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It's dark, plus they're in the tent, so it's not like he can see the snow, but Ray knows when he's being laughed at, and it's out there. Laughing at him.

"What's that, Ray?" Fraser says, voice muffled from the sleeping bag.

"Nuthin."

Fraser rolls over to face him. Two days they've been on this adventure, and if the last few nights have proven anything, it's that Fraser can't see in the dark. Ray can still feel him staring though.

"Can't sleep," Ray admits.

"Are you warm enough?"

He's never been so cold in his life. His eyelashes are like icicles. "Stupid question."

"Well, then," Fraser says briskly. "If you aren't opposed to moving closer, I've been trained in generating extra body heat. We'll have you nice and toasty in no time."

"Standard procedure?"

"Of course."

Of course. Fraser's already shared his sleeping bag and excess lung capacity, why not his subcretaceous fat layer. Ray's too cold for pride or lust, but greed gets the better of him. He wiggles closer. Fraser's a freak, but he's warm and he loves to share.

"Okay?" Fraser asks.

He can feel Fraser's breath on the back of his neck. Ray tugs his hat down over his ear and grunts.

"This reminds me of the summer I spent in the Aulavik Bird Sanctuary," Fraser says, and soon there's bird rustling and MK3A2 offensive hand grenades and a guy with one leg and Ray pulls his hat down even further. Fraser seems to think his stories have happy endings, but that's Fraser for you. It's a happy ending if you aren't dead at the end. Ray needs a little more happy than that.

"Hey," he interrupts, "I don't like where this is going. You got any stories without murder or mayhem or gimpy Inuits?"

Silence.

"Perhaps a poem then," Fraser says.

"Yeah, okay."

"Any requests? I'll admit a certain fondness for the Romantics, but I also have a passing familiarity with the poets of the Renaissance and eighteenth century." Fraser starts in on that library he calls a head, naming poets like Ray's going to go, "Hey, Wordsworth, yeah, went to school with him. Kid sucked at dodgeball, but boy could he rhyme."

Ray doesn't have much use for poems. He figures if you have something to say, just go right ahead and say it, don't bring a lot of fancy words and metaphors into it. Some people think music is a kind of poetry, but Ray doesn't buy that. Music makes sense to him in a bone-deep way. Poetry doesn't. He and Fraser had a fight about that once. Or he fought about it and Fraser engaged in a free exchange of ideas or whatever. They fought about that, too. It was a couple days before the jumping off the roof incident and the punching Fraser in the face situation. They fought about a lot of things that month.

"You choose," Ray says.

Fraser clears his throat, but it doesn't do any good because his voice is still raspy from yelling at the dogs and yelling at the scenery and yelling at Ray about the dogs and the scenery. "The world is charged with the grandeur of God," Fraser says, like it's absolutely true, no problem. "It will flame out, like shining from shook foil."

"Sure thing," Ray says, falling asleep. "You betcha."

 

 


The first time Ray ate dinner with Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP, the guy ordered a perfectly ordinary burger and fries. He especially seemed to like the fries, even if he was dipping them in mayo and going on about Belgian potato smugglers while his half-wolf begged under the table. At least Fraser wasn't totally from a different planet, like Ray first thought. As long as he didn't open his mouth, he might even pass for a normal person in his jeans and flannel shirt. The hat was always going to be a little weird, but it made him easy to find in a crowd. The brown leather jacket was a different story. It was old and worn and didn't seem like something Fraser would wear, but he was, and he looked hot in it. That might have been the first sign of trouble.

"When I came to, I found myself in Wyoming. I escaped from the crate and effected a citizen's arrest, though I suppose it couldn't accurately be called a citizen's arrest as I am not technically a citizen, but, in any event, the criminals were apprehended and the contraband was seized."

"Uh huh." Ray leaned back in the booth, chest aching where he took that bullet in the vest. Probably bruised a rib or something, but in the plus column, he'd driven a burning car into Lake Michigan and saved a crazy Canadian from a performance arsonist named Greta Garbo. It'd make a great story if he thought anyone would believe it.

"Illustrating the value of tasting everything that comes through customs."

"You and me are going to work out," Ray said.

Fraser beamed at him. "I'm pleased you think so, Ray."

"But we gotta get one thing straight. You are not gonna go around licking your way across Chicago. That is just not gonna happen."

 

 


Ray's trying not to be a drag, but there's only so many times he can fake excitement over whatever new rock or snowflake Fraser points out to him.

The third time Fraser says, "Look, Ray, a rock!" though freakishly using way more words than that, Ray makes a twirly motion with one finger and the expedition comes to a halt.

Fraser gets him lashed up to the snowshoes, gives him two minutes on how to walk in them and ten minutes on the history of the fur trade in North America. Ray lurches off without him just so he doesn't have to hear about it. Fraser shakes his head and mushes the dogs and Ray's stuck following the sled, snowshoes flapping. He spends a lot of time stepping on the frames and falling over at first, but eventually he gets the hang of it. It's a lot of work, but it's better than sitting in the sled with Fraser tuned to the all-rock all-the-time channel. After a while he gets a rhythm going, a line from that poem repeating in his head.

Have trod, have trod, have trod.

He should have stayed in the sled. He should have smiled at Fraser's rocks and stayed in the sled. Maybe then he'd be able to feel his legs. No part of his body was ready to snowshoe that far. Down to the corner store for some chips and beer, sure, but not halfway across the frozen Canadian outback after the super Mountie and his eight tiny reindeer. Ray's done, sprawled on top of the sleeping bag, trying to pull his long johns up without moving. He may die like this. Half in his pants. The Inuit'll tell stories about him.

Fraser's already changed and bedded down, lying on his stomach and writing in their adventure journal with a stubby pencil.

"Fraser, if I died, would you eat me?"

"Only under the most dire of circumstances," he says without looking up. "You're far too stringy for my tastes."

"That was one of your little jokes, wasn't it?"

"Yes."

Ray gets his pants on and squeezes into his side of the sleeping bag without knocking the lamp over. He wants an award or a merit badge or a promotion or something, because the tent's the size of a pop-tart, but Fraser's too busy with the journal. According to him, they're both supposed to be writing in it, but Ray's got nothing to say. He doesn't know what Fraser could possibly be scribbling in there night after night, but he's afraid it goes a little something like "Day One: Canada beautiful; Ray bitchy. Day Two: Canada still beautiful; Ray still bitchy. Day Three: Canada beautiful and serene; Ray accidentally eaten by bears."

Fraser starts a new page. Ray sticks his hands in his armpits and shivers a little until he warms up. As far as entertainment goes, it sucks. He'd rather watch curling. It's funny how things that seemed stupid back in Chicago start to make sense here at the ass end of fucking nowhere. No wonder Fraser thinks rocks are exciting.

"Hey," Ray says. "What'd that poem last night mean?"

Fraser pulls a Mrs. Janowicz on him. "Hm. What do you think it means?"

"I dunno. I look like poetry guy to you? I'm no good with that stuff. Just tell me the answer."

"It doesn't have an answer," Fraser says, being difficult. "Each person brings his or her own meaning to it. That's why poetry is so wonderful, Ray. There's no right or wrong, just individual interpretations."

That was a hedge if Ray'd ever heard one, and he'd heard a lot of greasy lawyers trying to make murder sound like a misdemeanor. "So what d'you get out of it?"

"Many things. Home. Exile and redemption. Love."

"Huh." Ray didn't get that at all. From what he remembers there was mainly a lot of talk about God and feet. "You sure we got the same poem?"

Fraser puts the journal away and turns the lantern off. Ray obviously said something wrong. It's a gift of his. Stella always said so.

"Fraser?"

"You can't expect the whole picture to come to you at once," Fraser says. "It takes time." He sighs. "It might help for you to think of the poem as a clue found in the course of an investigation. Take the lines one at a time and build your case from there."

"Yeah, okay, like evidence. I can do that. That is something I can do." Ray rolls over onto his back, bringing his fists up to his chest in case this calls for some shadow boxing. "Hit me."

Ray's about to kick Fraser to see if he fell asleep when he starts reciting the poem, and there's God and his feet, but there's other things going on too. Some stuff about oil and dirt. Ray gets it down on his mental chalkboard. The last line has a punch to it, Fraser sounding totally transported, like when they fell out of that plane and he was smiling like it hurt, saying he was home.

"Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings!"

That's it. Fraser goes quiet and Ray spars with the sleeping bag, just a little. Boom boom boom.

Fraser puts a stilling hand on his arm. "Good night, Ray."

"Ditto," Ray says, fists on his chest. He listens to Fraser breathe and tries to finagle a clue out of the poem, but it's not giving anything up.

Ray drifts, thinking about how the bathroom faucet was leaking before he left, wondering if Turnbull and the turtle are getting along. They probably eat grapes together and have long conversations through the glass. It makes him kinda sad. The turtle never talks to him, but the wolf does and maybe that makes up for it. He thinks about Fraser's poem, how it's kind of queer with that line about man's rod. He must be getting that wrong, because the God he grew up with wasn't cool with that sort of thing. Not like Ray who fooled around with a lot of guys while waiting for Stella and even once during Stella and that false alarm weekend when she said they were through. Lately he's been getting down with the Mountie every night. In his mind at least. God wouldn't approve, but God can jump in the lake because Ray's seen sin and it does not look like Benton Fraser.

Fraser's the kind of person that could make a guy believe in God. Nothing about Fraser could be bad. He's like that Holy Ghost, brooding over the world, all worried and in love. Fraser's fussy and noble and beautiful like nobody's business. Ray wants Fraser to hover over him with that worried frown, to kiss his shoulders and lick his knees, whisper dirty history lessons in his ear while they roll around on the floor. Ray didn't need a poem to tell him that. That, he already knew.

He falls asleep. He has this dream:

He and Stella are getting married in the park. They're barefoot, the ground humming beneath them. Ray wants to dance like the little plastic Ray on top of the cake but Stella says it's uncivilized. He puts the wine down and he goes to work.

He leaves his shirt at the door, clips his badge to his pants, puts his hard hat on. At work they wear yellow boots because the floor of the meat packing plant is covered with wet clumpy earth. They're used to the smell.

The conveyor belt starts and Ray gets out his gun. He has a sense of universal justice. He is tired and dirty. He hopes his end is as easy.

The wedding guests leave. The trucks come and go.

Then the alarm rings and Fraser steps out of the freezer, carrying his hat. He's in his dress reds and he's got wings, huge beautiful wings. White, like an angel. The sun rises behind him.

Ray is saved.

 

 


They told him the Mountie was weird. They told him the wolf liked fast food and chasing cars. They did not tell him he'd be getting his nose measured or his ears licked. He'd done a lot of crazy shit undercover, but wolf spit was definitely new territory.

"I thought we were going to Greta Garbo's place of residence?"

"I'm taking a shortcut," Ray said. All his life he'd lived in Chicago and Fraser, who'd grown up in a one-dog town and apparently had walked from the airport to the station, was giving him lessons on how to drive. Ray blew another stop sign just to piss him off.

"That was a stop sign, detective."

"It's okay, I'll stop twice as long at the next one," Ray said.

Fraser thought about that, arms crossed over his big red chest. "You know, normally you'd turn right at that intersection, but perhaps you're hungry. Your favorite restaurant is up on the left after all."

Minnie Zorba's had a blue awning and a giant inflatable octopus clinging to the roof.

"I like Greek food, huh?"

"Oh yes, very much so. You've even been known to eat it for breakfast."

"I am just so kooky," Ray said. "You never know with me."

Fraser sighed.

 

 


The next day, Ray's back in the sled on account of his thighs feeling like bubble gum. Fraser's pointing at something again. The guy just does not give up.

Ray stares out into the snow, wondering what it is Fraser sees. "Cool," he says, making an effort, still no idea what he's looking at.

Fraser puts the brakes on and Ray's sure this is it. He's about to be thrown to the polar bears. Instead, Fraser kneels next to him and points at the sky with his big eskimo mitten.

"Sight along my arm," Fraser says. "See that halo? It's a parhelion."

Ray does see it. "It's like a reflection of the sun!"

"That's exactly what it is," Fraser says, sounding pleased. "Parhelia are only visible when the clouds are cold enough to be ice rather than water and when the sun is near the horizon, on the same horizontal plane as the observer and the ice crystals. They occur in pairs. There's one on the other side as well."

"Crazy," Ray says, accidentally looking directly into the sun. He squeezes his eyes shut, but he can still see its bright ghost behind his closed eyelids.

"They're also called sun dogs," Fraser says. Dief barks.

"No, I said sun dog, not hot dog," Fraser explains. "Which you would know if you'd been listening. Atmospheric optical phenomena rarely have anything to do with pork products."

Ray laughs and opens his eyes. Fraser's standing, grinning, halo hovering right over his head. Ray remembers his dream.

When they make camp that evening, Ray actually feels like he's helping instead of just being in the way. The wolf's hanging around hoping for hot dogs but Fraser sends him packing with a stern word about his heritage. After dinner -- and Ray really needs to get some new blubber jokes, Fraser's built up an immunity to the old ones -- they crawl into the sleeping bag and Ray watches Fraser crack open the old adventure journal.

"What d'you write in there every day? Second verse, same as the first?"

"You're welcome to read it," Fraser says, sharpening the stubby pencil with his huge knife.

"Yeah," Ray says, "but you know me, 'm lazy."

"I know nothing of the sort."

"Plus I left my dictionary in my other mukluks."

"You are a trial," Fraser says, but he's smiling in the dim light. "If you must know, I record the weather, the dogs' health, our supplies, and my thoughts on our journey."

That last part sounds interesting, but Fraser finishes with the journal and turns the light off before Ray can say anything. Fraser can't see in the dark, but neither can Ray. He's got all these thoughts in his head and his feet are twitching, his hands in fists. He wishes he could see Fraser's familiar wind chapped face. It's the only thing standing between him and the hungry wilderness. If Ray messes this up, it's bears for him.

"Could you endeavor to keep the wiggling to a minimum?" Fraser asks.

"No," Ray says. "See, I figured out that poem."

"Ah."

"Or, it came to me in a dream, but the thing is, it's about second chances. Like you ruined what you had, or it got taken away from you and you figured that was the end, only, turns out, it's not."

"That's very astute, Ray."

"So, I think you're my second chance. My redemption or whatever." Ray tucks his hands into his armpits, feeling lame and anxious. Fraser's not saying anything, probably trying to find a way to let down Ray easy, tell him he got the poem all wrong, got Fraser's intentions wrong. That it wasn't a secret code, it was just a poem like how a cigar is sometimes just a cigar. It didn't mean anything. If Fraser doesn't throw him to the bears, Ray's going to have to do it himself.

"After--" Fraser swallows. "I had feared myself ruined for a great many things. Poetry and love among them."

"But?"

"But I was wrong. I learned I was not beyond hope. You came into my life, like the sun after a long, dark winter."

"If you make a Ray of sunshine joke, I will kill you."

Fraser's laugh is unexpected and Ray feels it like an earthquake, like a kick to the chest. Fraser's got him, arms wrapped tight around him, scratchy cheek pressed to his, reeling off poetry like someone had opened a window in his head. "And for all this, nature is never spent. There lives the dearest freshness deep down things, and though the last lights off the black west went, oh morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs!"

What he means is, it's love.

 

 


Ray spent his first morning at the 2-7 digging through old files and cruising around the station letting them get used to his ugly mug. He chatted up everyone he could find like he was running for office: Kowalski for Vecchio in '97. He poured himself coffee in every break room in the building, and then he tried out all the urinals. He was Vecchio, hear him roar. Somewhere around noon he started thinking maybe he should get Vecchio a date. So he tried that for a while, but he was too jittery and excited to do a good job of selling himself. He didn't know if Vecchio danced before, but he did now.

He practiced lounging in his chair and ordering Elaine around, Welsh hovering nervously in the doorway of his office. Everyone was calling him Ray like they didn't want to scare him off, like they weren't sure he knew who he was supposed to be. He answered the phone "Vecchio" so they'd know it was okay, but his phone wasn't ringing much so he answered Huey's a few times too.

He knew his stuff, even if he was still sketchy on some of the details. He kept forgetting his birthday and the year his dad died. He was okay with his license plate number, his second cousins, and his extra ex-wife. His real ex had called him the night before, equal parts wishing him luck and warning him away from her. It took less than two minutes. "Remember, Detective Vecchio and I have no reason to socialize. We don't even know each other." A sigh. "Don't do anything stupid." Stella still cared even if she wanted nothing to do with him.

Vecchio had an okay life, comfortable job, big noisy family, '71 Buick Riviera with the original paint job. It was common knowledge Vecchio was kind of insane when it came to the Riv. Ray'd already found and burned the note in the glovebox that said "DO NOT BLOW UP THIS CAR OR LET THE MOUNTIE DRIVE IT OR BLOW IT UP." Vecchio had a Mountie, too, somewhere.

Welsh'd warned him about Fraser, said the guy was a little weird, a good cop, but apt to leap off buildings and jump in front of speeding bullets. Word was Vecchio was tight with the Mountie, so along with the Riv, Ray had inherited a genuine Canadian with kung-fu grip and action wolf. The things he was hearing couldn't be true though. No one purposely traps himself in a bank vault and then floods it. No partner of Ray's was ever going to--

"Ray!" The Mountie was here.

Time to get this freak show on the road.