Ray sits in one of those hard-backed hospital chairs that are somehow the wrong size for everyone, tall or short. The room smells of watered-down bleach and old rubber, the rubberized green floor, a municipal smell for a municipal building. Beside him, Fraser is flat-out, unconscious. It should make him look smaller, but it doesn’t; he looks too big for the hospital bed. Like as soon as he can’t hide it with politeness, you can see that here is a big strong guy. Except now he's only half-alive and it’s all Ray’s fault.
Certainly, Ray thinks, leaning back in his chair, this is the worst thing he has ever done. There’s plenty to choose from: he’s lost people he loved, hurt people who loved him, he stood by and did nothing while Frank Zuko bounced a ball up and down on Marco Metroni’s face. He’s lost a wife, disappointed a father, fucked up cases against bad men that saw them loosed back onto the streets. But to shoot your own best friend? Boy, you’d have to be some piece of work.
Shooting people isn’t an especially desirable part of Ray’s job. He’s never been one of those cops who counts perps' injuries like notches on a bedpost, got one in the kneecaps today, I’d like to see him run from me again, haw haw. He grew up somewhere people, bodies, felt disposable, was seven the first time he saw someone badly hurt; Mike Rossi, an older kid from down the street, playing in the middle of the road. A mistimed ball, thinking he was quicker than he was, a Ford Mustang that drove on and never came back. Mike was fine, he was little, bounced, broken leg and that was all, but that moment when his body crumpled on the sidewalk - things like that don’t leave you. Ray takes no pleasure in hurting people, but carrying a weapon is part of the job, and how’s he supposed to do that after this?
How’s he supposed to do anything after this. Fraser’s eyelids flutter in sleep, but he doesn’t wake up. It’s been two hours since he came out of surgery - bullet too close to the spine, nothing we can do - but the doc said Ray shouldn’t be surprised if Fraser slept for ten or more, that kind of physical stress makes the body exhausted. He’s in for a long wait, but he can’t imagine going anywhere. Not til he knows Benny’s gonna be fine, which he will, because he has to. But still. Not til he knows.
And so Ray sits, watching every rise and fall of Fraser’s chest, like he’s counting them out.
He had these little cousins once, the Tocci brothers. They wanted to be magicians, they always used to bust out some overblown card trick at family parties, it was embarrassing. But they had this one trick, where one of them saw the card and the other one knew it, that was great. It was like they could read minds. Ray remembers, covert-drunk and teenage at some Christmas party, backing them into a corner and asking how it worked. And they were too smug not to tell him, even though it spoiled the magic.
They had a code, the older Tocci explained. They kept their breath in sync and counted it, like two watches running perfectly in time. Clicking your fingers on one breath meant a number, another meant a suit. Ray thought that was better than magic and he still does. To be able to read somebody’s mind, kind of. To know somebody that well, to be able to trust them to keep their breath in time with yours.
It’s pretty dumb, but he thought for a while that they kind of had that - him and Fraser.
It’s good, generally in life, to keep busy - or at least Ray’s always found that to be true. Good to keep on going and not wallow in emotion. But sitting by somebody’s hospital bed, waiting for them to wake up, there’s no busy to be had, it’s all sitting and thinking and remembering. Wishing a genie would turn up and swap their places. Lord, how much he’d rather have been shot than this.
Ray wonders if he ought to pray, but dismisses the thought out of hand; he’s been a good church-goer to keep Ma happy, but he’s never really felt it, deep down. He looks at his hands and tries to imagine what he’d say if God was listening. There’s something on his wrist. He washed his hands earlier, in the john, and this is a hospital, obviously, so - clean hands - but now he looks again and realizes the stain is dried blood. Jesus Christ. He rubs it away with his thumb and shuts his eyes.
Like this, with no other distractions, he sees it all over again: the chase across the concourse, the train pulling out of the station, Victoria's hand outstretched. It's like a Magic Eye that he can turn one way and another in his mind. Gun. No gun. Gun. He’s sure she had one, sure that’s what he saw. Or anyway he thinks he is.
Ray’s never had much call not to trust his own instincts. His own eyes and ears haven’t let him down before. But the last year or so, he’s had Fraser as a sort of back-up. ‘Cause if you can trust anyone’s instincts, anyone’s memory, it’s Fraser’s. The guy who doesn’t miss a thing, doesn’t get distracted, doesn’t do anything but tell the truth.
Ray thinks about everything Fraser got wrong, when it came to this woman. Everything he missed, all the ways he got distracted. And maybe, some little voice whispers in the back of Ray’s mind, everything Fraser didn’t tell him. Maybe that Fraser even lied to him about. No - Ray tries to unthink that as soon as he’s thought it. But still. It’s like Fraser’s been compromised. He hasn’t been himself. The thought is almost as scary, as impossible, as the bullet still lodged in his back.
I should be with her. Fraser had been delirious when Ray had got to him, sprawled out on the dirt of the concourse, the noise of the train still in their ears. But Ray had heard him. I should be with her. And he kept hearing those words, over and over, even when the ambulance sirens were blaring, when he was sitting numb outside the operating theater for what felt like years. Even as he kept trying to push the memory of them down, like nausea.
Crazy talk, delirious talk. Fraser should be here, he knows he should be here. Well not here, not in a hospital, but - here.
There’s a noise from Fraser’s bed. Soft, like sighing. Ray opens his eyes at once and jerks upright in his chair, but Fraser doesn’t seem to have moved. But then he makes the noise again. It’s weak, quiet, like a tired little exhale of breath at the end of a long day. When Ray stands up, he can see Fraser’s dark-rimmed eyes are still shut, but his lips are slightly parted.
‘Hey,’ says Ray, trying to keep his voice low and under control. He doesn’t want to wake Fraser if he’s still sleeping, but - ‘Benny. You there?’
Ray sees Fraser’s chest rise again, fall again. His right hand twitches, and Ray can see his eyes moving behind the delicate skin of his eyelids. Ray wonders if he’s supposed to get someone. He’s pretty sure Fraser shouldn’t be waking up, they said ten hours, though Fraser’s never been normal before. Fraser’s strong, isn’t he, so maybe he recovers faster than ordinary people.
‘Fraser?’ Ray says, quietly.
The fingers of Fraser’s hand curl together. Then he opens his eyes.
He looks like - and this is a weird thought - but all Ray can think is that Fraser looks like he’s not there. Like pulling a junkie in off the streets, lights are on but nobody’s home. Well - Fraser’s hooked up to painkillers, obviously. His eyes are glazed, and he can’t seem to focus, keeps blinking. Tries to look at the room and the bed he’s in, but somehow can’t see it.
The thing that Ray most wants to do is to reach out and touch him. Put his hand on Fraser’s shoulder and squeeze it. To bring the real Fraser back. But also to know he’s still physically there. To feel that Fraser’s skin is still warm, his blood’s still pumping, despite everything. But that seems like a bad idea, when Fraser’s hurt. What if Ray hurts him more, or makes something worse, dislodges something?
So instead, he says, ‘Hey, Benny. It’s me.’
Fraser’s strange, absent eyes move in his direction, and then Fraser is looking up at him, and Ray knows, absolutely, that Fraser doesn’t know who he is. There’s a feeling like an ice-hold hand squeezing around his heart. But then a faint line appears between Fraser’s brows, and he blinks some more, and - that feeling passes. He still doesn’t look right, but at least he’s looking Ray in the eye like he’s seen him before. Then he slides his gaze from side to side. His eyes go to the machine he’s hooked up to, the cracked beige hospital ceiling, the sky outside the window behind Ray’s back.
Fraser lets out a breath, with that little sighing noise again. He swallows. Barely loud enough to hear, he says, ‘Oh.’ Then he closes his eyes again.
I should be with her.
Ray stares at Fraser for a long, horrible second, and then he goes to fetch the nurse.
Their little biplane (is it a biplane? Ray’s never been good at that stuff. Anyway, it’s a tiny fucking plane) touches down just after 3pm. From here, it’s a ninety minute drive to the cabin, followed by a twenty minute hike; or, according to Fraser, the whole journey can be achieved by ‘a sixty-five minute sled’, the route over the mountains apparently being more direct. Ray wonders how often he’s done this journey by sled, and how that works. The thought of Fraser touching down, thanking all of the air hostesses and lifting a ‘long stay’ parking permit off the snout of a husky makes him laugh. Fraser looks up questioningly, lifting a bag onto his shoulder.
‘It’s, so, in a normal airport,’ says Ray. ‘You get a - hey nevermind. Remind me where the hire place is?’
Fraser points. Ray remembers it from his last trip, a couple of years back: if he was being generous, he’d call it a stand, but if he was being realistic, he’d call it a shack. This is a country built on shacks. And he’s voluntarily spending two weeks in one, freezing his nuts off, when he could be on a beach somewhere. He must be crazy.
The assistant gets Ray’s signature and leads them out to a big, off-road looking Chrysler in the car park. She’s middle-aged, bored-looking, lipstick worn off after her lunch break and not reapplied. ‘This okay for you boys?’ she says, handing Ray the keys.
‘Sure,’ says Ray.
‘It looks absolutely perfect,’ says Fraser, reading her name badge. ‘Donna.’
‘There’s room in the back for your dog,’ she says.
‘Hear that, Diefenbaker?’ The wolf, who looks as apprehensive about this trip as Ray feels, doesn’t meet Fraser’s eyes.
‘And chains,’ she adds. ‘In the trunk. In case the weather turns.’
‘Is that likely?’ asks Ray. ‘In the middle of summer?’
‘Thank you kindly,’ says Fraser.
‘Have fun,’ says Donna, and goes back inside with a wave.
‘She didn’t answer my question,’ says Ray.
Fraser, ignoring him, opens the trunk. They stow their bags, let the wolf into the backseat, and then they’re off, the three of them, Ray easing the car out of the lot and away. It’s weird to remember the first and last time he drove this same route, when Fraser was some guy he’d just met. A twenty minute hike in a neck brace, what the hell was he thinking? He glances at Fraser, who’s looking out of the window with a small, unreadable smile on his face.
Of course, Ray reflects - merging seamlessly onto an underpopulated freeway - he mainly suggested this plan out of guilt. He’d been casting around for things that might help, back when Fraser was convalescing and miserable and Ray would have done anything to make amends. Then there seemed no way to back down. You can’t break a deathbed promise, and hilariously (is it hilarious? Ray isn’t sure whether he’s far enough away from all this to have a sense of humour yet), Fraser’s never suggested taking a bullet might be enough, and Ray no longer has amends to make.
Maybe Fraser just plain wants them to go. Maybe he thinks it’ll be good for them, or maybe he actually does need the help. Who the fuck knows what the Mountie is thinking, ever? The point is, there’s no turning back now.
‘No,’ says Fraser. Ray looks across at him, watching Diefenbaker in the rear-view; the wolf’s up on his back legs, pawing at the windows. ‘Lie down,’ Fraser enunciates carefully. Dief looks kind of annoyed, but does as he’s told.
Fraser meets Ray’s eyes, and shakes his head. ‘He’s excited to see the snow,’ he says.
Ray’s never sure how much he buys all that this is what the wolf is thinking stuff. Diefenbaker’s smart, as animals go, but he doesn’t think the same way people do. How could he? He’s a dumb beast. Not that Ray would say that to his face.
‘Sure,’ he says, and smiles to himself. Maybe it’s Fraser who’s happy to see snow.
‘Boy,’ says Ray, dropping his bags on the ground. ‘She really did a number on this place, huh?’
He knew the cabin was gonna be in bad shape - people don’t tend to use the phrase ‘burned down’ lightly - but somehow he hadn’t been prepared for this, the scale of it. Some kind somebody’s stretched a tarp over the wreckage, protecting whatever’s left of Fraser’s dad’s stuff, but the visible remains of the wood walls are blackened, more rubble than house. They’re basically gonna have to start all over again: foundations only, rebuild the place almost from scratch. Ray feels tired just looking at it.
He glances at Fraser, who’s staring at the ruined cabin with another one of his unreadable expressions, brow slightly furrowed, saying nothing. But Ray can imagine what he might be thinking. He feels a spike of anger in his chest.
This woman nearly got you killed , he wants to say, she shot your dog, murdered her former partner in cold blood, plotted to get us both arrested, would happily have wrecked your entire life and very nearly managed it. (The Magic Eye. Gun. No gun. And Fraser on the platform, ready to throw everything away.) He wants to say, Enough already. Stop thinking about her.
It’s a mean, misplaced little thought, and Ray stamps on it. Fraser’s probably just sad, and too much of a Mountie to show it. This was his dad’s place, after all - it must be weird to see it like this. Ray wonders what, if anything, he should say. Some people always seem to know. He wishes he was one of them.
‘I guess we should, uh, get set up?’ he says. ‘Before it gets dark.’
Fraser shakes his head, once. ‘It’s summer, Ray,’ he says. ‘It’ll be light for hours.’
This whole thing is beginning to feel like, to put it mildly, not one of Ray’s best ideas. Then Fraser turns to look at him and smiles. ‘Let’s see how the dog shed’s fixed up, shall we?’ He sets off up the hill.
Ray scrabbles to pick his bags back up, but Fraser - who never put his down, because he’s Superman - is off and away. Ray found the hike here more taxing than he’d want to let on. The weight of the bags hurt his shoulder, which still twinges at him now and then, probably unsurprisingly. But, you know, there’s no complaining about a bullet wound you deserved, right?
When he reaches the shed, Fraser’s already inside. It’s uphill from the remains of the cabin, with a dirt floor and thin wood panelling for walls. Great, thinks Ray, another fucking shack. It’s out of the wind, just about, but not really designed for people to sleep in, only big arctic dogs with thick arctic coats. There’s an old jeep parked in the middle, which Fraser is patting on the side like it’s an old friend. Dief’s sniffing around at the walls, but there are no other dogs to be seen - though their smell lingers, not especially pleasantly.
A number of cheap cracks come to mind, but Ray gamely ignores every single one. He already regrets mentioning Victoria - even if he didn’t do it by name, he could feel the shadow it cast between them right away. They haven’t spoken about her for a while. Sometimes, Vecchio, it’s best to keep your big mouth shut.
‘Cozy,’ he says.
Ray peels a chunk of bread off with his hands and passes the loaf back to Fraser. He’s ravenous from the walk and the cold - not that it’s exactly cold here, but still. Colder than Chicago in summer. There’s snow up on the mountain-tops, if not on the ground, and they aren’t very far from the mountain-tops anyway. He thinks of the chains in the back of the car, ‘in case the weather turns’, and shudders at the thought.
Soon after they arrived, Fraser disappeared for half an hour and came back with dirt on his face and an armful of logs, which he dropped unceremoniously on the floor. He got a fire going with almost supernatural speed, while Ray sat and watched, feeling like a little kid taken out for the weekend by his big brother. He’d wanted to say, Hey, show me how you did that? But it felt dumb to ask, embarrassing to admit that he didn’t already know. He thought of Ma saying, ‘Be good to your little sister, hey? Come on, look at that face, take her out with you,’ while six-year-old Frannie held onto her skirts in tears. That’s me, he thought.
With the jeep wheeled outside, there’s plenty of space in the shed for them, their rolled-out bedding, the wolf and the fire, its smoke running out of the doors and windows. It gets in the eyes a bit, but it’s good to be out of the wind, and at least the smell masks the lingering scent in the shed, eau de old wet dogs .
They’ve cooked a pan of beans and sausages, like actual cub scouts - or rather, Fraser has. He carried most of the supplies on the hike, he’s produced the pan and the cutlery from nowhere, and he spoons the food out, now, into two enamel bowls. None of this does anything to assuage Ray’s feeling of being surplus to requirements. But hey, tomorrow is a new day, right? Fraser has two axes. Ray’s gonna chuck so much wood, local people will write songs about it.
‘These are nifty,’ he says, tapping the bowl with his spoon. ‘You pack these?’
Fraser sits down on the other side of the fire, dipping bread into his beans. ‘No,’ he says evenly, mouth full. ‘Got ‘em from the cabin.’
Ray double takes. ‘Jeez Benny, you already looked under the tarp?’ he says, fighting hard to flatten his wounded pride. He’d imagined them doing it together, the first morning. Making a plan. ‘We’ve only been here twenty minutes.’
‘We arrived three and a half hours ago,’ says Fraser, unnecessarily. Then he blinks, and there’s something in his face. Shutters. ‘And I wanted,’ he goes on, same reasonable voice, but slower. ‘I wanted to, uh - to rip the plaster off, so to speak.’
Idiot. ‘Yeah. Yeah, course you did, Benny. How was it?’
Unexpectedly, Fraser smiles - a small, tight smile, but still. ‘You were right,’ he says. ‘She really did a number on it.’
They eat the beans with bread and cheese, and oranges for after. Ray peels his, the pith getting stuck under his fingernails, and watches as Fraser slices his own orange up with a dangerous-looking knife. ‘You take that on the plane?’ says Ray.
‘This is a tool, Ray,’ Fraser replies, taken aback. ‘It’s not a weapon.’
‘Yeah? Take that out in any bar in Chicago and see where it gets you.’ He eats the last piece of his orange, grinning. ‘They’d have me arresting you before you could say Jack Robinson.’
Fraser passes an orange slice to the wolf, and says nothing.
They’ve got enough supplies to last a few days. Then one of them will hike back and drive out to a local town - or they can see what fish they can catch in the river first. ‘It’s a good time of year to take a boat out,’ Fraser said, when they talked about it.
‘Because the river’s made of water and not ice for once?’
When they’ve finished eating, Ray says, ‘Now what?’
‘Now what, what?’
‘Well now what are you supposed to do? What happens in this bit of camping?’
‘I thought you said you’d been camping before.’
‘Yeah,’ says Ray, evasive. ‘But only, you know. With my dad. He maybe wasn’t the best at knowing what you’re meant to do.’
‘There’s no meant to about it, Ray. There aren’t rules to this kind of thing.’
‘Okay, okay.’ Sometimes there’s just no reasoning with Fraser. Ray wants to say: Are you gonna be like this the whole time? But he manages not to. Instead he says, ‘Hey! Guess what I brought?’
He has to dig around to find it, but there it is, all in one piece - a two-third-full bottle of scotch, packed back home, in a moment of inspiration, inside some rolled-up shirts. ‘Drinking,’ he says. ‘That’ll kill an hour.’
‘Oh, no thank you, Ray.’
‘What’ve you gotta keep a clear head out here for? I know every time we’ve ever been out to dinner, someone’s busted in through the front window or, you know, come outta the kitchen with a meat cleaver, yelling at their ex-wife, or skipped on their bill or whatever. But that’s Chicago.’
‘All the same, Ray. Thank you. But no.’
That saves on finding glasses, anyway. ‘Okay, well,’ says Ray, tucking the bottle under his arm and heading towards the door. ‘I’m gonna maybe go spend some time in nature. As we’ve come all the way out here.’ But mainly he wants to get away from Fraser.
In his more optimistic moments, Ray thought this fortnight might be like two buddies on a fishing trip. Something like that, anyway. Men doing manly stuff in the great outdoors. Instead he feels like an intern, following Captain Scott around - or maybe not Captain Scott. Was he the one that got himself killed? Anyway, whatever, this is Fraser’s territory and it feels insane to have invited himself along.
Ray sits down under a tree full of noisy birds - maybe they’re confused about the time of day too - and then uncaps the bottle and takes a swig. He doesn’t even like scotch, he just took it from the cabinet at home (could be Tony’s? Ah well), because it seemed like the kind of thing you might pack for a walking-hiking-fishing type of trip with your buddy.
‘Embarrassing,’ he mutters under his breath, and screws the cap back on.
The sky’s still light but they’ll have to go to sleep soon. All the birds in the tree are yelling. ‘Yeah yeah,’ he says to them.
‘Nightjars,’ says Fraser. Ray looks round. ‘Mind if I sit out with you for a while?’
‘No, no. Be my guest.’
Fraser sits down across the way. They listen to the nightjars, watching the unchanging sky.
‘Hey Benny,’ Ray says eventually.
‘When the hell does it get dark up here, anyway?’
‘About, oh,’ Fraser pauses, checking his watch. Ray can tell what he’s doing without needing to look. ‘About 3am, I’d say, at this time of year.’
Ray sighs. ‘Jeez,’ he says.
‘Absolutely,’ says Fraser.
‘The people who live here must go crazy.’
‘The long hours of darkness in winter are generally thought to be more difficult.’
‘Yeah? I can see that.’
They’re silent for a while. Most of the birds have flown away, to yell at somebody else. It’s quieter now.
‘Ray,’ says Fraser.
Fraser pauses, and suddenly Ray wonders if they’re gonna talk about it, here, under the big Canadian sky, not looking at each other. Seems like if they were gonna talk about everything, this might be the place. Ray, a little panicked, wonders what he wants to say, if this is the only chance to get it right. He hears himself speaking in his mind, like he’s rehearsing it, but what he hears is: I don’t even know if I believe that I believed she had a gun anymore, Benny. The Magic Eye keeps changing and I just don’t know. It’s the worst thing I ever did in my life, but when I imagine you getting on that train with her and going away forever, I think maybe I’d do it again.
‘I’m going to turn in,’ says Fraser. Ray looks round and their eyes meet. ‘I’d like to be up at dawn.’
Ray had just about got to the place in their imagined conversation where Fraser breaks this bottle of scotch over his head. He blinks.
‘Yeah, okay Fraser,’ he says vaguely, not getting up. ‘Sleep well.’
The next morning, after breakfast, they walk to the edge of the woodland that backs on to the cabin, and Fraser inspects the trees. He curls his hand halfway around some of the trunks, like he’s measuring them, although when he finds one he apparently likes, he produces a tape measure and actually does measure it, so maybe he was just - touching them. Ray hangs back, watching, not sure how to help, not wanting to get in the way.
‘All right,’ says Fraser, eventually. ‘Let’s start with this one.’
‘Yeah,’ agrees Ray. ‘Looks great.’ It looks exactly the same as all the others.
Ray has an axe in his hands. It’s heavier than he was expecting, and the blade looks wicked sharp. He kind of feels like someone’s going to come and take it away and tell him he’s not allowed, which is stupid, because back home Ray carries a weapon everywhere he goes, and also the only person here is Fraser, who gave him the axe in the first place.
Ray hefts it up into both of his hands, gripping the handle, and looks expectantly at Fraser for lengthy axe-usage-lesson-via-an-Inuit-story part one. But what Fraser actually does is pull out a pair of thick yellowish gloves that are tucked into his belt, and hold them out to Ray.
‘You should wear these,’ he says.
‘Sure.’ Ray takes them.
‘Now,’ says Fraser. ‘Before the first blow to the trunk, the most important thing to establish is which way you want the tree to fall. In this case - ’ he gestures from the tree towards where they’re both standing - ‘outwards, of course, onto the clear land.’
‘So we should be hacking at it from the other side?’
‘Actually, we need to start on this side and chop about a third of the way through. Only then should you move to the other side to complete the process, from a little higher up. Which will create a hinge for the tree to fall in this direction - do you see?’
‘Uh, sort of.’ Look, if cavemen have been cutting down trees since the dawn of time, how hard can it be? Ray guesses he’ll get the hang of it once they get started.
‘And you want to go in at a forty-five degree angle,’ Fraser says. ‘I’ll show you - here.’
Ray takes a step out of the way as Fraser lines himself up in front of the tree, and prepares to swing his axe backwards. Then Ray says, ‘Wait,’ and Fraser pauses, looking back over his shoulder. ‘Don’t you need gloves too?’
Fraser looks surprised. ‘Ah - well, I’m used to it.’
‘Hey, I’m no tourist here. If the pros don’t wear gloves, show me how to do it without gloves.’
‘It’s no pre-judgment on your abilities, Ray. It’s simply that if you don’t wield an axe regularly, you’re far more likely to develop blisters.’
‘Wield an axe regularly,’ Ray mutters. ‘Don’t see you wielding an axe regularly in Chicago, either, Benny - you might’ve lost your immunity there.’
Fraser gives him a look that might be amused or might be annoyed - hard to tell, sometimes. ‘I’ll be fine, Ray,’ he says, and then he turns back to the tree, swings his axe out, and buries it in the trunk with a loud thunk.
Fraser shows him how to make a notch in the side of the tree that way, which he does so well and so precisely it makes Ray almost embarrassed in advance to take his own first swing - but actually, when he does, it’s okay. The axe does a lot of the work for you, what with the weight and the blade, and all you really need is aim, which Ray isn’t too bad at. There’s something about the feel of the metal sinking into the wood that’s immediately satisfying, makes you want to keep going so you can feel it again.
They take it in turns with the axes, moving round to the other side of the tree after a while, and soon enough they’re working in silence, Fraser no longer needing to tell Ray what to do. It occurs to Ray that maybe this is exactly what he’s been missing, him and Fraser, one-two, in sync. When the tree finally falls - creaking over on its hinge in the direction Fraser had said, then crashing to the ground good and loud - Ray actually throws his hands in the air, and gives a little whoop. Fraser turns to look at him, and he smiles.
‘Good work,’ he says, and Ray feels better than he has in months.
They keep at it for the rest of the morning. They do one more tree together, before Fraser says they can split up - ‘More efficient,’ - and moves off further along the tree-line. Ray feels almost disappointed, but then again he guesses Fraser trusts him not to fuck up without supervision, so that’s something. And before long he gets kind of into the zen of it, the repetitive motion. Arms working, legs braced, mind strangely empty. It’s somehow quite peaceful.
After a while Ray’s arms start to ache, but Fraser hasn’t reappeared to call time. The last thing Ray wants to do is give up early, so he grits his teeth and keeps going, until his shoulder really starts to smart. Well - it’s not like he has a bullet still in there. His bullet, they got out. And by then he’s almost all the way through the trunk he’s hacking away at, so he keeps going until it falls, with another satisfying creak-crash. Only then does Ray drop the axe on the ground, feeling his arms sing with relief.
Now he’s stopped, he realizes how hungry he is. Okay, screw pride, this must be lunch.
He can still hear Fraser’s axe thunking away in the distance, so he follows the sound of it along the tree-line to find him. Not that he needs to, because it’s immediately obvious where Fraser is: he’s basically hacked away a clearing, and when Ray gets to him he’s surrounded by all these long dark trunks on the ground, like he’s the last person left standing in a shoot-out. He’s brought down maybe three or four times as many trees as Ray, which is - well, obviously he’s better and quicker at it, but it still seems like he’s been going crazy fast.
Fraser doesn’t turn round at the sound of Ray approaching, although Ray knows he can hear him, because Fraser can hear someone sneeze from three blocks away. Maybe he’s in the zen-zone too, what with the easy way his axe is going back and forth, the almost figure-eight motion he’s got going on as he chops upward and then downwards to make his little notch.
‘Hey,’ Ray says. ‘How you getting on?’
On his next swing, Fraser buries his axe a foot lower in the trunk, far enough in that he can let go and leave it there. Then he turns around. Ray almost double-takes. Fraser is breathing through his mouth, chest heaving, and he’s red in the face. After a second of steadying his breath, he raises one arm to wipe his forehead with his sleeve. He looks something like Ray felt five minutes ago, which is to say he looks exhausted, which is to say it looks all wrong on him. Ray’s actually not sure he’s seen the Mountie break a sweat before. And suddenly Ray’s thinking of the hospital bed again, Fraser’s beaten-thin skin when he was lying there motionless in those first weeks, and the little grimaces of frustration Ray used to catch on his face when he was having to heft his own legs around like hunks of meat.
But what did Ray expect, Fraser was gonna build a whole cabin looking like he’d just woken up from a nice refreshing nap? Well, yeah, maybe. And Fraser knows how to do this kind of work, obviously, knows how not to hurt himself doing it, knows his own limits. Only - surely those limits change when there’s a bullet in your spine, huh? How does Fraser know where they are now?
‘Whoa, Benny,’ Ray says, looking round at the little graveyard of trees they’re standing in, ‘this is only day one, you know? Don’t go too hard on yourself.’
Fraser goes through a series of difficult-to-read Fraser expressions, and doesn’t say anything in reply, though he does close his mouth.
‘All I’m saying is, you get yourself hurt up here, I am not the one person you wanna be stuck with. You gonna do yourself any damage, maybe wait until we’re back somewhere with a doctor I can call, a hospital I can drive you to, huh?’
‘That won’t be necessary, Ray,’ says Fraser, sounding only a little out of breath. ‘Besides, we only have two weeks to get as much work done as possible. I’d say that time is of the essence.’
Wow, well, what’s that if not a dig at Ray’s own pace? Then Ray realizes no, it can’t be, because Fraser hasn’t seen how much he’s got done yet, he doesn’t know how fast or slow Ray’s going. Ray rubs his forehead, tries not to get worked up. Nobody but the two of them up here; the worst thing he can do is start taking things the wrong way, hearing ammunition in Fraser’s words that isn’t there, if they’re going to avoid driving each other crazy.
‘And I, if you’ll remember, have possession of your gun, which you are not licensed to carry here,’ says Fraser, raising his eyebrows, ‘so I think my chances of serious injury are much lowered, don’t you?’
Jeeeeez, well, there’s no way to misunderstand that. Ray closes his mouth and looks down, not angry because he guesses he has no right to be angry, but - knocked sideways, a little, even though Fraser’s kind of joking, not that it’s funny.
‘Let’s go back for lunch,’ says Fraser, and he turns and digs his axe out of the tree.
A few nights later, Ray wakes up and the shed feels wrong. It’s the instinct of waking up on a stakeout - something’s different, something changed while I was sleeping - the feeling that maybe you shouldn’t have been asleep in the first place. Fidgeting, he remembers where he is, trying to get comfortable on the roll-out mat. It’s pitch dark, so it’s sometime between 3 and, what, 6am? He was dreaming about something, is that what’s making him feel weird? Fraser, and water. The images get away from him. Then he sits up, because that’s it, that’s what’s missing. Fraser.
As soon as Ray knows, it’s obvious: it’s not like Fraser’s a noisy sleeper, but a room with nobody else in it feels different, and there’s no huff of breath, no nothing.
‘Dief?’ Ray whispers. Then he remembers: the wolf can’t hear him, apparently.
He’s pretty sure he’s alone in here, the most alone he’s ever been In Nature. Ray feels a wave of something like panic. Obviously, while he was sleeping, Fraser’s Mountie Senses started tingling and now he and Dief are in pursuit of some hardened ice-criminal, who Fraser’s going to track for three or four days across land and water. And when he gets back, Ray thinks, I’ll somehow have got myself killed, despite having the shed and the supplies and the car a twenty-minute hike away. Probably I’ll have died of embarrassment.
Ray sits up. Everything’s obviously fine, but - and this is stupid, but - what if it isn’t? What if something really has happened? You never know with Benny, he could find a crime in progress at a children’s soft play area. What if he needs help?
Ray shuffles out of his sleeping bag, throws his boots and sweater on through sense-memory alone and feels his way out of the shed. It’s so dark, he can’t see his hand in front of his face, but once he swings the door open, there’s a silvery light from the full moon, or nearly full anyway. With no streetlights, that makes a big difference, apparently.
Ray steps out onto damp grass, thinking that this is the first time he’s seen night - proper night, as in actually dark - since they left Chicago. Weird.
‘Benny?’ he calls, voice low. ‘Hey, Benny?’
Ray looks round. Fraser and Diefenbaker are sat on the grass up behind the dog shed. Fraser’s got his sleeping back unzipped, around his shoulders, though it’s not that cold. Maybe it was colder when he came out here. Ray wonders how long ago that was.
‘Can’t sleep?’ he says, going over.
Fraser shakes his head, though he’s holding what looks suspiciously like a mug of coffee.
‘Any chance that isn’t helping?’
Fraser laughs. ‘Decaf,’ he says. ‘Do you want to sit down?’
Ray wants to say, Jeez, long days, pushing hard, only a couple of months after you nearly died, you really should be trying to rest. Even you, Superman. But he bites his tongue and keeps it bitten. If he thought it would make any difference, he’d say it. Even if it meant bringing things up, Things Of Which We Do Not Speak. But he can’t be bothered to bicker. Maybe he can find some way to get Fraser to ease up on himself tomorrow.
‘Yeah,’ he says, and sits. The wolf’s dozing between them. ‘Hey, big sky.’
Neither of them are in a hurry to talk more. Ray looks at the stars. He has that little-kid-out-with-his-big-brother feeling again, thinks about asking Fraser to point out some of the constellations - because obviously he knows them, obviously - but it feels embarrassing to ask. Before he met Fraser, Ray’s chief relationship to this kind of outdoorsy cub scout bullshit was eating trail mix in front of the TV on Sunday afternoons. But he likes it here. He hadn’t noticed himself starting to like it here, but he does. He likes it.
‘This is actually very nice,’ he says. He looks over at Fraser. In the moonlight, he can just about make out the smile on his face.
‘Did you know, Ray,’ he says, ‘how many ancient cultures link the moon with the feminine divine? Artemis, Diana, Selene, Chang’e - all female goddesses of the moon.’
It’s hard to know how to reply to that. ‘No, Fraser, I did not,’ he manages.
‘But the Inuit believe the Moon to be a young man - Igaluk - and the sun, his sister Malina. According to the legend, after she caught him making love to her - or forcing himself upon her, depending on which - ’
‘After he did what?’
‘Malina ran, with her brother in pursuit; they ran so fast that they took off into the sky, where he became the Moon and she, the Sun.’
‘Wow,’ says Ray. ‘Way to ruin a view.’ But he doesn’t really mind. Fraser telling one of his weird Inuit stories is nice, actually. It feels normal. And besides, sitting out here like this, telling tales, this is the wilderness real deal. He’ll get his Stories Round A Campfire badge for sure. And then he laughs at himself for thinking everytime that they’re doing something: hey, we’re really doing this now, just like in the movies.
‘What?’ says Fraser.
Ray shakes his head. ‘You know what, Benny? I never did go camping as a kid. Not once.’
‘No?’ At least he has the decency to feign surprise.
‘No,’ says Ray. He pauses, rubs his eyes. Campfire stories. Might as well. ‘So I'm ten, right? And I get this idea in my head that I want to go camping. I don’t know where I got it. Out of a book or something. But my dad - ’
They’ve been there nearly a week when Fraser suggests they hike up to the nearest river to fish. Or, actually, he suggests that he can head up there himself early the next morning and be back in time for lunch - ‘It won’t be any trouble, Ray, and you could sleep in for once,’ - but Ray obviously nixes that idea immediately, even though he thinks after this vacation he might need another vacation just to sleep through.
So Fraser packs them a lunch, and a bunch of other odds and ends just in case, even though the river’s only an hour or so away - first aid kit, matches, extra clothes, even a flashlight, just for a half-day fishing trip in a place where it barely gets dark. It’s the kind of preparation that Ray usually thinks is Fraser being crazy, but he thinks again of ‘in case the weather turns’, and guesses it’s not. Up here, where nature’s ready to pin you to the mat any moment if you’re not careful, but you can go for days, weeks, maybe months not seeing another person - well. It kind of makes sense of Fraser. Why he’s got this freaky ability not to be hurt by the world around him, and why he’s got no idea how not to be hurt by the people in it.
Fraser goes to check the tarp over the cabin is secure before they set off, and Ray quickly unpacks some of Fraser’s big hiking bag, looking for heavy stuff - the water bottle, the flashlight - and shoves them into his own bag instead. All Fraser gave him to carry was some of the food and the fishing net, and Ray’s got plenty of room to spare. Well, if Fraser’s going to keep doing his silent martyr thing, Ray guesses he’s going to have to silently undercut it.
Ray’s sweating a little by the time they make it to the river - the bag is tugging on his shoulder - but Fraser is in good spirits, pointing out trees and birds, taking Dief to task for chasing rabbits. He does seem to be enjoying himself here. Which he should be, obviously, this is Fraser’s whole thing, going to places with no running water and making life as hard for himself as possible, for fun. Even by his own standards, though, Fraser’s been pushing himself hard all week.
But then they say exercise is good, isn’t it, if you’re - having a hard time. Ray can hear the words in monotone, from some deathly boring seminar he was barely conscious in: Physical exercise is encouraged as part of the recovery process in those experiencing stress or depression in the aftermath of trauma. But more obvious than that are the kind of guys who go to the gym whenever their head of steam builds up, beat up on a punching bag until all the anger’s out, or at least until they’re too tired to feel it. So maybe Ray’s worrying too much. Maybe Fraser knows exactly what he’s doing. He usually does.
He knows what he’s doing when they get to the river, anyway. They’ve brought wading gear - which stayed in Fraser’s pack - Fraser saying this part of the river is too shallow and narrow for a boat, after all. And before long Fraser has them both in the water, Dief yipping excitedly at them from the bank, Ray with his legs planted firmly at an angle as the river washes up to his knees, determined not to fall over and have Fraser fish him out.
‘The traditional method of fishing in these rivers, of course, is netting. Nets can be set for the whole summer, and salmon harvested regularly from them throughout the migratory season. But if we only want to catch a small number of fish, a rod is more than sufficient.’
Fraser only has one fishing rod, which he’s currently casting out along the water, but Ray has the net. The end of the line lands in the water with a little splash. It begins to drift lazily back in their direction, Fraser nudging its path from side to side now and then. Ray watches, slightly hypnotized. He guesses he’d be straight on the line if he was a fish.
‘You know what,’ says Fraser, out of nowhere, ‘if I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it.’
‘What?’ says Ray, looking up in surprise. He feels on the defensive, even before he tries to figure out what Fraser’s talking about - whether this is, suddenly, Fraser Talking About It - but it doesn’t make any sense, doesn’t seem to latch on to any of the things they’ve been so busy not talking about.
Fraser turns to face him. ‘What? No, Ray, not you,’ he says.
Ray shakes his head, weirded out. Fraser starts conversations like this with the wolf, sometimes, but Dief’s behind them, so how’s he gonna lip-read?
‘I’m not giving you my opinion,’ Ray says, anyway, ‘though if you want it, I can tell you that this is maybe the least exciting thing you’ve submerged me in water for in the past year. It’s okay, but it’s slow, huh?’ Ray squints up at the sky, where there’s a bird wheeling overhead. ‘You know I gave up two weeks in Miami for this,’ he adds. ‘Coulda been in much warmer water.’
‘We’ve got plenty of work done, actually,’ says Fraser. ‘No thanks to you, I should point out.’
‘Jeez, Fraser,’ says Ray, genuinely stung. ‘I’m trying my best here.’
Fraser, whose eye seems to be on the opposite bank of the river, looks round at Ray again. His expression clears. ‘Yes, of course. That’s exactly what I’m saying. I think we’ve made excellent progress.’
‘Well what do you mean by that, then, no thanks to me?’
‘If you don’t like it, I can always burn it down again,’ says Fraser, rather acidly, his gaze back on the opposite bank.
Ray frowns. ‘Benny, you feeling okay? You getting a fever or something?’
But before Ray can wade in Fraser’s direction and check him out, Fraser shouts, ‘Hah!’ and starts pulling on his line in little tugs.
‘What, what, you got a bite?’
‘Whoa, that was fast.’ Ray, clutching the net in both hands, starts trying to push himself through the water in the direction of the end of Fraser’s line. ‘Well, it wasn’t, I feel like we’ve been here for hours, but I thought we’d have to wait til it felt like days before we actually got anything - ’
‘Stay back, Ray,’ says Fraser. ‘If you produce the net now, the fish will panic.’
Ray stops moving, disappointed. He’d thought this was his big moment. ‘Damn right it’s gonna panic. We’re gonna kill it and eat it. Seems fair enough.’
‘Well, yes, but there’s no need to make the process any harder on the fish than necessary.’ Fraser is frowning, still doing these careful little pulls on the line. ‘We need to tire it out first. I’ll tell you when and where to go in with the net.’ He looks up at Ray, and smiles. ‘Trust me.’
‘Sure,’ says Ray, because what else does he ever do?
They eat salmon that night and it’s delicious, just with salt and pepper and some kind of reconstituted mashed potatoes that look like they should be gross but actually together it all tastes amazing, or maybe it’s just because Ray’s so hungry. Funny, how good everything tastes when your body needs it so much.
The fire crackles and the shed now smells kind of like burnt fish, which is maybe a step up from wet dog, maybe not, but Ray sits back feeling full and warm and pretty content. He narrows his eyes against the smoke and watches Fraser poking at the fire.
‘What’re you doing?’ he asks.
‘Tending the fire, Ray,’ says Fraser, not looking round.
‘Yeah, smartass. I mean - how do you tend to it? What are you actually doing?’
‘Oh.’ Fraser sits back, looking faintly surprised that Ray wants to know, which maybe means Fraser doesn’t know Ray as well as he thinks he does. ‘Well. I’m shifting the wood to ensure that the logs are close enough together to feed on each other’s heat.’
‘Why’re there rocks in it?’ Ray asks, squinting into the center of the fire.
‘They absorb and retain heat,’ says Fraser. ‘They help to keep the fire burning longer.’
‘Huh,’ says Ray. ‘Rocks. I wouldn’t’ve thought.’
‘Fire starts with stone, of course. You can strike a flint, if you’ve no matches.’
‘Oh yeah. That’s harder, though, right?’
Fraser shrugs, which he doesn’t do very often, and is a funny sort of movement on him. ‘I learnt to build a fire that way.’
He doesn’t say anything more, and usually Ray would leave it, but he has an odd feeling like he wants to carry on, and that maybe Fraser won’t mind if he does. So he says, ‘Your dad teach you?’ and Fraser nods. One side of his face is all bright in the firelight, the other side is in darkness. ‘Your dad took you camping, I’ll bet.’
‘A few times, yes,’ says Fraser. ‘Though in this instance he was simply visiting home, back from patrol. I was six years old. He took me out into the woods, gave me a piece of flint and a hunk of granite, and then he walked away without turning back.’
‘That’s teaching you how to make a fire?’
‘Well,’ says Fraser, ‘it worked.’ Then he says, ‘You know, the funny thing, I have absolutely no memory of the fire itself. But I have this very vivid memory of the darkness, and knowing that I was all alone.’
Ray doesn’t have anything to say to that, but he doesn’t feel like Fraser’s expecting him to. Well, he has a couple things that he doesn’t say. Not everyone you care about is going to up and leave you, you know. I’m right here. He can’t make the words line up right, make it sound reassuring, and not somehow whiny and pathetic.
They sit quietly for a little longer, and on the other side of Fraser Dief snuffles and stretches, full of salmon. Then Ray reaches behind him into the bag with his clothes in it, and feels around until his knuckles bump the bottle of scotch, now about half full. He pulls it out.
‘You want any?’ he asks Fraser.
Ray asks him this most nights, because it feels weird and impolite to drink alone without offering to drink together, like, the opposite of what drinking is for - even though they both know Fraser’s going to say no. But then again, Ray wonders if it’s almost helpful for Fraser to have someone offering him something he can turn down. Like that’s how he’s going to fit himself back into the red suit.
But as Ray is thinking this, Fraser glances up from the fire, and says, ‘Yes, all right.’
‘Oh,’ says Ray, pleased and surprised. ‘You got - uh, glasses or anything? No.’
But Fraser is already picking up their two little enamel cups from the fireside, the ones they use for water and tea and coffee. He rinses them out, and then gives them to Ray. Ray pours them both a couple of fingers, and hands one back to Fraser.
Fraser peers into his cup with what seems to be interest. ‘You know, Ray, the word whisky comes from the Gaelic - ’ here he makes a noise that Ray wouldn’t necessarily call a word, but sounds something like ooshkabah - ‘meaning water of life. Probably translated originally from the Latin aqua vitae, used for other distilled spirits.’
‘Yeah?’ says Ray. Sure, obviously Fraser knows more than Ray about the things that theoretically Ray knows more about, like liquor. ‘Sounds about right.’
Fraser pokes his nose into the cup and sniffs, then takes a small, considering sip. He licks his lips, frowning, like an old guy in the back of a bar who knows his single malt. Ray’s waiting for him to say something about back-notes of cedar or the importance of the barrel-aging process, but what he actually says, deadpan, is, ‘Well, that’s truly disgusting, Ray.’
Ray nearly laughs out loud. ‘Oh, well,’ he says, reaching forward towards Fraser’s cup, ‘this is good stuff, this is vintage, I’m not wasting it. Give it here if you don’t like it.’
‘No, no,’ says Fraser, moving the cup out of his reach. ‘I’ll stick with it.’
Fraser has that particular lip-twitch look on his face which means he’s pretending he’s not smiling, pretending he’s not doing the straight-man act entirely for Ray’s benefit. Ray takes a sip of his whisky and he feels warm inside, warm outside, good all over, like somehow he’s done the right thing for once.
He watches as Fraser sips his drink slowly, and shifts where he’s sitting, kicking his legs out alongside the fire. The slight pause and the wince as Fraser shifts on his tailbone are so tiny that Ray thinks maybe nobody else would catch them. But Fraser seems comfy when he settles. About as relaxed as he ever gets.
‘Benny?’ Fraser looks up. ‘Hypothetical question, but if I were to let you shoot me, d’you think that would make you feel any better?’
Fraser raises his eyebrows, looking faintly amused. Instead of playing dumb, he says, ‘No, Ray. I think that would make me feel significantly worse.’
‘Well, that’s good to hear. But if you change your mind, make sure to get me in the same shoulder, okay? Right here. I’d like to keep one good one.’
‘Understood,’ says Fraser, who still looks like he’s trying not to smile.
They stopped hacking down trees after their first couple of days, and once they’d lugged all the lumber back to the cabin, Fraser had masterminded a whole new set of tasks: trimming away the branches so they started looking more like logs, then stripping away the bark, treating the wood. A week and a half in, and they haven’t actually done anything that feels much like rebuilding or repairing yet. Ray feels stupid again, like, what, he thought by the time they left, the cabin would be standing again, good as new? This is a long job. Fraser’s gonna have to come back up here over and over to get it finished, or else take a whole whack of time off work to do it in one. As usual, Ray guesses he didn’t know what he was signing up for.
It’s mid-afternoon, and Fraser’s in the husk of the cabin, dragging out some of the burnt-out stuff that’s not worth keeping, making some extra inside measurements. Ray’s been in there too by now, of course, but it’s kind of creepy seeing it all blackened and empty, like a haunted house. And Ray also feels like maybe he should leave Fraser alone with the place. He’s already invited himself up here - he doesn’t have to literally barge his way through the door.
Ray’s finished stripping the log he’s working on, which means it needs to go on the pile with the other finished logs. Which means Ray should either go fetch Fraser to help lift it, or take a break and wait for him to come back of his own accord. But the logs aren’t that heavy - unwieldy, maybe, but they’ve been hauling stuff around since they got here, and Ray thinks he might actually be getting used to it. It’s just a log. Come on, Vecchio, you can lift one damn thing yourself, huh?
So he grabs hold of the log round the middle, and hefts upwards, and bam - there’s a sudden, screaming pain in his shoulder, like maybe he’s dislocated it, Jesus Christ. He drops the log on the ground, and mercy of mercies it misses his foot, so at least he doesn’t have to add broken toes into the bargain. He stays still, his breathing gone fast and crazy, until the pain comes down a little from that first white-hot poker stab, but it keeps hurting like hell. Stupid, stupid - Fraser leaves him alone for one minute...
Once Ray feels like the arm’s not gonna fall right off, he tries to rotate the shoulder, very slowly, very gently. It moves, so it’s not dislocated, but moving it hurts so much he almost yells out loud, so he stops and bites his lip, blinking hard.
He hates it, but, obviously, now he has to go find Fraser. He walks slowly across the grass to the cabin, holding his arm stiff and still, and steps through the space where the door should be. Fraser is up on a ladder at the far end of the room, if you can still call it a room, measuring along one of the only remaining roof beams, which is all black and charred.
God, if Ray thought he felt like a kid before this. ‘I, uh - I think I’ve done something to my shoulder.’
Fraser turns on the ladder, and in an instant he’s on the ground, across the room, and right in front of Ray. ‘Oh dear.’
Fraser goes straight into his war doctor impersonation, quick and efficient and super-calm as he gives the arm and shoulder a once-over. He asks Ray if he can move it like so - ow ow ow ow ow - and if this hurts - yes - before he sits Ray down on the doorstep, tells him to keep still - no shit, Fraser, I thought I’d go play a little baseball - and goes to fetch the first aid kid from the shed.
Ray sits and looks up at the huge blue sky, and feels like an absolute heel. He can’t believe he’s found a whole new way of screwing up. Only he can believe it, because he’s been so busy trying to keep up with Fraser that he’s been ignoring a practically brand new bullet wound, which is a whole new kind of stupid. Like Fraser said, time is of the essence, they don’t have much of it left, and now Fraser’s gonna have to spend half of it playing nursemaid while Ray lies around being worse than useless.
‘All right, Ray,’ says Fraser when he comes back, and he’s still doing his bedside-manner voice, ‘we’re going to need to remove your jacket to get your arm into a sling. I can’t identify any dislocation or nerve damage, though there may be some muscle or tendon strain, so the best thing we can do under the circumstances is - ’
‘I’m sorry, Fraser,’ Ray says, miserable as all hell.
Fraser pauses in easing Ray’s jacket away from his shoulders. ‘For what?’
‘For making you do this.’
‘It’s no trouble at all, Ray.’
‘No, not this - ’ Ray gestures with the good arm at the bad one - ‘or well yes, also this, but listen, I’m sorry I made you come up all the way up here with me, okay? I don’t know what I was thinking. I was trying to do the right thing, trying to straighten us out, but I didn’t think it through. Maybe you didn’t want to come back up to your dad’s cabin right away. Hell, maybe you didn’t want to rebuild this place at all, maybe you wanted to just let it go. But anyway, I’m sure you didn’t want to do it with me, have me getting in the way and slowing you down. I’m less use than the wolf up here - at least he might catch us a rabbit, you know?’
‘Ray,’ says Fraser, staring at him like he’s running a fever, ‘what are you talking about?’
‘Listen, if you want, once you’ve fixed me up, we can hike back to the car, I can do that if I’m in a sling. And you can drive me back to the town, and either I can head back early if they’ve got a plane going before the weekend, or maybe there’s somewhere I can put up - a hotel, guest house, you got those here? But I can get out from under your feet, so you can get some work done for your last few days here, at least.’
Fraser blinks at him, looking astonished. ‘No, Ray, I don’t want that,’ he says, after a moment. He lets go of Ray’s jacket, and drops his hands to his knees, where he’s crouching on the ground in front of him. ‘I wouldn’t like that at all.’
‘Oh,’ says Ray, who’s kind of talked himself out, and can’t think where to go next.
‘I did want to rebuild the cabin,’ Fraser says. ‘I was thinking of coming anyway. But I was very - ’ he clears his throat, and glances away, but when he looks back his eyes are keen and serious. ‘I was very touched, Ray, that this was your idea. That you would want to spend your vacation with me. It means the world to me that you’re here.’ He glances up at what remains of the cabin. ‘Again. So although it’s somewhat selfish of me, if you think you can manage it, I very much hope you’ll stay on to keep me company until we’re due to return.’
Ray feels almost winded by all of this, all at once. Jesus, but Fraser can be hard to get a read on. Or maybe Ray’s not been doing his best detective work. He did get shot, after all.
‘Course I wanted to come up here with you,’ Ray says, his voice a little thick. ‘Where else was I gonna go?’
‘Miami?’ suggests Fraser, with a small smile.
‘Yeah.’ Ray moves his head from side to side, like he’s pretending to think it over, but it sends a fresh bolt of pain into his shoulder, and so he stops. ‘I hear it’s not as good as the brochures make it look.’
‘Well, Ray,’ Fraser says later that day, as he’s setting that evening’s fire, ‘since you can’t work for the next few days, you’ll have to take on other duties.’
‘What duties?’ asks Ray, slightly suspiciously. He’s leaning up against the wall of the shed, with Dief sniffing semi-respectfully at his good arm, buffeting his head a couple times against Ray’s shoulder. Fraser’s strapped the other arm up good, and it’s hanging carefully in its sling.
‘I thought you could be storyteller-in-chief,’ Fraser says. ‘That’s an extremely important role, when camping.’
‘Oh yeah?’ says Ray. ‘Usually your job, is it?’
‘Often, yes,’ Fraser says. ‘But then again, I’m often camping alone.’
So after dinner, he and Fraser and Dief go and sit outside on the grass, under the late-night sun. Fraser lies down and folds his hands under his head, and then looks over at Ray, and says, ‘Go on.’
Ray’s spent most of dinner trying to remember any of the stories you’re supposed to tell round campfires, ghosts in the closet or werewolves in the cornfields. But when he gets started on a story that he knows starts with a dog under the bed licking your hand, he gets mixed up and can’t remember the ending, and Dief, who must be lip-reading, seems to have gotten interested and keeps licking Ray’s hand, which isn’t helping. So he veers sideways into a horse’s head in the bed, which he remembers way better, and before he knows it he’s doing the whole Godfather trilogy, which insanely Fraser doesn’t seem to already know.
Three more nights they have up at the cabin, and three nights they sit out like that in the endless light, and then go and lay out on their bedrolls in the shed, and three nights Ray tells Fraser every story he can think of. After he finishes with the Corleones, he ends up telling Fraser true stories instead, whatever comes into his head. The cop who came to scoop Mike Rossi up off the street, how surprisingly careful and gentle he’d been. Some of Frankie Zuko’s reign of terror in high school. The Tocci brothers and their best magic trick. The time he found Huey and Gardino stuck in their own car in the street outside the 2-7 because the locks had broken, and he’d called half the bullpen to come out and see before jimmying one of the doors open.
And for three nights, Fraser lies next to him and listens, and laughs or murmurs in response, but doesn’t interrupt; and every night, wiped out from all the work he’s still doing, he falls asleep next to the fire while Ray’s talking.
Then Ray lies and watches him for a little while, and thinks about how much Fraser still looks like Fraser, even when he’s sleeping. He doesn’t even know what that means, really, other than that he looks - like himself. Even when he’s dead to the word. Then Ray closes his eyes, and feels the heat from the fire get deeper into his bones, and falls asleep too.