Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.
--the Dueña Alfonsa, Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses
Stella never really wears the ring.
Ray buys her one, of course. One of those layaway deals: cheap gold, with a tiny little diamond smaller than a Chiclet in that spiky setting Stella likes even though it catches in her hair when she shoves it out of her face. Costs him something like two months of overtime ugly-shoe Neighbourhood Watch detail, time he passes thinking about what the ring will look like on Stella’s hand, winking out from that fourth finger at all the smart guys in her life. Telling them she’s taken; stay off the grass; mine, motherfuckers, mine.
The day Ray slides it onto her hand, he figures every minute of the two months was worth it just for that.
Not too long afterwards, Stella starts taking the ring off on a regular basis. She says it’s for safety—to keep it from falling into the disposal when she washes the dishes, or scratching when she hangs out with him at the garage on a Saturday, or coming off by accident when her hands get so thin with cold she has to cut the fingers off a ratty old pair of Ray’s gloves and keep them in her law-library carrel.
After a while, it dawns on Ray that this is mostly bullshit, since their cooking/cleaning deal means he does the dishes ninety-eight percent of the time, which is pretty much the same number of Saturdays Stella spends anywhere but perched on the tool bench watching him tinker with the banged-up Tempest he bought off Joey Romanczuk in a weak moment for both of them. But he has to admit she runs cold—her feet in bed in the wintertime, Christ on a pogo stick—and he can see the sore red place on her ring finger where she futzes with the band when it gets loose, turning it around and around and sucking on it when she’s not paying attention, so he figures it’s probably safer her leaving it on the dresser when it’s cold, at least.
Eventually, it stays there pretty much year round.
Stella puts the ring back on for their fifth-anniversary dinner out. Ray watches it sparkle in the light at the schmancey restaurant he’s taken her to and feels a lot like he did years ago on all those Neighbourhood Watch rounds: possessive and proud and scared half to death and wondering how he’s going to pay.
The next morning he finds it on the windowsill over the kitchen sink, which is still as full of dishes as it was yesterday. He puts it back up on the dresser, with his wallet and keys and holster and badge.
It doesn’t come off the dresser again.
When they finally split, Ray takes the ring off the dresser last thing before he goes, blowing dust off it and shoving it into the pocket of the Army jacket Stella bought him years ago. By then he’s pretty sure she won’t notice it’s gone.
He finds it a few months later, down in the lining of the jacket where the pocket has a hole and keeps eating his change. He tries it on his own fingers, remembering the way it looked slipping onto hers. It fits—barely—on his left pinky, and for a day or two he wears it, diamond turned in so it doesn’t look like he’s wearing a girl’s jewelry.
Just to remind him what that felt like, belonging to someone where everyone could see.
But the spikes catch on his hair, like they did on hers, when he forgets and runs his hand through it, and the whole pinky-ring thing isn’t really his style. Plus which, he doesn’t anymore—belong to someone, that is—and pretending? Also not really his style.
At least, not this kind of pretending.
He puts the ring back in the pocket and throws the jacket in the Goodwill bag, along with a couple of schmancey dress shirts from Stella’s clean-up-the-cop phase, still in their plastic cages. The day he drops the bag off at the downtown shelter, he takes his own ring off and sticks it in his sock drawer, back at the back with the strays and spares.
His finger stays dented where the ring used to be. Eventually he gets used to the space.
Ray wants to want it soft and slow, sleepy in the late morning, dusted by pleasure. To fuck Fraser as though all the time in the world is theirs for the asking, as though they’re the only two people for miles and miles and this is the only thing they’ll ever have to do, ever. To slide slick and deep into Fraser’s ass and then rock in and out over and over and over, fucking Fraser with just the top couple thickest inches of himself so Fraser never stops feeling it even for a second. To go slow, so slow and almost gentle, with his lips pressed to the damp skin of Fraser’s shoulder and his arms wrapped around Fraser’s body and his hands splayed out over Fraser’s chest, feeling Fraser’s nipples harden under his fingers and Fraser’s heart beat faster and Fraser’s breath catch just a little more every time Ray’s cock brushes over that sweet spot.
Ray wants to want that, wants it bad enough that he dreams about all of it sometimes. Really good dreams. Dreams about making love to Fraser like that.
What Ray wants and what Ray needs, though—those aren’t necessarily the same thing, turns out. What does it for Ray in his dreams isn’t what he winds up wanting from Fraser when they fuck. Which they do as often as they can manage it: they’re still in that initial stage where they can almost not keep their hands off each other, where they want it all the time.
(At least Ray does. Even more than usual, that is. And being as he’s a trained detective, he’s evaluated the available evidence and decided that Fraser’s pretty much on the same page.)
(Maybe even the same paragraph.)
And the kind of sex with Fraser that Ray dreams about … well. That sort of thing—that sort of slow, rich, careful time together—takes a kind of trust Ray isn’t sure, after Stella, that he still has in him to give.
Not partner trust. Ray and Fraser have that in spades. They’ve had to work for it, sure—work like dogs, sometimes (half-dogs? maybe), punch it out some, stop talking to each other for a while, whatever. But there’s not a doubt in Ray’s mind at this point that Fraser will always have his back, no matter what, and that Fraser knows Ray’s the same.
So, yeah. Some other kind of trust—or of belief, maybe. Some key kind of comfort with what that National Geographic special that Fraser made Ray watch (he claimed Dief insisted, and Ray’s learned not to argue with Dief) talked about that wolves do sometimes.
Showing the throat. Or something like that.
Ray thinks about it a lot. About whether he wants to do that. Wants Fraser to do it to—for—him.
Just picturing it makes his neck muscles tense.
That aside, at this point with Fraser Ray is more about the straight-up needing than anything else. And what he needs is for it to be hard and fast and laced with just the right amount (which who knew that measurement existed? but it does) of pain.
Like, say, what Ray is doing right now. What they are doing right now. Yeah, this would definitely qualify. Because here is Ray on his hands and knees (on the bed and not the floor, thank you kindly, because these knees are not young knees and that? is not the kind of pain Ray wants). And there is Fraser, balls-deep in Ray’s ass, arms wrapped around Ray’s chest and up over Ray’s shoulders to give himself leverage, hips pistoning in and out of Ray harder than Ray’d have thought Fraser’d give himself permission for.
Ray’s spread wide, hands braced on the headboard and knees as far apart as they’ll go, and if he could get hard again this soon after coming what’s left of his brains out he would so be doing it. He wonders whether he could keep himself in place against Fraser’s thrusts if he shifted one hand—just one—down to a hipbone and pushed hard on the bruise Fraser put there earlier when he held Ray down and sucked him off, zero to heaven in sixty seconds flat.
Just to remind himself of the ache of what it’s like to be wanted that much.
Probably not. Probably, if he tried it, Fraser’d just knock him flat, come full-weight down on top of him, haul his hips up just enough to hit the right angle, and fuck him through the floor.
Talk about incentive. Been there, done that, would do it again pretty much any time Fraser asked. It’s all—all—good.
In fact, this whole shebang used to be Ray’s favourite fantasy. Except that—by definition, as Fraser would say—fantasies can’t actually be happening. Whereas this has been happening to Ray kind of a lot just recently here.
And what Ray likes best about doing it this way? Is when Fraser can’t talk at all any more, when he’s so far gone and so close to coming that all he can do is moan and gasp like a dying thing, like if he pulls all the way out of Ray’s ass—all the way out, so just the head of his cock is still in Ray—and then slams himself all the way back in one more time he’s gonna just give it up and die from how far beyond good he feels.
See, Ray’s body remembers things. Fraser’s taught him the word for the way this works: he’s a kinesthetic learner, he gets it by doing it, and once it’s in his bones and muscles he owns it.
Whereas Fraser—Fraser’s the word guy, the poetry man. Fraser needs it to sound like something; he needs to be able to hear what’s going on, a blow-by-blow, something to memorize as a key to remembering. Fraser likes Ray to talk to him, and Fraser likes to talk back.
So when Fraser can’t talk? That’s a … not a victory, not a win—that’s a gift, right there, is what that is.
That Fraser can feel that free, that safe with Ray—that Ray can give him that, with his bones and his bruises and his battered self … well.
That’s trust, isn’t it.
Fraser has a weird relationship with Ray’s tattoo.
Ray knows this from how Fraser deals with it. First off, Fraser looks at it a lot. Maybe more than Ray’s even aware of, but Ray sees more than he thinks Fraser realizes—always has—and he knows when Fraser’s eyes are on him, watching the way the logo rides his bicep, the way it shifts a little as the muscle moves with whatever Ray’s doing. When Ray pulls his t-shirt on in the morning, he can feel the heat of Fraser’s eyes on him, following the shirtsleeve as it slides down to hide the mark.
Then there’s the licking thing.
Not much Fraser licks surprises Ray any more, and complaining when what Fraser wants to run that freaking talented tongue over turns out to be some piece of Ray—cock, nipples, ass, whatever—would take a real blue-ribbon idiot, which Ray is not.
It’s just that Ray’s noticed that almost every time, no matter what they’re doing, Fraser will find a way to get there—to trace wet lines over the letters, to sink his teeth into the skin as he comes, to suck a swollen mark, redder even than the ink is, right into the design, a mark Ray’s gonna feel every time he gets dressed for the next couple of days.
Ray’s not one-hundred-percent positive about why Fraser’s like this, but he’s been thinking about it for a while and he’s got a pretty good idea. He figures Fraser looks at the tat and sees Ray before Fraser knew him, before they were partners or even working together.
When Fraser looks at the tat, Ray thinks, he sees a different Ray, a Ray from the past. Not the Ray who’s got his own dogs now and might even make the Iditarod next year, though he’d probably be just as happy staying Fraser’s back-up and kibitzing about the other teams. Not the Ray who freezes big batches of his mom’s bigos to use up the caribou Jacky brings over regular as clockwork every couple of months in the winter. Not even the Ray who knows just how to jack Fraser’s cock and work his balls to bring him off like a shot, coming so hard it’s like it might be the first time ever, and also knows just where to touch Fraser so that by the time he comes he’s been feeling so good for so long that coming’s just one more wave of greatness in the grand scheme of things.
Ray figures what Fraser sees when he looks at Ray’s tattoo is Stella’s Ray, the married man with the Gold Coast girl and the tired dancing feet and a ring on his left hand to match the one she wore. Stella’s Ray, the one who ate Chicago deep-dish at two o’clock in the morning after working swing shift and then went home to fuck his lawfully wedded wife.
Stella’s Ray. Not Fraser’s.
Ray’s not sure how to make Fraser let go of his dreams of something Ray hasn’t been for years. Not to mention something he stopped getting to be a long time before he ever got up the guts to go for the ink.
But he thinks he’d probably better figure it out some time soon.
“I never told you that story? Seriously?”
Fraser raises an eyebrow at him, which from six inches away and without his glasses on is still kind of a weird experience. “I’m never less than serious, Ray. You know that.”
Ray pokes him in the chest. “Oh, right. So that was someone else who offered me the last of the coffee yesterday and then put molasses in my mug instead before I was awake enough to be able to tell the difference, huh?”
“Since I would never do such a thing, I suppose it must have been.” Fraser pulls the quilts a little farther up over them. “Yes, Ray, seriously. I know why you chose that design, but why did you have it placed there?”
Ray wriggles a little to get his feet between Fraser’s, for warmth and comfort both. “Kind of a long story, actually. When I was eleven … or, God, I must have been ten, actually, because Eddie Przygocki was one of ‘em and he transferred to St. Boniface the next year. So, yeah, I was only ten.” Okay, this is weird: his stomach is actually starting to hurt just thinking about it. Maybe he should find a way to distract Fraser and wait for another time to talk about this, a better mo—
Ray comes back to himself with a start. “Huh?”
“When you were ten. Go on.”
Ray wills his stomach to cool it. This is Fraser; this is now; it’s gonna be fine. “Yeah. Okay. So I was ten, and not what you’d call popular with the other kids, on account of all the stuff you and I already talked practically to death years ago, with the Coke-bottle glasses and the meatpacker thing and the way being small and scrawny makes it easy to be low whatever on the totem pole.”
Fraser nods, and Ray continues. “For some reason, my class that year was sort of oversupplied with small and scrawny. Maybe something in the cafeteria food, I don’t know. After a while the obvious bullies kind of got tired of it, y’know? got bullied out or whatever. Which of course left a job vacancy, since it wouldn’t be elementary school if somebody wasn’t getting chased around and beat up.”
“Nature abhors a vacuum,” Fraser says quietly.
“Something like that, yeah.” Ray ducks his head against Fraser’s chest and closes his eyes. Just so he can concentrate better. Right. “So what happened was a whole pack of the middle-of-the-road kids ganged up into, like, a bully brigade and elected yours truly as the designated hittee. Teachers wouldn’t let much go on at recess, but I starred in lots of after-school specials—me running, them chasing, the predictable pound-Stanley ending. I’d fight back as much as I could—more when somebody’d gotten detention and the odds were a little better—but being that I was still smaller and scrawnier plus all by myself and also not real good at the fighting thing, my record in the ring went about how you’d expect. Mum got my glasses repaired three times before Christmas. Then Dad found out.”
“Ah.” Fraser’s voice buzzes low against Ray’s hands where he’s fisted them against Fraser’s chest. He doesn’t remember doing that.
“Yeah. Dad … This probably comes as not really a shock to you, being as how you’ve met my father. But Dad always liked to fight. And he did not like to lose, not when he was a kid and not after that, at the plant or the bar after or whatever, so he was by God for sure that no son of his … you can see where that one’s going.”
Ray’s throat hurts. He clears it, more or less, and keeps going.
“So one night after dinner he asked me—he didn’t outright ask what had happened to me, he asked why I kept breaking my glasses, which I figured out afterwards was about as close as he could come. I explained as much as I could. He was not … he wasn’t real pleased. I think he felt like he’d failed me somehow, like if he’d taught me to fight when I was, I don’t know, still using training wheels none of this would have happened. But he didn’t say that. He didn’t say much of anything, actually. He took me into the garage, told me to stay put, and he backed the car out of the garage and came back in and shut the door and turned on the overhead light, so that there was a clear bright space in the middle with just the two of us standing there in it, breath clouding up the air.”
Fraser’s arms tighten around Ray.
“And he taught me to fight, by his rules. He showed me some basic boxing moves, barefisted but, you know, mostly pulling his punches, not really hitting me, so I could see how each move would work on the other guy. Then he showed me some ways to get around the basic moves. Street-fighting stuff—tripping, shoving, faking a fall and coming up under somebody’s guard, that kind of thing. I was no whiz, but even at ten I could see how this stuff might work. Although it did seem to me like fighting back against a kid that was bigger than me, if nothing else, was just gonna piss the kid off.”
“Which would seem to be somewhat counterproductive under the circumstances.”
“’S what I said,” Ray agrees. “Dad said no, not if I did it right. Said I should hit to hurt. ‘Hit to hurt and leave a mark, son. That way they won’t forget you—and they won’t come back.’”
“Yeah.” Ray pushes away from Fraser and sits up, arms around himself in the cold air of the cabin. Fraser stays where he is, leans up on one elbow and watches Ray—not saying anything, just listening. “So I went back to school the next day, and at recess we had a lame-ass substitute teacher who couldn’t have kept a bunny rabbit in line, never mind a bunch of hyper kids. The biggest of the bullies—who wasn’t that much larger than me, remember, because we’re talking the Triple-A farm-team wanna-bes here—came over to where I was and called me some name and shoved me into the schoolyard fence. Which turned out to have a piece of wire sticking out of it right where I landed. Courtesy, I found out later, of that same idiot playing ‘hack a hole in the prison-camp fence and escape’ with his brother’s Swiss Army knife. Anyway, the wire cut through my jacket and my shirt and sliced my arm open. And all of a sudden I could hear my dad’s voice in my head—‘Hit to hurt and leave a mark, son.’—and I got so mad, like all the being shit-scared and running away I’d been doing since the beginning of the semester was suddenly gas on a flame or something like that.”
“You’d reached your breaking point.” Hah: that’s Fraser’s calm-the-horses voice. He almost never uses that on Ray any more.
“Evidently. So I bounced right back off the fence—which, looking back, I think shocked the hell out of the other kids, what with me dripping blood and all—and I used the, whatsit, the momentum of the movement and came up under the guard of the kid who’d shoved me, like Dad had said to. And I punched that kid in the face and broke his nose for him. He sat down in the dirt and cried, which didn’t make me feel as good as I thought it would but didn’t make me feel real bad for him, either. The rest of the kids took off for parts unknown, and I got sent to the nurse for stitches and a tetanus shot and then home for fighting.”
“I should guess that made your father rather proud of you.” Fraser’s hand lies warm against the side of Ray’s face. Ray leans into the touch.
“Oh, you bet. ‘My son, the fighting champ.’ One k.o. and he had me winning the Silver Gloves.”
Ray stares at Fraser for a second or three. “Hence? Who are you, Shakespeare?”
“Absolutely not. I write my own dialogue, thank you kindly.”
“Funny guy. You know I only get that because of that one issue of The Sandman I made you explain to me, right?”
“Of course, Ray.” Fraser’s lips twitch, and Ray’s shoulders relax so fast he has to choke back a moan. Talk about a mood that needed breaking.
“Okay, yeah. Hence, boxing. And hence—‘hence,’ Jesus—hence, eventually, the tat.”
Fraser nods. His hand moves down to Ray’s shoulder, thumb stroking gently across the swell of Ray’s bicep. “I’ve wondered what that scar was, running along the bottom of the logo. The colours hide it well.”
“That was the goal,” Ray says, more evenly than he’d have thought possible given how fucking hard all that was to say—even to Fraser. “Reminding myself that winning never comes for free.”
“Indeed.” Suddenly Fraser surges up and over Ray, pushing him flat on his back, pinning his hips under one heavily muscled leg and trapping both wrists against the pillows above them. Holy fuck. Ray turns his head to the side, baring his throat, breath harsh in his chest. Fraser sets his mouth against the cords in Ray’s neck and bites down hard, saying something rough against the skin he’s marking. Ray grits his teeth and tries to find the words to ask. Fraser beats him to it, saying it again against Ray’s own mouth, the last thing Ray hears before arousal takes him under.
“Nothing worth having ever does.”