for you-- despite your enthusiasm for starting the quest, I did not truly believe that you wanted to spend time in the Northwest Territories, or with me. But your happiness during our travels was persuasive, and I am so glad to have been able to share that time with you.
But, as all good things must, our quest has come to an end. As you must return to your duties in Chicago, so I must return to my work here. I have been absent too long. I have almost forgotten the rhythms of it. The long patrols during the long winter night, the time and distance required to track a criminal across the ice. The face and nature of crime in the north-- so very different from what I saw in Chicago. It will take some time for me to become used to it again.
Fortunately, the RCMP has granted me a sort of special status. Not attached to any particular posting, I am free to pursue what cases attract my interest. (It is almost as if no commanding officer is willing to take responsibility for me). I expect I will mostly be working out of Inuvik and the associated outoposts in Aklavik and Tuktoyaktok, with the occasional foray into the Yukon or Nunavut.
I am anxious to hear from you. How are you settling back in? Have you returned to the 27th? Or back to your old precinct? Were you awarded any honors, as a result of our most recent case together? (Now, from the vantage of distance, I can confess that I recommended you for another citation. You showed remarkable fortitude in pursuing Muldoon, at such substantial risk to yourself.) Have you returned to the same apartment? How do you find your new coworkers?
If you have the opportunity, I would very much appreciate a call. I gave you my number at the detachment before I left, but I enclose it again, in case you have misplaced the original.
I hope all is well with you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
“So here we are. Mi casa is so, etc.”
Ray tossed his coat on a chair and went to flip on the lights. "Just toss your bag in the bedroom. You want anything to drink?" He turned back towards Fraser in time to see the corners of Fraser's eyes tighten as he slid his pack slowly, gingerly, off his shoulders. "Back hurting you?" Ray asked. And of course, how could it not be after he'd spent more than 24 hours on planes and in hard airport chairs?
"A bit," Fraaser acknowledged, cracking his neck and rolling his shoulders in a stretch.
"Want a back rub?" Ray asked. "I give a pretty mean massage, if I do say so myself."
Frase was looking at him strangely, eyes wide and soft. "Perhaps later," he said and, yeah. So maybe Ray had forgotten himself for a second there.
"Ok. I got some aspirin, too, if you want it." Ray tried to brush the moment off, break the mood, but Fraser still looked nervous. Ray pushed on, bouncing on his toes in the kitchen. "You want a cup of tea or something?" he asked. "They don't expect us at Vecchio's for about an hour-- you got time to sit and chill out for a bit."
Fraser was still standing just inside the doorway, looking anything but chill. He still had his backpack on and he was holding his hat in his hands, turning it over and over between his fingers like he didn't know whether to set it down and stay, or put it back on and get the hell out.
"Hey," Ray said, stepping in close. "Hey, Fraser." Fraser startled and looked up, and Ray set a hand on his shoulder. He was almost surprised when Fraser relaxed at the contact. "You can put the bag down. Wherever. Nothing's gonna happen unless you want it to."
Fraser took a deep breath, blew it out slowly, and gave Ray a rueful smile. "Oh, that's exactly the problem Ray. I don't know. . . " he trailed off, looking lost again.
"You don't gotta know about anything right now," Ray said, squeezing Fraser’s shoulder and smiling at him. "Except whether or not you want a cup of tea before we head out to Vecchio's."
"In that case, yes," Fraser said, looking relieved. "I think I would like a cup of tea." And he went and put his bag in the bedroom. Ray grinned and shook his head. Fraser could always be certain about tea.
He boiled the water and put a spoon of Fraser's favorite bark tea in a strainer in one of his cow-pattern cups. It'd be nice to think he'd only bought the tea when he knew Fraser was coming to visit, but, truth was, he'd had it sitting around for months. Since a little while after the Bounty thing, in fact. Back then, all he'd known was that he wanted Fraser to feel comfortable in his place, not feel like he had to leave for anything, not even a cup of freakish bark tea.
After the adventure, he dreamed about the stuff. Dreamed about Fraser sitting there over their tiny little campstove, cupping a tin mug of tea in his gloved hands, drinking it fast before it got cold. Dreamed about the way it would smell on Fraser's breath at night as they were going to sleep. After a couple weeks of that, he'd found the old jar of tea, all forgotten in the back of a cabinet, and made himself a cup. It tasted like dirty sweat socks, but it smelled like Fraser, and he'd had it bad by then.
He'd sit at night, drink a cup of tea and read Fraser's letter, then go to bed and. . .
Fraser coughed, and Ray looked up to see him standing at the breakfast bar right across from him. Ray's first instinct was guilt over the train of thought he'd been following, but Fraser was smiling at him warmly and he flushed. "Here," he said, and thrust the tea at Fraser over the bar.
Fraser sniffed it, and his smile burst forth into genuine pleasure. "Bark tea! Ray, where did you find this?"
He shrugged. "That little herb shop on Haskin. Turnbull told me where you got it from."
"Thank you," Fraser said, sipping his cup gingerly.
"So tell me what it's really been like up there," Ray asked. Fraser's letters had said a lot, but not much about his job. And when they'd been taking, Fraser had been at work, so he hadn't really been able to be totally honest, Ray probably thought.
"As I expected, for the most part," Fraser said. "The work is difficult, but fulfilling. The people are kind and generous. They have all been very welcoming."
Yeah, Ray thought, pull the other one. Ray could read between the lines of what Fraser hadn't said in his letters, add two and two together, just like anybody else.
"Made any new friends?" Ray asked, surreptitiously taking a sip of the cup of tea he'd made for hismelf. He didn't want Fraser thinking he'd actually started to enjoy the stuff.
"Not close friends, no," Fraser said, clearing his throat. "That takes time. And I'm rarely in town for more than a day or so at a time."
"Mm-hmm" Ray said. "Anybody special up there?" And shit that was not what he'd wanted to say. Now Fraser was looking at him again.
"No, Ray," Fraser said, quietly. "Of course not." He lowered his eyes, and drank his tea.
I very much appreciated the call from you last night. It was, as always, a pleasure to hear your voice. And I was glad to hear that you are settling in well to life under your given name, albeit in the same precinct where you once served under another.
I was also delighted to hear that Ray Vecchio has returned from his sojourn in Florida. I can only imagine your shock at learning of his and Stella's marriage. I think you are handling the situation with admirable grace. It saddens me, though, to hear of the tension between you and Ray Vecchio. I understand it -- it must be very difficult for two such different people, yet with so much in common, to associate so closely with one another, day after day.
I some ways, your relationship with Ray Vecchio reminds me very much of my relationship with my father. (Not that either of you is a mentor or father figure to the other, of course, but bear with me.) He and I, also, had a great deal in common, and yet were so different in all the important ways that even our commonalities functioned more as points of difference and friction between us. It was not until after his death that
weI came to understand how much we could have learned from one another.
I think that you and Ray Vecchio could learn a great deal from each other, as well. I care for you both very much, though in different ways, as you are different people. I wish you could learn to care for one another as well.
Vecchio greeted them at the door with arms flung wide. "Benny! How've you been, how's the big icebox?" He wrapped an arm around Fraser's shoulder and pulled him inside.
"I'm well, Ray," Fraser said, accepting Vecchio's embrace stiffly. "And the Northwest Territories are the same as they have always been. The tundra never changes."
"Yeah, ain't that the truth?" Vecchio asked, laughing, then turned to Ray. "Kowalski," he said. "Glad you could make it. Ma says Christmas wouldn’t be the same without you." He sounded a little mad about that. Ray couldn't tell if it was because Vecchio didn't want him around, or because he was bitter thinking of the Christmases he'd missed while he was in Las Vegas.
"Yeah, well, wouldn't miss it for all the wild horses, you know," Ray responded. "How's Stella?"
"Ask her yourself." And it was Stella, standing right inside the door. She looked great, picture-perfect in a grey wool skirt and a rose pink sweater, string of pearls around her neck and highlights in her hair. She looked gorgeous, and Ray finally understood why they would never have worked.
"Hey, Stell," Ray said, "How you doing?"
"I'm good, Ray," she replied, then looked over at Fraser. "Constable Fraser. I'm surprised you came back to visit."
Ray saw Fraser's mouth crinkle up as he tried to smile and he said, "Well, Ray gave me an irresistible invitation," in a completely bland tone of voice. Stella's eyebrows rocketed up to her hairline. She frowned and stared, first at Fraser, then at Ray- who tried his best to look as bland as Fraser- and then at Vecchio, who looked nothing but confused. She frowned and shook her head and said, "Well, I'm glad you could make it, anyway," and she wandered off towards the kitchen, as if she was going to help Ma Vecchio with the cooking.
Vecchio was staring at them then, and Ray shrugged as if to say, "No accounting for the Mountie." But Vecchio's eyes narrowed, and Ray was seriously worried that he knew the both of them better than that.
Before things could get really bad, Ma Vecchio came soaring out of the kitchen, aproned and kercheifed and dusted with flour. "Raymundo!" she crowed. "My adopted son, welcome, welcome." She hugged Ray fiercely, and then did the same to Fraser. "And Benton! It has been much, much too long since we've had you at the table. Come in, don't just stand there on the step! We were just sitting down." And she pulled them inside, allowing Vecchio to finally close the door behind them.
“So if I’m your mom’s adopted son, does that make me like your brother?” Ray asked Vecchio.
Vecchio glowered at him. “Yeah, my evil twin,” he said. “Come on, we’ve got the table set.”
So, five minutes later, Ray and Fraser were sitting across from each other at the foot of Vecchio's dinner table, looking down at Vecchio, past his sister Maria and her husband Tony, and their kids, and Stella, and Ma Vecchio, and Frannie, who had a baby in a high chair beside her and was obviously growing another.
Frannie had been surprisingly cool with Fraser, leaning in and giving him a sisterly kiss on the cheek without seeming to press for anything more. "Welcome back, Fraser," she had said, and then showed him the baby.
And hadn't that been a surprise for him. Ray should really have warned the poor guy but, what with one thing and another, he had totally forgotten. So Fraser walked into the situation totally unprepared, but he hardly batted an eye. His face went blankly startled for a second and Ray, who knew him really damn well, could see the gears turning: Francesca. . . baby. . . pregnant. . . father? But he said none of it, just peered appreciatively down at the little wrapped bundle and said, "He's a beautiful child."
Now the baby was sitting in his carrier in the chair beside Frannie. He got his own spot at the table even though he was way too young to eat real food. And Vecchio was bending his head and saying grace in Italian, so they could cut the turkey and pass the potatoes.
Tony and Maria's oldest started prodding Fraser for stories immediately after grace. "Is it really cold? So cold you could freeze to death in minutes? Do you really ride a dogsled? Do you really live in an igloo?"
"Carlos!" Maria chided. "You asked him all those questions before! Let the poor man eat in peace!"
"But mom, I want him to tell me again," Carlos said, at the same time as Fraser replied: "Oh, no, ma'am, I certainly don't mind."
"I do ride a dogsled, sometimes, yes," Fraser continued. "In fact, your uncle Ray has been on one with me." Carlos looked between Ray and Vecchio, and Fraser corrected, "Both your uncles Ray, I mean. Though only Ray Kowalski has been in an igloo with me, and that was during one particularly cold night. . ."
And Fraser was off, telling one of his stories after another, until Vecchio rolled his eyes and said, "That's it, Benny, three caribou stories is enough for me."
"Yes, Benton, I want to hear about the people up there," Mrs Vecchio said. "Are there many women? A handsome man like you should marry, settle down and have a family, make a real home. Like my Raymundo is doing."
Ray didn't look at Fraser and Fraser didn't look at Ray. Vecchio and Stella weren't looking at either of them. And it was Frannie who broke the silence by saying: "Aw, give it a rest, ma. Let the poor guy have a little privacy."
Now, everybody who hadn't been staring at Fraser was staring at Frannie, and she raised her chin defiantly. "Not everything is everybody's business, you know," she said. She put one hand protectively on the top of her baby's head, and the other on her belly, and nobody asked.
"I'm interested to hear about the bowling business in Florida," Fraser put in, and Vecchio and everybody gladly seized on the new topic of conversation.
The kids asked to be excused—bowling alleys not being anywhere near as exciting as arctic expeditions, Ray supposed. But it was actually pretty interesting. Ray was amazed how happy Stella sounded about it. Now that she and Vecchio were back, in fact, she was planning to put the money they'd earned into another bowling alley, or maybe a movie theatre. "It’s just such a big change from being an ASA," Ray said, shaking his head.
Stella shrugged. "It was time for a change. Working in the SA's office, you know, it was the same thing year after year. You saw it too-- same guys, go to jail, get out, commit some other crime, go back to jail. I was doing good but. . ." She sighed. "It just all seemed so useless sometimes. Now I get to think about how to make people happy, and that's good, too."
Ray nodded. He got it. But, it was also just another way this one thing they still had in common-- law enforcement-- was really more of a difference. Ray knew exactly what she was talking about, that feeling of futility you got when the bad guys didn’t go away for long enough to make a difference. But for Ray, it was a reminder of how much it all mattered, and he’d dig in harder to get the next one. Made him more determined not to let the job get the best of him. Seemed like Stella had finally burned out.
Vecchio, on the other hand, wasn’t looking at Stella at all now, and had a little frown creasing his forehead. “So what about you, then?” Ray asked him. “Did you feel like you’re doing more good in the world lining up pins than you're doing taking down perps?”
Vecchio looked at him, hard-eyed teeth-bared smile and said, “Yeah, Kowalski, sometimes I did.”
Ray studied him for a second and nodded. “Guess so, then,” he said. And he kept his doubts about what, exactly, Vecchio had been doing in Florida to himself.
Just then, Carlos came rocketing back into the dining room. “Mom! Rosa stole my present!" Maria turned around, startled, as he ran up to her.
His sister Rosa was hot on his heels. "Did not!” she shouted, grabbing his elbow. “I'm keeping it safe! You don't get to open your Christmas Eve present until bedtime."
Carlos shook off Rosa’s grip and said, "You're just jealous because I got more presents than you."
Maria tried to shush them, but the kids weren’t having it. “You did not!" Rosa said, grabbing for his arm again.
"Yes, I did! I counted, I have fifteen boxes and you’ve only got fourteen.”
"Yeah, well, the big box is for me, and that should count more."
Maria broke in with, "If you two don't stop fighting over your presents, neither of your are going to get to open anything tonight. It's all presents, presents, presents with you. As if you were a pair of heathen children who didn't know anything about the meaning of Christmas. I take you to church. Have a little respect."
"I know all about Christmas,” Carlos declared. “The virgin gave birth to the Christ child, and the magi brought him presents. Jesus was like a present for the whole world. So it is so about presents!"
Ray couldn’t help but laugh at that. Kid logic.
But Ma Vecchio put her foot down. “No," she said, firmly. "It’s about family. Now, I think if we’re all ready, it’s time for dessert.” With the magic of grandmothers everywhere, she came up with the perfect distraction.
They ate until they were stuffed and then sat around the table digesting while the conversation wound down. When Ma Vecchio excused herself to start working on the dishes, Ray looked up and met Fraser's eyes. Fraser nodded; he agreed, that was the signal for them to head out.
They cleared the table, then collected their coats. Vecchio ushered them out the door. "So, Benny, you crashing at the consulate again?" he asked.
Fraser shook his head. "No, Ray," he said, "I'm staying with Ray this time." Vecchio's eyes narrowed, and Fraser continued, quickly, "It's just for a few days and I discovered some time ago that his couch is far more comfortable than my old cot at the consulate, so I. . ."
But Ray could see that Vecchio wasn't buying it, so he laid a hand on Fraser arm and said, "You want to make something of this, Vecchio?" in his lowest and most dangerous voice.
Vecchio gave him that flat, hard look for a second, then burst out laughing. "Nah. It's nothing, Benny, you're a friend, always will be. And Kowalski, you're. . . whatever you are." The laugh faded into a haunted half-smile, and Vecchio suddenly looked about twenty years older. "One thing I learned in Vegas is: don't sweat the small shit, you know? You two drive safe. We'll see you tomorrow afternoon-- Christmas dinner, even better than Christmas Eve, if you believe it." He seized Ray's hand in another fierce handshake, and then shut the door on Ray and Fraser and the falling snow.
Thank you for your call earlier this week. I agree that it is inconvenient for us to have to speak during my workday; unfortunately it is far from an easy thing to arrange for telephone service as far outside of town as I live. We residents of the worlds more remote regions have high hopes for the future availability of satellite telephone service, but none is as yet available. So we make do.
As it happens, I was called away from our conversation to deal with a bit of a situation. There have been a series of robberies and home invasions in the last two years, which the local constabulary had thought were most likely perpetrated by the same person or persons. The last had been shortly after I arrived in Inuvik, while I was out on patrol. So when we received a call that there had been another incident, I wanted to evaluate the crime scene and take statements as promptly as possible.
With Diefenbaker’s help, I was able to connect the crimes to a group of young people who have also been implicated in the growing narcotics trade. In fact, it was the presence of traces of methamphetamine in a shoeprint which led Diefenbaker to. . . well, that is not important. What is important is that we were able to close the case, and make our community a somewhat safer place, for the time being at least.
Though I am always glad for being able to solve a case and bring the perpetrators to justice, I still found myself strangely unsatisfied. The silence which greeted my attempts to question the teenagers was disheartening. I am saddened by the loss of these young people’s potential. I do not believe I was able to communicate to them or to their families that this was not merely a punishment, but an opportunity for change. I try at all times to make connections to the people I serve. Ironically, I feel I was more successful at this in Chicago than I have been since returning to the Northwest Territories.
When you and I first arrived in the north, I thought that I had come home, at last. Now, I feel strangely rootless. I had expected to return to my previous habits of life with a sense of pure relief. Instead, I find myself thinking fondly of my time in Chicago. I think of the work I did there and the friends I made. Ray Vecchio, Francesca. . . and you-- of course, you most of all.
Perhaps the truth is that home is not defined by the place, but by the people that inhabit it.
They didn’t talk during the drive back to Ray’s place. Fraser didn’t talk at all, which made Ray a little nervous. But he remembered that last letter, what Fraser had written him. This was harder for Fraser than it was for him, Ray knew. Ray was scared-- scared of the gay thing, scared of the thousands-of-miles-away-in-Canada thing, scared of the once-divorced-twice-shy thing. Ray was scared, but Fraser was terrified. Fraser was so damn terrified that he’d been frozen in place, couldn’t move to get out of the way of the train or meet it head on, until Ray had said something to break the deadlock.
So, once they were inside Ray’s apartment, Ray turned to Fraser and reached out to touch Fraser’s face. He cupped Fraser's cheek in his palm and smiled into his eyes. The warmth of Fraser's skin told him how cold his fingers must still be, but Fraser didn't flinch. He sighed, leaning into the contact, and Ray could feel the tension drain out of him.
Ray stepped closer. “Whatever you want, OK?” he said. “And nothing you don’t want. OK?”
Fraser shivered under his hand. “Yes, but I. . .” He turned his head to kiss Ray’s palm, his lips warm and dry. “I don’t know, Ray. I don’t know. . .”
Ray caught Fraser’s face in his other hand and forced him to look up. “Then we figure it out together.” He pulled Fraser in for a kiss.
For a kiss he’d been thinking about for two and a half years, it was pretty bad. They bumped noses and clashed teeth, couldn’t get their tongues lined up, and Fraser stepped on Ray’s feet. But the last person Ray had kissed was the woman who’d already divorced him—by the end, his and Stella’s kisses had been perfectly choreographed, but completely dead. This kiss, this was a total mess. A living, learning mess, and Ray threw himself into it with complete abandon.
Fraser’s mouth opened to him and their tongues slid past one another, learning to give each other space. They rocked back and forth trying to find their balance, grappled at one another like wrestlers, before they found their fit. Then Fraser’s hand slid up Ray’s back, under his shirt, and Ray’s hand slid down the back of Fraser’s pants, and Fraser broke the kiss off with a groan.
“I think,” he said, shakily. “This might call for a change of venue.”
“A what?” Ray started, then looked around at where they were. Foyer. Right. “Bedroom,” he agreed, and Fraser nodded.
They couldn’t keep their hands off of one another long enough to cross the apartment, so their progress towards the bedroom was slow. But they were half naked by the time they got there, Fraser’s sweater and shirt pulled off to reveal the scarred pale skin of his chest. He turned to fold his clothes on the dresser, and exposed the broad, muscular expanse of his back. That deadly little pockmark just above the waistline of his pants.
Ray set a hand on Fraser’s shoulder and traced it down his spine, coming to rest just over that scar. Fraser shivered. “Anything you want,” Ray said, softly. “Nothing you don’t.”
Fraser’s shiver turned into a whole-body shudder and he spun in Ray’s arms. He caught Ray up against him and pulled their mouths together and now it was perfect. All of Fraser’s coiled passion, wrapped around Ray and pulling him in, and Ray didn’t want to hold anything back. Because Fraser wanted it all.
Fraser stripped him out of his pants and jockeys before he even had a chance to think about it, and then was pushing him back towards the bed. Ray sprawled out against the pillows and reached up for Fraser. Fraser’s smile was hungry, and he fell into Ray’s arms just long enough for another hot kiss before he slid down Ray’s body and pressed lips to his belly button.
He looked up at Ray with dark eyes and said, “This is what I want,” before he sucked Ray into his mouth.
Ray actually cried out a sob and arched his back, every muscle in his body going taut, and he was almost afraid he was going to come on the spot. Because, fuck, he’d wanted this. He’d been wanting Fraser for so long he’d practically forgotten what it was like to want anything else. He’d given up on Fraser ever wanting him back, shut it out of his mind so that, even now, he couldn’t really believe what he was happening.
God, the way Fraser sucked him. Eyes closed, cheeks hollowed, drool running down his chin and a little crease of concentration between his eyebrows-- Fraser had been thinking about this too. Thinking, and wanting, and giving up on Ray ever wanting him back.
They were such a pair of idiots.
Ray was close, too close, really, and he didn’t want this to be over yet. So he carded fingers through Fraser’s hair, trying to gently ease him off. “Ben, Ben, fuck,” he said. . . “You gotta stop, you gotta stop or I’m gonna. . .”
Fraser let Ray’s dick slip out of his mouth with a wet pop, and looked up, smiling, with guileless eyes. “But, I want you to,” he said, and slid his mouth back down Ray’s cock, taking him deep.
Ray gave in with a groan and let Fraser have him. Fraser set a fast pace with his sucking mouth and a firm hand cupping Ray’s balls, and Ray rocked up to meet him, rubbing the head of his cock over the slick roof of Fraser’s mouth, the rough back of his tongue, feeling the clench of Fraser convulsively swallowing around him.
Fraser wouldn’t let him pull back even a little. Gripping his hip hard enough to bruise, Fraser pulled him in closer, moaning, showing no signs of distress as Ray pressed deeper into his throat. Fraser’s hand was clenching rhythmically on his hip, and he was moving his tongue back and forth against Ray’s cock as it slid in and out of his mouth.
It was, god, so good, so much better than Ray had imagined. The only thing that could make it better was. . .
Fraser’s finger, slipping back behind his balls, rubbing against that little ridge of flesh. “Oh fuck,” Ray gasped, and his legs fell open. He spread wider, pressed down, asking. He felt a tremor of sound against his cock, a grunt or a snort of laughter he didn’t know, and then Fraser’s finger moved back and pressed against his ass. Ray fell apart, gasping, “Fuck yeah. Oh god Fraser,” and, “Fuck me. I want you to fuck me. God, please!”
That was definitely a grunt this time, as Fraser moved his tongue faster, simultaneously pushing just the tip of his finger inside. And Ray was gone, yelling, flying, coming down Fraser’s throat, feeling himself clench around Fraser’s finger as Fraser sucked the last few shudders out of his trembling cock.
Fraser pulled off, wide-eyed-- but he left his finger inside and Ray sighed against the pressure. “You-- Ray do you really want me to. . . ?” Fraser asked, looking so turned on that he could barely string two words together.
Ray grinned at him, lazy in the wake of his orgasm, and ran a hand through Fraser’s surprisingly messy hair. “Yep, sure do.” He raised an eyebrow at Fraser. “If you want?”
Fraser licked his lips. “Oh, yes,” he said, breathlessly, “I want.” Then he scrubbed a finger over his eyebrow. “But we haven’t talked, I mean, do you have, have you ever?” He stumbled over half a dozen different possible questions before running out of air, while Ray chuckled down at him. Fraser was all caught up trying to figure out what they needed to talk about that he didn’t seem to have noticed that his finger was still inside Ray.
Ray flexed around Fraser’s finger and Fraser stopped talking with a gasp. His cheeks flushed and Ray noticed how hard he was breathing. Ray might have gotten off already tonight, but Fraser was still waiting, and it probably wasn’t fair to make him wait too long. Ray stroked Fraser’s head soothingly, ran fingers over his lips, and said, “Yeah, I’ve don’t it before, but it’s been a while. So be careful. And I’ve got the stuff,” he pointed towards the bedside table.
Ray was glad that Fraser’s reach was long enough to get to the table without having to pull out of Ray’s body. He wanted to keep that connection as long as he could. Fraser brought back a bottle of lube and a box of condoms. He raised an eyebrow and Ray nodded. “Have you done this before?” Ray asked.
Fraser nodded. “Yes, but. . .” he cleared his throat. “Like you, not for a very long time. And never. . . never in my, achem, current position.”
“You only bottomed before,” Ray translated. Fraser, flushing, nodded. “In college?” Ray asked.
“Depot. But, yes, close enough.”
“‘K. Me too, more or less. So it’ll take some prep. Just go slow.”
Fraser looked a little dazed, but he nodded. “All right,” he said, then slowly worked his finger out of Ray’s ass.
“So,” Ray said, watching avidly as Fraser slicked his fingers up. “Talk to me about the guys in depot.”
Fraser flushed. “One,” he said, then coughed. “One man. Steven Harrison; he was in the year ahead of me. He was. . . more experienced than I was, naturally.” Fraser brought his dripping fingers between Ray’s legs and stroked over the tight skin behind his balls. “May I?” he asked.
“Go for it.” Ray tensed automatically as he felt Fraser’s finger rubbing gently over his hole, getting it slick before pushing in. Ray took a deep breath and bore down so he could accept Fraser's touch.
“So there was this Steve guy. And he fucked you, but you never fucked him?”
“Yes. Not out of any refusal on his part, mind you. We just. . . never seemed to get to it. I,” Fraser flushed, his finger stilling inside Ray. “I very much enjoyed the receptive role.”
Ray grinned. “I’ll keep that in mind,” his breath caught as Fraser’s finger started moving again, easier now as he relaxed. “You’re plenty good at this, too,” Ray said, muzzily, rocking up a little so he could feel Fraser deeper.
“Well,” Fraser said, and his rhythm faltered. “I have done this before. Just. . . just not with a partner.”
Ray looked at him, startled, as Fraser’s meaning sank in, and then his eyes fluttered shut as Fraser crooked his finger, deep inside.
“Oh, fuck,” Ray gasped, arching as Fraser pulled his finger slowly out, and then came back with two. He completely lost his ability to speak as Fraser worked him open, stroking in and out with two fingers, then three. Three and he wanted it all, wanted to feel Ben fucking into him right that second. “Now, Ben, now goddamnit!”
But Ben shook his head. “Just a little more,” he said, sounding breathless and overwhelmed just like Ray felt.
Ray cursed again and writhed on the bed. Fraser was right, and he knew it-- going too fast would just hurt, and he didn’t want that. Not now, not this way, not tonight. He had to wait until those fingers were moving smoothly in him and he was really ready to accept Fraser’s cock.
It came soon enough-- Fraser’s fingers slipped out of him and, with a sigh, Fraser settled down between Ray’s legs and lined himself up. “Ray?” Fraser asked.
“Yeah, now,” Ray said, and took a deep breath and relaxed, as Fraser pressed home into his body.
It was a long time since he'd done this, and he'd almost forgotten how weird it felt at first. The impossible stretch, the almost- painful fullness of it, the way that, if he shifted his hips it was like Fraser was right there, pressed against the root of his cock, like his cock started all the way inside him, like that deep place was full of pleasure.
"Ben, move!" Ray said, voice cracking. And Fraser did.
He moved so slow inside Ray that it was almost its own kind of torture. Gentle, even thrusts as he felt his way around the inside of Ray's ass, fucked him steadily till he was wide and loose, taking Fraser deep with hardly any resistance at all. Ray's back arched, trying to give them both that perfect angle and ahh, there, Fraser found it, sliding right over his prostate on the next thrust, sending sparks shivering through his whole body.
Ray gasped and cursed. "Yeah, that's it, right there."
"Here?" Fraser asked, and did it again.
Ray let out a sharp cry, "Yeah, do that again."
Fraser shifted so that the weight was taken off or Ray's back and legs. He just lifted Ray's ass with the palm of his hands and held him there, sat back so Ray was sort of sprawled over his lap, legs out to the sides, spread out for Fraser to do anything he wanted.
Then, Fraser picked up the pace, rocking up into Ray again and again, sliding right over his prostate on practically every stroke until Ray’s whole body was vibrating with it, with pleasure and arousal and the need to come. He fumbled for his cock with one hand, but was too far gone to get a good grip. Fraser slipped a hand off Ray’s hip to help Ray out. And if his touch wasn’t too even, either, it was Fraser, it was Ben, and that was more than enough for Ray. He came again, shouting, every muscle in his body tensing and relaxing as it passed through him in waves.
As he came down from it, Ben was still gasping and thrusting hard into him, hips going rough and ragged with need. Ray wriggled a little in Ben’s lap and squeezed his muscles. Ben groaned, thrust once more, and then Ray could feel him pulsing inside.
Ben slumped down in Ray’s arms, his weight all but crushing Ray into the bed. He shifted just enough so they could lie comfortably tangled together in the afterglow. Their breathings synchronized and they drifted in and out of consciousness as the sweat cooled on their skin.
Ray felt as perfectly content as he’d ever been in his life. He’d wondered. For most of the last two and a half years, he’d wondered if it would work. As more than a work partnership, or more than just a friends-with-benefits thing. Wondered if it would all come together into a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. And this was greater than anything he’d imagined. This was greatness.
He couldn't imagine being willing to give this up. Distance, their jobs, whatever, they'd find a way. If Ben couldn't stay in Chicago, Ray would go to Inuvik. Or they'd go somewhere else. Though from what Ben had said, Ray though he might be willing to stay, if he could convince Dief to come, and tie up a few loose ends.
"Can you?" Ray asked. There was no reason to think that Ben knew what he was talking about, but he did.
"Yes, Ray, I will," Ben said, and Ray smiled, 'cause that was something Ray had heard before.
Your call last night, as always, was delightful. I wish I had been free to say more though, of course, saying more is never easy for me, even when I have the luxury of speaking unobserved. But, of course, it isn’t easier when I am speaking on the phone from my office.
I regret my own reticence during that call. I suspect it will come as no surprise to you that I often find it difficult to communicate certain sentiments. The written word is easier for me in many ways. Some people find writing to be dry and dispassionate; my experience is exactly the opposite. In speaking, I often find myself limited to the language of the intellect. Setting my words down on paper frees me to express more ephemeral matters of the heart.
There is so much we left unsaid when we parted after our adventurre. For my own part, I can now admit that it was fear that stayed my tongue. I was afraid of losing what we had by asking for more. And I was afraid of asking for more, and receiving it. I have never had with anyone what I want to have with you, and the thought of opening myself to that is terrifying.
And so, I thought, better on all counts to leave things as they were. A friendship, or a partnership, after all, can survive great distances of time and space. But it is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder and I find this to be more than true. My heart aches at your absence. I miss you more than I can say, and I am afraid I have made a terrible mistake.
Ever since Ray Vecchio's bullet thankfully ended my last relationship, I have been more than aware of the danger inherent in love. I thought I could protect myself, and you, from it, by concealing the depth of my feelings. I understand now that I was terribly misguided, and that all my reticence has done a disservice to us both. If I had resolved that we could not be together as lovers, I should have had the courage to end our relationship entirely; failing that, I should have found the courage to disclose my feelings. By taking the middle road, I have put us both in an impossible situation, and I am helpless to find a way to correct it.
You have my deepest apologies and my enduring affection,
Christmas dinner at the Vecchio’s was the same raucous affair as Christmas Eve had been, only with more toys. Carlos and Rosa had already opened their presents, and left the table early to go off and play. After dinner, folks cleared the table, while Fraser and Ray were assigned to wrangle the kids out of the way into the den. Fraser had the task well in hand, and it was a little weird being with him around other people like this, so Ray wandered off into the living room.
Stella caught him by the tree, staring at one of the little handmade ornaments, something one of the kids must have brought home from preschool some year. "Hi, Ray," she said. Just that, and she stepped in a little too close, inspected the ornament a little too closely.
"Hi Stell," he said, and waited for it.
"So," she said, after a minute. "Is he staying this time?"
Ray looked up across the room, saw Fraser gesturing widely as he told some caribou story to the kids. He smiled. "I think so, yeah. He'll have to go back and take care of some details, get the wolf and some stuff, but yeah."
Stella was looking at him with her prosecutor face. "Are you happy?" she asked.
And what could he even say to that? "Too soon to say?" "Happier than I've been since our first anniversary?" "Happy like only a guy who's had his heart broken, and then got to put it back together, can be?" None of it the real truth. Ray watched the kids laughing, and Fraser raised his head and caught Ray's eyes. He burst into a wide smile, bright as if somebody had just pushed him out of a plane.
"Yeah, Stell," he said. "I am."
She was smiling at him, too. "Good," she said. SHe patted him on the shoulder and went back to join her husband in the kitchen.
Ray crossed the room to Fraser and sat down next to him on the sofa, a little too close maybe, but he figured he didn't have anything to hide.
"Howabout we cut out of here? Go home early?" he asked, then dropped his voice. "Make our own celebration?"
Fraser dared to press a hand into his knee. "Yes, Ray, I would like that very much. Let's make our farewells, then."
And that's what they did. They made their farewells, then went home and celebrated on their own-- a new season, a new beginning, the whole world spread out in front of them like a shining snowfield in the sun. Let the dogs loose and they'll run home.
The phone rang once, and then he picked it up. “Inuvik RCMP, Constable Benton Fraser speaking.”
“Fraser. That letter.”
“. . . Yes, Ray?”
“You gotta know, I had no idea. I really thought you just weren’t interested.”
“Ah. You were. . . mistaken, then.”
“Yeah, I was. And I was an idiot. I wanted to let you make the first move, but you never did.”
“In that case, I was mistaken as well.”
“Yeah. Yeah. So what are we gonna do?”
“I don’t know, Ray. It. . .
“I know Vecchio invited you for Christmas. Hell, he invited me , I know he must have invited you.”
“Well, yes, but the travel time, and the needs of the station around the holidays. . . ”
“Don’t tell me you can’t get it off. Those guys think the midnight sun shines out of your ass.”
“I suppose you’re correct, but I wouldn’t want to leave. . . ”
“And don’t tell me Constable Singh can’t handle the Christmas crime wave in Inuvik. ‘Cause you’ve told me how good you think he is.”
“I suppose. But, Ray, I wouldn’t want to impose. . .”
“Fraser. You won’t be imposing. I’m inviting you, got it? I’m inviting you to come spend Christmas with me. . . Come home to me.”
“Yes, Ray. Yes, I will.”