Ray knows about weddings. He's been to a lot of them, from his cousin Marie's when he was seven--Ray remembers her big belly and the way the old ladies looked at her white dress and frowned--to Stella's cousin James-not-Jim-thank-you-Raymond, who was forty-five when he got married and had a reception at a lakeside hotel with Russian caviar and a string quartet. And the thing about weddings is, they're all pretty much the same. The music's not that good but you dance anyway, and the food's not that good but you say it's great because you know it cost an arm and a leg, and there are a lot of strangers who want to play twenty questions just in case you might both know the bride's best friend's brother-in-law, and a lot of kids hopped up on cake who run and yell until their parents take them home.
Ray knows about weddings, and this is a perfectly normal wedding. That's why he's starting to freak.
He's here, and the whole 27th is here, and so's most of the Canadian Consulate, and--this is the important part--so's Fraser. And when you mix Fraser and a big public event, things hardly ever stay normal for long.
So all afternoon, Ray's been waiting for the weird. By now, Fraser should have decided that the caterers are actually an international food-smuggling ring who sneak unpasteurized French cheeses through customs, or that the concierges are printing counterfeit money in the hotel basement, or that Heather O'Connell, who's smart and beautiful and marrying Dewey, is an escapee from the Lithium Hilton who's really planning to add Dewey's jarred head to a collection she keeps under the floorboards.
But so far, the weirdest thing that's happened is that Fraser has not told any stories about Inuit weddings and walrus blubber. Ray's sure he's got some, but he's just been quietly eating olives and drinking something that looks like champagne but that Ray knows, from sneaking a kiss in the hallway, is really sparkling cider.
Ray looks over at him again, and he's just as gorgeous in that tuxedo as he was five minutes ago. Beautiful in a way that most guys, even the hot ones, just aren't--beautiful like the stars of old black-and-white movies, perfect beautiful. Beautiful like Ray sometimes wants to drag him off to Iowa or Nebraska and find him a really boring job and keep him safe from smugglers and terrorists and arsonists and all the ordinary crazies with guns.
Fraser looks up from talking to Huey and his date, and his forehead wrinkles a little while Ray goes all gooey from his heart to his knees, and he walks over and says, "What's the matter, Ray? You look anxious."
Trouble is, Ray's never been too good at lying. And Fraser's hard to fool, especially when he lives with you and knows all your tricks. They've had to switch from poker to cribbage because Fraser can see through Ray's bluffs with his special combined Mountie-and-boyfriend x-ray vision.
Fraser looks concerned for a couple of seconds, and Ray crumples. "I'm just waiting for us all to be taken hostage by -" he looks around for a likely reason and settles on the buffet table "- by the Fish Liberation Society. Or something. You know."
"I think the smoked salmon is past being liberated, Ray."
Ray's not sure whether to crack up or punch Fraser in the head. This is a feeling he's used to by now. "You know what I mean. I'm waiting for all the little iron filings of weirdness to come flying toward the giant weird magnet, which is you."
Normally, if they were at home, this all would lead to half an hour or even forty-five minutes of good back-and-forth. And then they'd kiss. A lot. But before the battle's even started, Fraser deploys his nukes and blows Ray all to hell: he smiles. Big, big smile, soft around the edges, almost a little too personal for two people standing by the veggies and dip at somebody else's wedding. "Don't worry, Ray. Everything's going to be fine."
That smile has got to be the only 100-megaton bomb that makes you feel better after it's dropped on you. Ray smiles back, stretches out a kink in his neck, and figures that if the fish liberators turn up, Fraser and him will be ready for 'em. All his nerves drop down to a nice low hum, and Ray's so grateful that he says, "I bet weddings up in the Northwest Territories are different, huh?"
Fraser must know better than to waste a chance for a story. A story that turns into six stories, because Ray's actually listening and he still can't figure out how they got from the time Agatha Arnaaluk drove a dogsled through a blizzard to her wedding, a hundred and twenty-seven kilometers without stopping, to the time Gordy Clement gave himself second-degree sunburn in January messing with the grow lamps from his brother-in-law's marijuana greenhouse. Anyway, Fraser's just explained how eager Gordy was to testify when the band starts playing "True." First halfway decent song all night, and Ray'd have to be superhuman not to start tapping his toe and moving a little.
"Ah, I see you like this song, Ray," Fraser says, smiling some more. One of the things Ray can't figure out is how Fraser doesn't seem to mind cutting off his stories in the middle. Maybe it's just that he knows he'll eventually get a captive audience--during stakeouts or long drives or even the halftime show--for the ending. Ray's known him to pick up a story a good eight months after he started it, and to get a little snippy, too, if Ray doesn't remember all the details.
From tapping and shoulder-shimmying, Ray moves into a full, loosey-goosey dance in place. "Yeah. Or I'm just crazy with the relief that it's not 'The Greatest Love of All' again. Do they play that at Canadian weddings? I bet they don't. I bet that Chart of Human Rights won't let them."
Fraser puts a hand on Ray's elbow, just sort of cupping it while Ray grooves, and Ray wants to kiss him so bad that his lips hurt. "It's true that Canadian human rights law is quite comprehensive," Fraser says, "but I'm not sure that a difference in taste could in fact be considered a violation-"
"Yes, Ray. I know." And this smile's way beyond nuclear bomb. More like one of those asteroids that puts a country-sized dent in the planet and wipes out the dinosaurs and makes room for all the little mammals. Leaning close, Fraser adds, "Go and dance. I like to see you dance."
There's a minute when Ray thinks he might never get his breath back, like he might actually drown in loving Fraser so much, and he's not sure if that'd be poetical or ironical or some much more complicated word. But after that, he dances. He dances with Huey's date and Dewey's sister and Dewey's mother and Welsh's girlfriend whose name he can never remember, and with Frannie even though she's so big that Ray's sure the ultrasound missed a twin, and then he dances with women he's got no connection to at all except that they're there eating cake and they say yes when he asks. He dances with the bride twice, and he's thinking about a third time--even in her wedding shoes she's got the lightest feet in the room--but Dewey cuts in and Ray finds himself back at the buffet table.
Fraser's still right there, talking to Frannie about toys (Ray catches, "for developing the baby's neuroses" and "I think perhaps you mean neurons"). The look he gives Ray, though, all blue and shiny, all glowing like Christmas lights, that look says he was watching Ray the whole time.
Frannie must have caught the edges of it, because she says, "You guys," and turns red. She punches Fraser in the arm in that big-sister way she's got with them now, and laughs, and heads off towards a whole little gathering of pregnant ladies near the cheesecake.
"Well, Ray," says Fraser, a little bit red himself, "you look much more at ease."
It's way better than ease--Ray's a song humming over the radio, a bottle of champagne bursting with bubbles--but he just smiles even more and says, "Dancing's good for what ails ya." Popping the last bit of smoked salmon, almost hidden under a radish rose, into his mouth, Ray points towards Dewey and Heather, locked in a slow dance to a not-slow song. "It can make you happy even if you're marrying Dewey."
"Kidding." Ray licks salmon off his fingers, notices Fraser watching, and licks them again. "But you gotta admit, Dewey getting a woman like that to marry him, that's some luck. Good thing Dewey's off the force, because he's probably in negative luck now. Luck debt. He'd be attracting bullets worse than you."
"She is a remarkable woman."
Ray, double-checking under the other radish roses for more salmon, doesn't catch on to the little silence after that until Fraser adds, "Ray, do you ever wish-"
"Do not finish that sentence, Fraser. Do not. That is a pop-Fraser-in-the-head kind of sentence." The champagne-bubbles in Ray's blood turn to cramps, and he really wants his good feeling back.
Fraser's gone all sorry-puppy, like Dief after the turkey incident last Christmas. "I only-"
"I know what you meant, Frase." Damn it, dancing with all those women, he should've known that would bring it up again. Wife and kids and picket fence and all the things Fraser's half-sure Ray still wants. Ray grabs his hand, hard enough to show he means it. "And no, I don't wish."
Fraser's fingers slide between Ray's damp, fish-oily ones, then start to pull away; Ray holds on. He shifts over a little until he's hip-to-hip with Fraser, shoulder-to-shoulder. After a couple of nervous twitches, Fraser goes still, blinking slowly.
"Dance with me," Ray says.
Which brings on the biggest nervous twitch yet, and Fraser tries again to free his hand. "Ray, I don't think it would be appropriate to do anything that might cause distress to -"
"Hey, Heather," Ray calls to where she and Dewey are still shuffling in circles. "You gonna get distressed if I dance with my boyfriend at your wedding?"
Sure, Dewey scowls a little, but Heather laughs and gives a thumbs-up, and Ray's always been told that weddings are for the bride. "Come on, then," Ray says, maneuvering Fraser towards the dance floor with little tugs and hip-checks. "We can be the freaky thing that happened at the wedding. No fish liberators, just a couple guys dancing."
Low and quiet into Fraser's ear, Ray whispers, "Dance with me."
And Fraser does, like Ray knew he would, because not even Fraser can resist the power of the Ray Kowalski whisper. His arms settle nervously around Ray's waist and his feet start approximately following Ray's lead. The band's playing "Lady," which has got to be the worst song for this moment, and Fraser still dances like he's in traction and just had his rhythm surgically removed, but Ray doesn't care.
"I don't wish," he whispers. "Nothing to wish for, Frase." He's got his whole freaky everything right here, and he's dancing.