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They'd left Frobisher's outpost with a sled full of fresh equipment and Dief leading them east. The previous night, they'd spent in a tent next to Frobisher's constables. Night before that, they'd nearly frozen to death tacked to the side of that mountain. Night before that, they'd spent in the open, with a fire, a sleeping bag, and a rock for Ray's pillow. And the night before that, well, they were still trying to catch Muldoon back in Chicago.

Five days before, Ray had never imagined bedding down on top of several feet of snow. Funny what a difference a week could make.

The first day passed in a blur of white. Fraser was a warm presence at his back, shouting at the dogs and pointing out things for Ray to look at. From time to time, Fraser's hand landed on Ray's shoulder and Ray tilted his head back to grin up at him. Seeing Fraser this happy was something else. Ray couldn't blame him a bit for planning to stay.

Ray sat in the sled, counting the days of leave he'd earned versus the number of days he'd been Vecchio. He'd had worse gigs, but he'd never been undercover for more than nine months at a time before, and two years without his own name—even if he was still a cop—was hard to come back from.

On the phone, Welsh had laid out the paid leave, the vacation, the sick days, and given him a grand total: it was a lot of days. Neither of them mentioned the unpaid administrative leave he could request later, if it came to it. Ray knew Welsh could push it through for him. He just didn't know if he'd need it.

It was still early, he thought, when Fraser chose a place for them to camp and began to cut out a big square in the snow. Ray stood watching as Fraser laid out the ground sheet and the tent, getting the poles up in all of three seconds; then, after it was all anchored, Fraser started in with the mats and bedrolls. They hadn't been kitted out for an Arctic expedition when Fraser threw him out of the plane, but now they had tarps, thick sleeping pads, fancy sleeping bags, and more pairs of socks than Ray knew what to do with.

After they ate, when they crawled into the tent with their six hot water bottles—for their boots and for themselves, Fraser explained—Ray was so exhausted that he fell asleep right away.

He woke up an hour later, shivering so hard it hurt, and found that Fraser wasn't even there. Ray could hear him crunching around outside, though, and it sounded like he was checking on the dogs.

When Fraser came in a few minutes later, a horrified look passed over his face. Then he was leaning low over Ray's body, saying, "Ray! Ray, listen to me. You'll be much warmer if you take your insulating layers off!"

"That doesn't make any sense, Fraser," he said through chattering teeth. "Less clothes do not make you less cold."

"Ray, I assure you—"

Ray glared, but then Fraser pulled his gloves off to put his bare hands on Ray's cold face, and he was warm. So much warmth against his ears and cheeks and forehead, it was like…it wasn't like anything he could come up with words for. It was so warm it hurt, his ears were burning from the touch of Fraser's hands. And then Fraser was hugging him tight and rubbing his back hard through his fleece, and it was better. So much better.

"Come on," Fraser said, and began shucking his own layers until he was down to his long johns and changing his socks yet again. "Hurry up, Ray," Fraser said again, sliding down into his sleeping bag with his hot water bottle and four or five pairs of damp socks.

Ray followed suit. After about three and a half minutes of shivering, his body curled up in a little knot around the hot insulated bottle, and he realized, at last, he was fine. It even felt kind of nice. Cozy.

"In the morning," Fraser said, "do everything you can while still in your bag. It will help conserve body heat until we're under way again."

Ray mumbled in acknowledgment and Fraser covered the lantern.

The low moon shone in through the tent's ceiling vent and Ray watched his breath puff white in the darkness. He'd already been lectured on not soaking his sleeping bag with his own breath, so he just watched it puff and vanish, puff and vanish, until he dropped off into sleep.


~


The next day, Ray began to get into the rhythm. Before dawn, he woke to a soft rustling as Fraser wriggled around in his sleeping bag, pawing through his pack one-handed with the bag cinched around his shoulders to keep the warmth in. Then he pulled all the day's clothing into the bag with him and wriggled around some more—warming it up, Ray guessed—and then he wriggled yet some more while he stripped down to nothing and put on fresh layers. It was hysterical to watch, maybe one of the funniest things Ray had ever seen, and it was maybe the best way in the world to start the day. Barring coffee, of course.

At least until Fraser caught him watching.

"I thought you were still asleep, Ray."

"Who, me?" Ray said, flashing teeth at him.

Fraser made a noise that sounded like an actual harrumph and said, "Well, in that case, I'll leave breakfast in your hands while I see to the dogs."

Ray chuckled long and hard until he rolled up and touched his pack bare-handed. "Holy Jesus!" he shouted, and crawled all the way down into his sleeping bag to find his glove liners and gather up some more of that good, warm heat.

Outside, he could hear Fraser laughing and saying something smart to Dief, and he decided he'd better get a move on with his own inchworm act before Fraser got too far ahead.


~


Over his morning coffee (which wasn't near sweet or strong enough, but still did the job), Ray watched the dogs chow down on their breakfast, inhaling their kibble just as soon as Fraser doled it out. Fraser had a real knack with the dogs and Ray felt unexpectedly jealous of it. The dogs didn't know Fraser at all, except for Dief, but they still did everything Fraser told them to. It didn't make any sense to him, except for how maybe Fraser just had a thing with animals.

He felt useless by comparison, so he had Fraser's tea and oatmeal all ready for him when he sat down. "Here," he said, handing the cup over.

"Thank you kindly, Ray." Fraser breathed in the steam from the tea with a happy smile, and something eased in the back of Ray's mind. And hell, it was just boiling water, but it was something.

Ray watched Fraser take a sip, watched the dogs start to play, and let his eyes move across the landscape in a long arc. It wasn't that early anymore, but the sky was turning violet-ish in the west and the sun was still a bright orange ball in the east, and the snow was really white and the mountains behind them were really dark where the rock showed through. The big trees were mostly dark and piney, except for the ones that were ice-encrusted and naked, but it was all really, really pretty. It wasn't like anything he'd ever seen before…especially not with them stopping every once in a while for Fraser to point out stuff like moose droppings and bunny runs and a herd of caribou down in the valley below them.

It was something else.

"Are you all right, Ray?"

Ray looked back at Fraser, surprised. "Um, yeah. Yeah, I'm good."

"You seem a bit…out of sorts this morning."

"Nah, I'm good. I'm just looking around. This place is just…you know, once you stop getting blinded by all the snow and make yourself forget that it's ball-freezing cold out here, it's…it's a pretty amazing place to be."

"It certainly is." Fraser smiled at him again, all the way to his eyes. "I'm glad you're enjoying it."

"I am," Ray answered. And he was.


~


Ray took one last walk around the clean, white snow of their campsite and hopped into his nook in the back of the sled. He wriggled a little, making sure the rolls of bedding were seated right to keep him from breaking his tailbone on a hard dip. It was cozy like this, tooling around the Arctic just because they could. Sure, he was colder than he'd ever felt in his life, but he was starting to get used to the freezing part and starting to pay attention to how friggin' beautiful everything was.

Then he started paying attention to how much work Fraser was doing to keep them both alive, and everything changed.

It wasn't hard. On the next morning, when Ray was making his one cup of coffee and Fraser was making the oatmeal mushy, Ray put on his glasses so he could see and said to Fraser, "Level with me."

Fraser, being Fraser, said, "I'm sorry?"

Ray looked at him hard and said, "I'm going to learn this stuff. You know how I feel about not pulling my own weight, so you're just going to have to teach me everything, okay? Dogs, tent, stove, what you did to that rabbit last night, all of it." Ray held up a hand when Fraser started to protest. "I don't want no arguments on this, Fraser, I just wanna learn how."

And Fraser, being Fraser, stared down at the oatmeal pot for an unnecessarily long period of time, blushed when Ray got impatient and cleared his throat at him, and finally looked back to Ray, saying, "All right, then."

And that's where they started. Right after breakfast that day, Fraser taught Ray to break camp while he loaded the sled. Before he knew it, Ray got better at camping than he ever thought he'd be in his whole life, and the freaky thing was…well, there were lots of freaky things, but the really freaky thing was how much like police work it felt. Maybe that was partly because it was with Fraser, and anytime they were doing something partners-like, well, that was usually police work. But when it came right down to it, it seemed to Ray that the two of them surviving in Fraser's 'inhospitably cold and treacherous environment' wasn't that far off from them surviving any given moment in Chicago with pissed-off mob bosses and nerve gas dealers and drug dealers in their way. The camping thing was all about working together, just like always. And they were good at that.

Fraser finished double-checking the dogs' harnesses, clapped Ray's shoulder with a gloved and thick-mittened hand, and they were off. After a while, they would stop and Fraser would show him something like three different kinds of snow, and Ray would work some more on learning how to ski.


~


Ray wasn't so good on the skis. He knew this. Fraser knew this. Fraser still managed to make encouraging noises at him, which was probably some Canadian disease he had. Something to go along with the excessive politeness. It was cool to be sliding over the snow, but then he'd get tired or the terrain would change or he would get going too fast and he'd start to worry and then his toes would angle wrong and suddenly he'd be on the ground, face hot and feeling like an idiot. Then Fraser would have to stop the sled and untangle him and pat him down to make sure his knees and ankles were all still in working order…well, not that he had to, but it also didn't much bother Ray that Fraser cared so much, so he let him. And that almost made it okay, but it also still burned him that this was something Fraser was really, really good at. This wasn't something like detecting weird scents in dirt, either; this was something that any regular healthy guy ought to be able to do, and he sucked at it. It pissed him off. And getting angry at the skis didn't help much.

What helped, though, was when Fraser taught him how to drive the sled. And that? That was a stroke of genius for which Ray remained so grateful that he did even more than his share of the work—until Fraser wised up and started beating him to it.

Possibly it was a direct result of Fraser working with two so-called Vecchios who were both incredibly personally invested in their classic American automobiles. Something must've rubbed off on him because one morning while they were loading up the sled, Fraser explained clearly and succinctly to Ray how the sled was just like the Goat, if Ray happened to live out of a GTO instead of having a nice warm apartment to go home to at night. And Ray, Ray could get behind that. The sled was important. It had everything in it they needed to make it out here, and learning to drive it wasn't going to be like going out to one of those go-cart racing places in the 'burbs. Driving a sled was a big deal.

But better than that, once he got down which words made the dogs do what, it was really, really fun. At least out in open country. He let Fraser take it when things looked sketchy, but it was good. The looks Fraser would give him, the pats on the back, the occasional words of approval. Most of the time, though, it was just that single shared look. That bit of eye contact and both their faces breaking into wide, happy grins. Like this was exactly where they were supposed to be. And then, if it was smooth, Ray would get the dogs to run a little faster and his heart would pound and the wind would rush in his face, and god, what a great feeling.


~


The thing about him and Fraser was how fast and easy they'd fit right into each other's back pockets. Maybe that's why Ray knew going off into the wilderness with Fraser would be okay. After all, they went to the bathroom at work and stood next to each other with their dicks in their hands, breaking off in mid-conversation about whatever case they were working to focus hard on the porcelain tile in front of their faces and carefully not check each other out while they peed…and then pick up the conversation a moment later right where they'd left off. They were just…in tune, right from the start.

Hell, even back before they'd caught Muldoon, when Fraser had come upon Ray writing his name in the snow with a stream of piss, he'd only shook his head and sniped at Diefenbaker while Ray stood there shaking his dick off and laughing.

But none of that stuff prepared Ray for the morning of the second day with Fraser telling him he had to wipe his ass with snow.

Fraser started the lecture with something about the environment, because jeez, the guy could go on and on and on about Frobisher's eccentricities and the friggin' environment already, and finally Ray just shouted "Stop!" and stared at Fraser until he did.

"You're saying we have no toilet paper or Kleenex or nothing."

Fraser let out a belabored sigh and said, "Yes Ray, that's what I've been trying to tell you. Apparently, Sgt. Frobisher is quite the traditionalist when it comes to these things; or possibly he objects to the burning of used toilet paper for environmental reasons. I'm not certain."

Ray made a face and said, "That's disgusting, Fraser!"

Fraser made his own face, an exasperated face, and answered back as if quoting out of a regulations manual. "Go downwind, dig a shallow hole, do your business, make a snowball to clean up with, cover the hole, and return to camp or the sled or wherever you're supposed to be." Fraser paused for breath and gave him a sharp look. "When we camp, Ray, please make sure we're both apprised of which is our toilet area and which is our freshwater-gathering area. Also, I believe you'll find a bottle of hand sanitizer in your pack if you need it."

It took a minute for Ray to find words. A long minute, in which he folded his arms tight across his chest and paced back and forth long enough to pack down a shallow trench in the snow under his feet. "I can't believe you expect me to do that!" he complained. "As if it's not cold enough already, it has to be gross, too?"

"Sanitation is very important. As I told you before, Ray, cleansing certain areas of the body daily is essential."

"Oh believe me, I know! My beard itches like you wouldn't believe, and I cannot wait to have a shower again, because scrubbing down with a rag and a bar of soap is not my idea of getting clean—and don't you even start again with the thing about snow baths!"

"I realize that it's uncomfortable." Fraser scratched at his own patchy stubble, a resigned look in his eyes. "And I don't disagree with your feelings on the matter, Ray, but I'm afraid there's nothing to be done but make the best of it."

And there wasn't any answer to that, which didn't stop Ray from stewing over it over the course of the day, but then there were so many other things to do and pay attention to and think about that it wasn't long before it had slipped Ray's mind. And that's how he'd arrived at some freakish new variety of normal that included letting his beard grow in and scrubbing his ass with a big, hard-packed clump of snow. But it worked, and even though at first he had some anxiety about getting frostbite on his nether bits, it turned out that up against the body's central heat-core, or whatever it was that Fraser called it down there, it wasn't really all that bad.

Invigorating, even. Kind of.


~


Ray was trying not to obsess over what he was going to do next, but sitting in the sled for hours on end, his thoughts kept returning to how everything he was before he met Fraser was gone.

That's what decompression was for, though. He knew that. They had a formula for how many weeks decompression time you got per weeks undercover, and with two years under his belt, he had a while before it became an issue.

What he worried about, though, was what the hell Ray Kowalski was going to do in Chicago when it was time for him to go back. They didn't talk about it, but from time to time, Fraser would catch him brooding. Then, a few minutes later, he'd do something like appear at Ray's elbow with his field glasses and his finger over his lips, and then he'd point to a funny dark blur against all the white. So Ray would take the glasses, and look at a group of shaggy brown things. Completely unidentifiable shaggy brown things, thought Ray—sort of a cross between those weird furry ottomans they had back in the seventies, and hay bales. With horns.

Not knowing if it was dangerous to talk, Ray gave Fraser his 'what the fuck?' expression and waited.

Fraser beamed back at him and whispered, "Musk-oxen, Ray! You'll notice that the herd is protecting two young calves in the center!"

And Ray got it, he did. This was the kind of shit that made Fraser's week. It was like back in the old days when he and Stella would go out dancing and be the hottest thing out there. Or maybe more like when he was back at the one-nine and he got the collar on that…well, no, that wasn't the same thing at all. It was closer to when he and his dad rebuilt the Goat's engine, and how it felt the first time they turned that baby over, all fresh and throaty and perfect. Perfect like the herd of shaggy ottomans and their little babies who never did a bad thing to nobody else in their whole lives, like Fraser.

And Ray smiled back at Fraser after that, taking a long look through the glasses again. When he handed them back he held eye contact for—well, longer than he probably should have. On the other hand, Fraser didn't seem to mind, and it wasn't like Ray was still pretending to be Vecchio anymore, so he gave Fraser a smile that he used to reserve for Stella and let his eyes linger, thinking that if Fraser freaked, he'd just pretend it was nothing, and things would be okay.

Fraser's hand slipped out of its mitten and came up slow, and Ray thought, hah, eyebrow-rub, but then it snaked out and around the back of Ray's neck. When Ray gasped, he told himself it was because Fraser's gloved thumb felt so gloriously warm against his skin. And then Fraser's other hand was pressing against Ray's chest, fiddling with cloth, adjusting Ray's coat and scarf, and Fraser did it all with the weirdest expression on his face, and didn't shy away from Ray looking.

"Don't catch cold, Ray," Fraser said, tugging down on Ray's hat with that glint still in his eyes, and as Fraser stepped away all Ray could do was stare and eventually mumble, "Thanks, um…thanks," as he followed him back to the sled. Fraser had been so warm…and Ray couldn't begin to remember why he was thinking about ottomans.


~


They'd developed a routine to setting up camp. Ray had learned how to make the tent happen, but Fraser was unbelievably fast with the snow shovel, and could get the pit and the entrance hole dug out and packed down in no time. It was an amazing thing to watch. Ray had seen plenty of the naked-David-statue-guy Fraser had carved Frannie for Christmas, since she'd kept it out on her desk until Welsh finally made her take it home, but it was incredible what Fraser could do with cutting implements and a time constraint.

That left Ray with setting up the stove, gathering snow, and settling the dogs while the water melted for dinner. Ray was good with that arrangement most of the time. He could heat stew. It wasn't anything fancy like he used to do in the old days when he had more than himself to cook for, and from time to time he wondered what that would be like, especially when Fraser decided to teach him how to kill and clean snowshoe hare. It was slowly growing on him, although he would kill for a good marinade. The fish, though, he was all over the ice fishing. Something besides stewed carrots and potatoes would have been good to go with it, but it was fine. It was fresh fish, and it was tasty.

Fraser, being Fraser, noticed how much Ray had liked the fish, and the next morning mentioned that they might adjust their course to a slightly more southerly heading so as to meet up with a certain unpronounceable tributary of some river not too far away. That was all. No mention of fishing or nothing. Just a change in direction and they were on their way.

And the fishing was excellent.


~


They got to the sea and saw a polar bear, which pretty much freaked Ray out. It wasn't up close or anything. It was out on an ice floe, and the ice floe was not actually that close to them, but it was a polar bear. A real, live polar bear. And it was enormous, even from way the hell away.

Luckily, it was going in the other direction.

Still, Ray felt the need to point out, "Fraser, that was a polar bear."

"Yes, Ray."

"See, I watch television. I stop on the Discovery Channel sometimes, and PBS too, and that? That was a polar bear."

"Yes, Ray."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

Fraser turned then and frowned at him. "What do you mean?"

"Well, there are people out here! Shouldn't it be in a designated polar bear area or something?"

"Actually, Ray, no."

"No?"

"No."

"Oh," Ray said, deflating.

Fraser shot him a bland look. "It isn't a perpetrator, you know."

Ray chewed that one over for a minute, because sure, not a perp, but still—polar bear! On the other hand, the bears were sort of built for this place. They did fine out on the ice just as they were. Especially on the ice, going in the other direction. Ray watched it fade into the distance and said, "Yeah, okay, you're right. Like it's just out for a stroll or something, doing polar bear things on the ice floe thingie. And going far, far away from us now."

Fraser smiled, eyes twinkling. "Yes, Ray."

"Fraser?" Ray said later.

"Hmm?"

"Why haven't we been eaten by bears already? Or wolves or mountain lions or lemmings or whatever?"

Fraser laughed. "I don't think you need to fear the lemmings, Ray."

"Damn it, Fraser, you know what I mean."

"Sorry, yes," Fraser said. "Well, first, I should say that we are nowhere near mountain lion territory. However, it's largely a simple matter of not antagonizing the predators. Generally, the other animals at the top of the food chain prefer to avoid conflict with humans. Obviously, you and I are not hunting large game, and since they can all hear or smell us coming, they simply get out of our way."

"What about at night?"

"Ray," Fraser said earnestly, and he must have heard the tremble in Ray's voice, or he wouldn't have bothered clapping Ray on the shoulder with his huge, mitten-encased hand. "Diefenbaker would never allow anything to happen. To us, or the dogs."

Ray stood there staring into Fraser's eyes, and today they were a blue somewhere close to the color of arctic sea water and had a steadiness in them that shut the screaming little kid inside Ray's head right up, because yeah, they had Dief, and all kinds of crazy explorer guys had been tramping across the northwest areas for centuries. And Inuit people for eons before that, right? So, they'd be fine. Fine.

So when they stopped for lunch, Ray snuck Diefenbaker a chunk of rabbit meat from his stew and promised him a box of donuts if they ever found themselves near a bakery.


~


Sledding over the frozen gulf to King William Island did not seem like they were going over the sea to a whole separate island. Ray had to force himself not to think about the killer whales and things just a few feet down below them. It was creepy, especially when Fraser got out the ice saw and made a hole to catch them some char. Ray looked down the hole and got vertigo so bad that he had to sit down fast before he fell. Not that Fraser would have let him fall in—hole wasn't that big, but jeez. Killer whales and polar bears and all they had were their sidearms and the shotgun Frobisher had given them with the sled. Not that a shotgun would stop a killer whale anyhow.

After they crossed the sea ice, they went to find the monuments marking the Franklin Expedition archaeological sites. It was all forested and pretty, even if it was a lot of walking on snowshoes.

Ray had to make Fraser stop telling him about the cannibalism.

Then he said, "Okay, explain me this. How come these guys are supposed to be these great explorers, but they still starved to death or went nutso from the lead in their food?"

Then he had to make Fraser stop telling him another Inuit story because he was missing the point by miles. "I don't get it," he said impatiently. "Those rabbit snares you showed me aren't rocket science. If I can do them, why couldn't they?"

"That's the heart of the mystery, I suppose," Fraser answered with a thoughtful look.

Ray read all the historical markers about the Queen's expeditions and the dead English guys, and by the last one, Ray looked over at Fraser with a big, stupid grin on his face and let loose with the belly laugh he'd been holding back for nearly half an hour.

"Ray?" Fraser said, finally, drawing close and not-subtly checking his eyes and skin for indications of hypothermia.

"Know what I think, Frase?" Ray said in as serious a tone as he could muster.

Fraser kept frowning. "I'm afraid I don't."

"I think bears ate him." Ray made a half turn, gesturing to the stone monuments around them. "I think Franklin got eaten by bears, or at least his corpse did, and he's been all digested and done with for a hundred and fifty years now." Ray paused and looked back at Fraser with a huge grin. "Unless it was the lemmings."

Fraser's mouth opened and closed on air, and then he was smirking at Ray and looked like he was going to burst from the effort of holding back the laughter.

"See, you agree with me!" Ray crowed. "I knew it! His hand isn't reaching out to anything, cause it's done been eaten."

Fraser was fully in the grip of his giggles by then, and it was a long time before he could gasp out, "I daresay you're right, Ray." He was holding tight to Ray's shoulder, laughing so hard he was almost falling off his snowshoes, which Ray did, tripping Fraser, and then they were a freakish, laughing heap in the snow.

"So, what do you want to do now?" Ray asked when they finally made their way back to the sled.

Fraser stopped and shielded his eyes as he gazed out over the white expanse below them. "Well," he began, "There's almost limitless possibility, at least given the scope of what we can reach with our available means. By which I mean to say," he said, "I believe it's your choice."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"You're sure?"

"I am."

"Because, well, I uh…I mean, our leave's not up, so we should go somewhere else. West, maybe? How's west sound?"

"Good," Fraser said, with an odd, almost tender look in his eyes. West sounds good, Ray."

They made camp again and the next morning headed back over the gulf to the mainland with a new sort of freedom. It was hard to get used to not having a concrete goal anymore; not that chasing after some dead guy's hand counted as a concrete goal, as such. It was the principle of doing something wild, like dating a supermodel, because wouldn't that be a trip. But now they didn't have any real goal except to get off the island, since it was prime polar bear real estate. Seeing just one had been more than enough, at least without one of those protective Habitrail things they had at the zoo between them.

Even more than that, though, the fact was they'd been out on the tundra for four weeks by then. It was still almost shockingly pretty and seeing Fraser happy was worth damn near any price in the world, but Ray was nearing the point where he'd give a whole hell of a lot for a few nights with a real roof over his head—not to mention a good, hot shower.

They headed back to the west, bypassing a couple of closer spots on the map because Fraser knew a place they could get a hotel, and that, that sounded like a dream come true, and he said so.

"I daresay it won't be much, Ray," Fraser warned.

Ray laughed. "Fraser, how weird is it that this map has cities marked on it, and then out next to the grid mark it says, population twenty? Twenty people does not make a city."

"Kugluktuk is a bit larger than that, yes."

Ray opened his map book and looked it up. "Twelve hundred…well, how about that."

"It does fluctuate somewhat with the season, of course."

"Of course," Ray said, mocking him, and Fraser shot him a tense glance. Ray relented, saying, "Hey, I just want to remember what it's like not to sleep on snow for a night or two, that's all."

Fraser nodded once and said, "Understood."

Late that afternoon, after Ray had cleaned and spitted a pair of snowshoe hares with only slight direction from Fraser, he sat by the fire and watched the hazy-pale sun slide down the sky. He had tea on the stove and passed a mug to Fraser when he got back from dog duty.

"I just realized something," Ray said.

"Oh?"

"I haven't thought about Frannie or Welsh or my parents for weeks. I haven't even thought about Stella."

"Ah," Fraser said.

"It feels good."

"I'm glad."

"How much more leave do you have left?" Ray asked as if he'd forgotten, even though he hadn't.

"Seven and a half weeks, before encroaching on sick time."

Ray nodded and said, "Good."

Fraser frowned at him slightly, but Ray had to turn the bunnies again so they cooked evenly and didn't scorch. He really wished they had a marinade.

"So, two days to Kugluktuk?"

"If the weather holds, yes," Fraser said.

Ray poured his own cup of tea and watched the western sky.


~


The weather didn't hold. The next afternoon, after they'd traversed a small slope into a wooded pass, the sky turned white, then a dark and heavy gray, and then everything was white again. The worst thing was, it was white and wet.

They hunkered in the tent and Fraser explained about the difficulty of predicting arctic weather, especially with the unprecedented effects of global warming, and how the sled would be a greater difficulty for them until they could get through the trees and back out onto the tundra.

Ray watched Fraser lie back in his sleeping bag, resigned to wait the storm out, and he wondered what he should do. They hadn't been holed up together like this in nearly three weeks, long before he'd started noticing how nice it was when Fraser smiled at him. Ray felt pretty sure that Fraser wouldn't say no if he just slid right across the tent and kissed him. He could even see himself doing it. The trouble was, he could also see the prickly silence coming right after, and he could feel how much colder it would be in that silence.

Damn it, he liked the way Fraser looked at him, all warm and pleased-looking just to be in the same tent with him, and maybe he was a coward, but it wasn't like cruising some nameless guy at a bar for a blowjob. It was Fraser, and remembering that, Ray felt like he should ask him something. He felt like they should be talking. Most of the time during the day, they were too busy sledding or whatever to say much, and at night they were too damned tired.

Fraser noticed Ray staring, and raised his eyebrows. Ray smiled, caught, still not knowing quite what to say. It was a strange feeling: both of them being in the tent like this, unable to escape outside. And then suddenly Ray knew what he wanted to ask. He cocked his head at the tent door and made a circling motion with his hand. "Is it as good as you remembered? I know you love it up here, but I mean, sometimes things look better in hindsight than they do in person, you know?"

Fraser nodded at that and took a deep breath, not bothering to sit up, but also not looking away from Ray, who was sitting, fully encased by his sleeping bag, up to where he'd pulled the drawstring tight around his neck. "It's different," he said. "Different doing this with you, I should say. In many ways, it feels like I'm rediscovering the entire region through showing it to you."

"Is that good?" Ray asked, because honestly, that was a thing that could go either way.

Fraser snorted softly. "It's a bizarre sensation, in all truth. I've traveled back and forth over this country for my entire life, but…." Fraser paused and his voice grew warm and low. "I've told you how important this area is to me, personally, and doing this…adventure…with you, Ray, is…somewhat uncanny. It really does feel like I'm seeing it all for the first time."

Ray felt himself blushing as he mumbled, "I'm glad."

"I am, too," Fraser said with feeling.

The tent was dim, especially with the pile of snow gathering on the roof between intermittent shakes to clear the vent. Still, Ray could see the look on Fraser's face, the look he was hiding underneath his wonder at digging the Arctic more than ever. The look that said, maybe Fraser was digging the company more than ever, now that they were free of people trying to shoot them or blow them up.

Ray said, "It could be like a fresh start. Maybe. Something to hope for."

Fraser gazed at Ray for a long moment before giving him a slow, thoughtful nod. "Maybe, yes."


~


The storm broke in the night and since they'd both spent most of the afternoon and evening dozing, they both went out to check on Diefenbaker and the dogs. Fraser checked out all the noses and ears and paws while Ray played with Dief for a few minutes and then stood back to stare at the sky. The night air was frigid and the night sky was full of a billion bright, sparkling stars with no moon to outshine them. The Milky Way was a shimmering streak a little off to the side and he could see Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter clear as anything, shining a steady red, gold, and white.

Fraser was at his side then, and Ray found himself speaking in almost a whisper. "It's so clear I found them on my own this time," pointing out the planets.

"You're right, the seeing is exceptionally good tonight," Fraser murmured back.

Ray glanced over at Fraser, watching him watch the sky, seeing the starlight touch his face and glint off his open eyes. It wasn't even a conscious motion when he put his arm around Fraser's shoulders and gave him a squeeze through their layers. It was just a little thing, except that he was pretty sure they both knew it wasn't.

Dropping in and out of sleep earlier, he'd had a bizarre mishmash of dreams—part where he was still Vecchio and part where it was him like normal, doing their adventure. And there was that disconnect there, where the parts in the city didn't even feel like his life anymore…but then, they hadn't strictly been his in the first place. The last two years of being Vecchio, he'd built his life with Fraser as much at the center of it as Stella had been before.

Standing there in the fresh snow with his arm around Fraser, with starlight shining down on them and the dogs and the night-bright snow, Ray let himself realize something that he'd been too chickenshit to admit to himself before: Welsh, CPD, and the whole city of Chicago would get by just fine without him.

Fraser didn't react to his touch, but that was okay. It could've been he didn't even feel it through all the down in Fraser's parka and stuffing in Ray's mittens. But then a breeze kicked up a swirl of snow around their ankles and Ray shivered. "I'm going in," he murmured, and Fraser didn't say anything but turned with him, and Ray felt his hand on his back all the way to the tent.

Inside, free of their outer layers, they each did their inchworm routines to strip in the relative warmth of their sleeping bags. It had grown bitterly cold, but the lantern's yellow glow made things seem a little warmer.

Eventually, Fraser said, " 'Night, Ray," and smiled at him before snapping off the light.

Ray pulled his woolen hat down closer over his ears and answered, "Goodnight." Then he rolled over on his side, put the hot water bottle between his feet, and jerked himself off into his spare handkerchief as quietly as he could. After that, sleep, with dreams of Fraser, came easy.


~


The next day dawned bright, and they moved through breakfast and breaking camp as quickly as they could. Ray walked the perimeter and pissed in the snow one last time before tucking into his place in the sled and giving Fraser the word go. They'd used a lot of their supplies and the snow had frozen to a hard crust, so the sled went faster and they made better time. And Kugluktuk…well, Fraser was probably right not to get Ray's hopes up. It was a tiny place and Ray had to take a moment to think about how small a slice of Chicago could contain a thousand people. It hurt his head a little, but then Fraser had got them a room and inside it was sort of actually warm, and the ceiling was low but it was there and he couldn't stop grinning at that, even though he could feel Fraser staring at him with his patiently amused look, like Ray had never seen four solid walls before.

But Ray didn't care. He shucked his coat and his boots and his sweater, and then sat down to strip off his socks, and then he had the best idea ever. "Shower?" he said to Fraser, hopefully.

"Ah, well, yes," Fraser said with an embarrassed look on his face. "I'm afraid the bathing facilities are shared, Ray. I'm sorry if that's a problem, but the suite arrangement and the difficulty and expense of plumbing installations in this climate do tend to put a damper on each room having a private bath."

Ray shot the patiently amused look right back at Fraser, because this was just funny. "Fraser," he said, shaking his head, "For the last month now, I've been wiping my ass with snow and taking sponge baths out of my coffee cup—right out in front of God and you and the bears and everybody. Tell me you do remember this. We have been out here together all this time, right?" Fraser nodded, turning pink around the ears. "Okay then…so like I care if it's private or not."

Fraser took a step back and cleared his throat. "Yes, Ray. However, I understand the appeal of hot water, and you've expressed your interest in partaking…and the woman at the desk did mention that the only other occupants of the inn at the moment are all out on caribou expedition together."

Ray burst out laughing. "You really want a shower, Frase, you go for it."

"Yes, well," Fraser mumbled, blushing. "I only thought I would offer you…dibs, as it were, on the hot water."

Ray laughed again, waving his arm toward the door. "Will you just go already!"

Fraser did, finally, and Ray set about unpacking. He read through the "Kugluktuk (Coppermine!)" brochure on the dresser and then the flyer on "What Nunavut Means To You!" Then he dumped out his pack and divided it into clothes to wash, clothes to burn, and clothes that might be presentable enough to wear while doing the laundry. Then he put all of the miscellaneous odds and ends he'd picked up on the adventure back into his pack before Fraser could give him any crap about carrying rocks around with them. They were cool-looking!. And then, he took out his shaving kit to see how much shampoo he had left (plenty) and looked in the mirror.

He hadn't looked in a mirror once in practically a month, and while it had occurred to him that he probably wouldn't recognize himself, he really didn't. It was like looking at a stranger. His hair was all long and flat from being pressed down under the knit cap for all this time. His nose and cheeks were pink and peeling from the wind and sun, his lips were chapped, and his eyes… There was something mildly disturbing about the look in his eyes. He looked different. Older, maybe, but also younger in a way. It was hard to get a grip on the exact way his face had changed.

The other thing was the beard. He hadn't shaved at all, since he realized a beard was good for keeping your face warm, and it was too damned time-consuming to shave in the morning anyway, what with so much other stuff they had to be doing. Fraser had a beard too, now, although it had taken a long time to grow in and still looked kind of…incomplete. It had looked good when it was new and scruffy. It made Fraser look rumpled and maybe a little wild…which was very much a good thing. But it looked weird long.

He wondered if Fraser was shaving. He wondered if he should shave. Then he wondered if he was so out of practice at it that he'd cut his face to pieces. Maybe there was a barbershop in town where he could get it trimmed. But then Fraser was back, squeaky clean in jeans and flannel, with a pile of clothes under his arms.

"You kept the beard," Ray said.

Fraser's hand went to his face, stroking self-consciously. He shrugged. "It is warmer. I thought I would leave it until we decide what to do next."

Ray nodded. "You think maybe we could get some clippers from the girl at the desk? I feel scraggly."

"I can ask."

"Cool. Okay, my turn and then laundry," Ray said, making a face. "Oh, hey, where's the wolf?"

"Kenneled with the other dogs, much to his chagrin," Fraser said with a sigh. "No animals in the rooms."

"Right. We'll have to spring him later on and go exploring."

"I'm sure he'll be delighted."


~


Fraser didn't tell him there was a tub. Fraser had said showers, and to Ray showers in a shared bathroom meant like locker room showers, and yeah, there was a row of four locker room style showers with a steel divider between each stall and a flimsy shower curtain, but there was also a tub. And it was big and old fashioned and white porcelain and suddenly all thoughts of spending the afternoon exploring the town with Fraser and Dief went right out the window. But he was vile, so he put his stuff down, grabbed the soap and shampoo, and stood under a scalding shower scrubbing the hell out of his hair and everywhere else until all his skin shone pink. It was amazing to feel clean again, and he couldn't help lingering under the spray, thanking the merciful gods of indoor plumbing for the miracle of hot running water. And then, then, he got out and turned on the faucet in the tub.

He didn't get it before, but now he was glad Fraser had made a production over taking the first shower. They hadn't had any privacy at all in a month, so spending some time alone and naked, even just to scrub off the filth, felt like a big deal. The whole thing felt like a big deal. Sure there were two beds, but they were beds, and that made Ray wonder wasn't this what everything had been leading up to? God knew he fantasized about it often enough. Fraser's mouth, his hands, peeling up his shirt to get a rare glimpse of skin, the look in his eyes when he was happy.

He lay there in the hot water, feeling warm and languid. This was exactly what he'd needed.

Twenty minutes later, Fraser came in. Ray had his eyes shut, but he still knew it was him because of the way the footsteps sounded.

Fraser didn't say anything though, so Ray cracked an eyelid and tried not to give away how nervous he suddenly felt.

Fraser was standing by the door, leaning against the wall with a full view of the side of the tub. He was rubbing his left eyebrow. "Ray, do you mind if I ask where you managed to find bubble bath?"

"It's just shampoo," Ray answered, pretending lazy composure, and let his eyes fall shut again.

"I was concerned you might have drowned, you've been in here so long."

"It's a tub, Frase. You never mentioned a tub."

"I didn't realize it was important." Fraser's voice was softer, warmer.

"It is. It's a tub."

"You know…there are hot springs southwest of here."

"Yeah?" Ray opened his eyes, smiling.

Fraser wasn't against the wall anymore. He was nearer and the shampoo bubbles were nearly gone, since Ray hadn't wanted to waste too much shampoo and the suds weren't built for bubble bath duty. Fraser was looking at him, and Ray was nervous, but he wasn't freaking out. It was almost like he wanted Fraser to see what he'd been staring at for the last half hour or so, to see how a month on the ice had changed him. He was skinnier, which wasn't good, but he also had more muscle than in years. Except for the beard, he thought he looked pretty damned good.

Fraser didn't move, though. He just kept looking, and Ray couldn't hide his reaction to that, or to the compounded reaction of knowing Fraser had just seen his dick twitch.

Maybe if Fraser had made a move…but no. Maybe it would've been fine if this were some freaky anonymous porno set on the tundra, but this was…well, first it was Fraser, and then, it was also a public bathroom. Not that he had anything against porn, but…shit.

"I, uh, I think I'll rinse off," he said, trying not to sound too nervous. "I'll be in in a couple of minutes."

Fraser didn't say anything besides "Ah," and when he turned on his heel to leave the room, the mood, or whatever it was, was totally broken. Ray got up, drained the tub, and stepped back in the shower to scrub off again. He wished he could prolong the second shower, but he'd probably already used up about a week's worth of water, and he didn't want to piss anyone off.

But he wasn't stupid. Fraser was about as subtle as a ton of bricks, and Ray liked that about him. He liked Fraser's eyes on him and liked knowing that watching Ray made Fraser kind of stupid. And now he knew that no way in hell was Fraser going to make the first move, because hello, he'd been naked there, and Fraser hadn't done anything more than stare at him like he was starving. And then Ray's stupid anxiety shut him down.

When he got out of the shower, he had a speech planned out in his head, but then, back in their room, he found Fraser sitting on his bed intently poring over a map and studiously ignoring Ray.

"So, uh, laundry?" Ray said, his nose wrinkled in distaste as he donned another semi-stinky middle layer. Compared to the nice, clean hotel towels, even his cleanest clothes seemed gross.

Fraser looked up with a bright smile, and answered, "Yes, let's!" as if doing laundry was the best thing in the whole world. Lucky for them, they didn't have to go outside, just through the corridors down to the other side of the kitchen, where they could smell dinner cooking. Ray's stomach immediately started growling.

When their wash cycles started, he didn't even have to speak. He and Fraser just turned automatically and went to the dining room, and while it was only caribou stew, at that moment Ray thought it was the best thing he had ever put in his mouth.

Afterwards, they folded their laundry together, which was possibly the strangest experience Ray had ever had with Fraser. He didn't say anything because it felt right somehow, what with a hot meal in him and a roof over their heads and two hotel beds covered in thermal underwear and fleece zip-ups and more socks than he could count. And then he realized how much he wanted to be out of his clean-enough-for-doing-laundry-in clothes, so he stripped right down to bare-ass naked and got dressed again in layers that were all warm and fresh-from-the-dryer toasty. Fraser let out a giggle and followed suit, and things were okay again. Nothing like communal nudity to make things equal again, or something. They were warm and well fed, they were smiling, they had clean stuff, they even smelled good. Fraser smelled damn good, but it was still early and Ray was still not ready to cross that bridge yet. Assuming there was still a bridge to cross. Which he was pretty sure there would be. Besides, the wolf would give them all kinds of hell if they didn't hurry up and spring him from the dog pen.


~


The thing Ray loved most about Diefenbaker was that he was the ultimate bribable half-wolf. A hunk of seal meat and all was forgiven, and since it wasn't donuts, Fraser couldn't give him hell over it, either. They walked around Kugluktuk, and Ray got his beard trimmed while Fraser looked on and Ray tried not to blush. Then they walked around the rest of town and Fraser gave him the history lesson about Coppermine and the copper and the Inuit and the rapids in July and the idiot tourists who left their trash behind and mucked the place up. It was still tiny, still freezing cold, but it had a great view of the semi-frozen sea and the totally frozen river and the wooded hills up above. Most of all, though, it was just fun to watch Fraser and Dief play without the rush of having to get anywhere. They looked happy. And then Dief was toppling Ray back into the snow and he was throwing snowballs at the wolf, who caught them in his jaws, barking happily for more, and it was good. It was all good.

It couldn't last, though. It was getting late. After they put Dief back in the kennel for the night, Fraser frowned at Ray's suggestion that they go to the bar, which was now packed with two dozen post-caribou expedition American tourists. And Ray got that. They were obnoxious and loud and reminded him too much of a few too many perps he'd busted over the years, and if there was anything he didn't want to think about, it was the part of his job he hated most. So, without anywhere else to go, there wasn't much else to do but go back to the room.

Fraser sat down with his Arctic map again and Ray took a seat on the edge of the bed. "So, what're you looking for?"

Fraser looked up, almost shyly, before returning his eyes to the map. "Well, as you know, they've allowed me to choose my next posting…"

"…and now you have to pick one."

Fraser licked his lip, not looking away from the paper. "Yes."

"Makes sense," Ray said, trying to keep his voice steady, because of all the things they hadn't talked about yet, this was the real kicker.

"It's a big decision," Fraser said, almost to himself. He sounded tense, and Ray realized that Fraser wanted to deal with this as little as Ray did.

"You don't have to decide tonight, though, do you?" He tried to make it sound reasonable, and not like the delaying tactic it was.

"Well, no, but there is an RCMP station here, and they do appreciate prompt notification of personnel matters."

"Sleep on it," Ray said, standing. He put his hand on Fraser's shoulder and let it rest there a moment, thinking how strange it was to feel muscle, rather than inches of down between them. "Leave it be for tonight." Then he stripped down to his thermals, feeling Fraser's eyes follow every movement, and crawled into his own bed to watch Fraser fold his map and undress as well.

"Goodnight, Ray," Fraser said a few minutes later, and switched off the lamp.

" 'Night."


~


Ray rolled over again, punched the pillow, and let out a long, frustrated sigh.

"What's wrong?" Fraser asked, sounding as sleepless as Ray was.

"I don't know if the bed's too soft or you're too far away."

"It's funny you would say that."

"Oh yeah?"

"I was thinking the same thing."

Ray chuckled to himself, and then stared up at the dim ceiling. There probably was never going to be a better time, what with the whole roof and beds and warm showers and heat thing. And if it didn't happen, it didn't happen. A moment later, he was pulling Fraser's covers back, saying, "Scoot."

"Ray?" Fraser asked, sounding confused.

"I said, scoot over. We've been sleeping together for a month. Don't tell me you've suddenly gone squeamish on me."

"Well, sharing a tent, certainly," Fraser stammered, but he was moving over to the left, making room for Ray to take the warm spot he'd been lying in.

"There," said Ray, settling in. "Now you're not too far away."

There was a long, thoughtful silence, and then Fraser's voice came very quiet. "About that…"

"Hmm?"

"I really should have made my decision by now. As far as the new posting request."

"Yeah? You're not in trouble, are you?"

"Oh no. It's still a matter of courtesy at this point, rather than requirement. But…"

"You can't decide."

"I, uh…well," Fraser said with a weak chuckle. "I'm finding it more difficult than I anticipated to weigh my priorities and come to a decision."

"Um…" Ray said, and trailed off. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Look, whatever you decide, you've got my vote, okay?"

"Thank you, Ray."

Ray nodded in the darkness. "You need to pick a place you'll be happy."

Fraser mumbled noncommittally and Ray lay there listening to him breathe for a while, trying to figure out what the lump in his throat was about. Except, well, wasn't that why he was suddenly in the same bed with him?

"Okay, no," Ray burst out, "you see, thing is, I like being a duet with you—"

"Yes, that's it exactly," Fraser said, rolling over on his side toward Ray. "I keep trying to imagine a return to before, and it just doesn't…"

"No, no way. You've never been this happy in Chicago," Ray said.

"Well, no, I suppose not, but—"

"And me, all this time we've been out here sledding around, I've been trying to figure out what the hell I've got left there to go back to."

"Surely you'll still have a place at the two-seven."

"Well, yeah, there or somewhere, but life goes on, Frase. It's all going to be different, and not just from me coming up from undercover, because that's nearly always rough…"

"It must be extremely difficult."

"It can be, especially when it's this long and it ends sudden. But the thing is, even if Welsh does decide to keep me there," Ray said, ignoring the tightness in his chest, "no matter who he pairs me off with, it won't be you…and that sucks."

"Yes," Fraser said softly. "Yes it does."

Ray knew what he wanted to say, but didn't know how to get the words out, especially with the way he felt the space between them on the bed with his whole body.

"Is that what you meant by weighing priorities?" Ray asked a few minutes later.

"Hmm?" Fraser had rolled back onto his back, so his voice was farther away.

"You meant me, right?" Ray prodded, rolling to face Fraser, not that he could see much in the dim light.

Fraser took a deep breath and murmured, "Our partnership is extremely important to me."

"How important?"

"Ray…" Fraser let out a frustrated-sounding sigh.

"Look, call me crazy, but…what if I stayed?"

"Ray, you don't—"

"I do. I do mean it. I mean, if there's a roof above me and floor under me and running water, then I'm pretty sure I can hack it. Camping out on the snow for a month has sure as hell been harder than that would be."

Beside him, Fraser took a deep breath and released it long and slow. "You need people."

"Okay…that's true, but tell me how many friends do I have left in Chicago. Real friends. How many people have you known me to go hang out with after work or go to movies with on the weekend?"

"Ray—"

"I know how many, and I'm looking at him."

"Still, you normally interact with numerous, if not several dozen individuals everyday. That simply isn't possible here."

"And getting free of dozens of scumbags is a bad thing how?"

"Ray, I don't mean to—"

"Nah, see…" Ray lay there for a moment chewing his lip. Then he asked softly, "Are you really trying to talk me out of this?"

He could barely see Fraser's face, how his mouth was pinched shut. At last Fraser murmured, "I'm just not sure you're fully aware of what you're suggesting."

Ray snorted. "You need people, too, you know. And you already know everyone up here, so one of these little towns has got to be a place you could handle living in, or at least close to, right?"

Fraser didn't say anything.

"Maybe we could try it?" Ray whispered.

"You'd really do that?" Fraser asked, his voice barely audible.

"That's what I'm saying."

"That's…remarkable."

"Fraser, there's one other thing."

"What's that?"

"I'm going to kiss you now, okay?"

"Ah," Fraser said, and so Ray leaned in, pushed his hand through Fraser's hair, and found his mouth with his own. Fraser tasted warm and dark and a little sweet from toothpaste, and it was a couple of seconds before he did anything but just take it, and then suddenly Ray was on his back with Fraser over him, licking into his mouth, over his tongue, testing his lip with his teeth. Ray ground up against him, fisting the back of his thermals and feeling Fraser's erection press down into his thigh.

"You mean it," Fraser panted when he pulled away.

"Hell, yeah," Ray said. "Absolutely do I mean it."

Fraser moaned into his mouth, kissing him again. When he pulled away, Ray ran his hands over Fraser's chest, fumbling for buttons, trying desperately to get to skin. "Naked, Fraser, need to touch you. Now."

"Yes," Fraser breathed, pulling the buttons apart, "yes."

"Good," Ray said into Fraser's chest, mouth working against bare skin. Fraser shucked the sleeves and kneeled up, pushing everything down. Ray rolled up, yanking fabric down and grasping Fraser's ass in his hands, holding Fraser still as he leaned forward and licked a long stripe from Fraser's balls to the tip of his cock, and then did it again, and again. Then he kissed his way up to the head again, spent a moment tonguing the sweet spot, and then swallowed him in as Fraser groaned above him. They were a perfect fit, with Fraser's balls in one hand and the base of his dick in the other, working in time with his mouth. Fraser's whole body was shuddering, hanging onto Ray by one shoulder and the top of his head, and then he was coming and Ray was swallowing and Fraser was collapsing with a long moan, more or less back onto his side of the bed.

Ray shifted around and kissed him, not even a little surprised when Fraser began sucking the taste of his come off Ray's tongue. Somehow he knew Fraser'd like that.

Fraser pulled back, incoherent words spilling from his mouth that resolved into, "I wish we had supplies. I thought, but I didn't dare hope, and now, Ray—" Fraser reached up for another fierce kiss. "Want to feel you, Ray."

Ray blinked and pulled away. "You hoped, as in you hoped I would—" He grabbed his erection and squeezed hard. "Fraser, do not say things like that."

"Lie back," Fraser said, guiding him down, and then the world was reduced to Fraser's mouth and tongue and lips and the hum in his throat and the grip of his hands and the breath ghosting over the tip of his cock each time Fraser pulled off to lick instead of suck, and god, this was better than he ever imagined, and then he was coming, coming, and Fraser had him. His body was sliding up Ray's and his hands were holding him steady, and then his face was against Ray's, his mouth against Ray's, and Ray was lapping his own come from Fraser's mouth, ecstasy written all over his face, and holy God if this wasn't the best thing he'd ever felt, he didn't know what was.


~


In the morning Ray woke up so warm that he almost felt hot, and that was confusing until he opened his eyes and found Fraser staring at him. Ray had slept nestled against Fraser's shoulder, which was surprising to him, but it was cozy. Ray leaned in to kiss him, and Fraser met him halfway in a kiss way more gentle than anything they'd done the night before.

"You okay?" Ray asked.

"Yeah," Fraser said, and Ray ran his hand over his prickly cheek until Fraser's jaw relaxed.

Ray grinned. "So, you afraid of how things are gonna look in the cold light of day?"

Fraser blinked in surprise, and Ray eased up on his elbow to place another kiss on Fraser's lips, just as gentle, but held it longer. Then he pressed his forehead against Fraser's and whispered, "I'm not going anywhere. Not unless you want me gone—"

"I wouldn't—"

"…and even then," Ray said, talking over him, "I'm not saying I won't fight you on it. Partners is partners."

Fraser smiled and returned the kiss, a little rougher, a little deeper. "I'm glad to hear it."

"Good." Another small, wet kiss. "Wanna get breakfast?"

Fraser tilted his head, eyes sparkling, and then shook it. "Mm-mm." This time Ray felt teeth tugging his lip and big hands on his ass, pulling him closer.

"Mmmh, good, that's good," Ray said, and slid over until he was straddling Fraser's legs and rubbing his balls up and down the length of Fraser's cock. "Wanna stay in bed all day?"

The look on Fraser's face was a little dazed and a lot happy, and Ray didn't need to wait for his answer.