The kitchen had been pretty quiet.
Well, as quiet as it ever got in their house--Ray'd put Katie in her chair over by the top kitchen drawer, and she'd been methodically and happily emptying the drawer and throwing down every knife, fork and spoon on the floor, one by one, while Ray cooked dinner. Hey, it kept her occupied.
But now she was gearing up to an unhappy wail that was, well, ear-splitting.
"Frannie?" Ray shouted. "Frannie!"
"Yeah, what?" Frannie shouted back, coming down the stairs and gathering Katie up.
Ray jerked his head at Katie. "Diapers, I think. The sauce is kind of at a critical stage, so, you want to do that or the diapers?"
Frannie snorted. "Well, if you're giving me a choice..." She handed Katie over to Ray and took over the sauce.
Ray grinned. "Hey, that means I can blame you if the sauce comes out wrong."
Frannie rolled her eyes. "As if."
He took Katie up the stairs, and checked in on Paolo--Frannie had been helping him with his homework. He looked like he was doing fine, or at least, he wasn't fidgeting too much.
"Hiya, Katie-girl. Gonna be all clean soon." He tickled her chin. She made a grumpy noise. Ray ignored it and sang a silly little song while he did the diaper-changing, and at the end of it she was laughing, with her little dimples coming out. Ha, success.
She had Frannie's brown eyes, not Fraser's blue ones, but Ray thought she had Fraser's straight nose. And she had dark hair, already curling up a little.
"You're gonna be a beauty, Katie-girl. Like your parents." Ray took her up again, carrying her downstairs and putting her back in the chair.
Maggie wasn't sure she wanted kids, but Ray didn't mind. Or, well, maybe he did mind a tiny bit, but Frannie's three kids were plenty, after all, and he was pretty sure it wasn't possible to love any kids more than he loved them. And Maggie wasn't sure she didn't want kids yet, either. They'd see.
"How's the sauce?" he asked.
Frannie dipped a spoon in to taste. "Pretty sure both my Mas would say it's up to Vecchio standards."
Paolo came in the door. "Daaaad," he said in an aggrieved tone. "How am I supposed to do this?" He held up the math book.
Frannie raised her eyebrows as if to say He's all yours, while Ray threw her a glance to say Why didn't he get Fraser's head for figures?.
"Right, sure," Ray said, trying to dredge up memories of elementary school math. Nobody ever used fractions in real life, how were you supposed to remember stuff like that? "Uh, so, 3/2 divided by 6. 3/2 is one and a half, right? So let's say we have one and a half pies and we're supposed to divide them up into six parts..."
It was strange how happy it made him, this family bustle. He'd grown up with it, of course, and so had Frannie, but there had been that long time in between, first the time with Stella, and then the time without her, without anyone. Stella hadn't really been the family type, and Ray hadn't minded at the time, though yeah, he knew he wanted kids in the long run, and she didn't.
But it hadn't worked out. Stella had told him once, after the worst was over and they could meet as friends again, though still wary like they were treading mine-fields, that she hadn't ever felt like she was enough for him.
But now he had enough--he had more than enough, even if he'd had a bit of a rocky road to get there. He had the kids. He had Fraser, and he had Maggie, and he had Frannie. They joked about it sometimes, how she Frannie was like his long-lost Italian Morning sister, what with the way their words both came out wrong sometimes, and the way they'd both grown up in big bustling immigrant families.
Frannie was pulling the sauce half off the stove, turning the heat down low so it'd just keep warm until dinner. Fraser was out chopping wood, Carrie was playing with the neighbors' kids, and Maggie was off doing paperwork, which she hated. Poor Maggie. Ray didn't miss that part of being a cop, at least.
"Hey, I'm done now. Can I go play with the dogs?" Paolo said.
"Yeah, sure," Ray said. "Go on."
Paolo scrambled to get his coat and boots on, and was out the door. Frannie took Katie from the baby seat and sat down with her, leaning back in the chair and idly stroking Katie's back.
On impulse, Ray leaned over and gave her a sideways hug. "Hey sis, you know I love you, right?" He'd gotten used to calling her that on the undercover gig, and it had stuck.
"Yeah," Frannie said, looking up with a slow smile. "Yeah, I know. I love you, too."
"Hi, Frase." Frannie still had Katie on her lap, so she just waved as Fraser came in the door. Ray had gone out to feed the dogs, since Maggie wasn't home yet.
"Hi," he said, all flushed from the outdoors. His lips were cold as he came over to give her a peck on the lips.
"Hi, Katie." He made his puffin-face at her, which always made her laugh.
Fraser lifted the lids of the pots. "Dinner's done? I'll set the table, then."
Frannie watched him as he put plates and cutlery on the big table. His hair was all mussed from his toque (such a weird Canadian word) and he was wearing one of those heavy flannel shirts that she loved. Well, she loved him in pretty much everything.
Life was weird. When she was a teenager, she'd devoured romance novels by the dozen. They were the type where the swooning Morning heroine and her faithful Evening friend and sidekick were abducted by an evil villain and then saved by a handsome mysterious Evening man, and then of course it turned out that the mysterious man was the long-lost love of the heroine's brother, on whom her friend had had a crush all her life. And at the end of their adventures, the heroine and her friend fell into each other's arms and realized that their friendship had turned into romance. And they all made a sedoretu together and lived happily after ever.
Things were always so easy in the romances, so perfect.
Of course, that's not how it was in real life. Frannie remembered her own first, failed attempt at finding true love, and it turned out that handsome and mysterious could in fact equal abusive asshole. Although it wasn't like that automatically led to divorce or anything--she thought of her own parents' sedoretu, one of her dads being the abusive asshole, and the other nice enough, but he couldn't really take conflict. Her Mas had each other, though, the Day marriage shoring up the whole sedoretu.
Well, Pop was dead now. And she had something better. So much better. She sighed, and the movement made Katie stir.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Fraser asked.
"Miss my chatter?" Frannie replied. She didn't really want to bring up abusive husbands.
"I like your chatter," he said seriously.
He sat down, and she held out Katie to him, just to see them together. Lord, but he was beautiful, and so was she. There was just something about a man with a baby.
"No, I was just thinking," she said. "About happiness. And how you get there."
He hummed encouragingly, settling Katie on his chest.
"I read all these romance novels in my teens--"
"You still read romance novels," Fraser said, a smile tugging at his lips.
Frannie swatted at his shoulder. "Yes I do. Don't interrupt me."
"Yes, ma'am." She could see him suppressing a grin.
"And it's just, I could never see how to get from where I was to those happy endings, you know?"
Fraser nodded, settling into that listening expression she loved.
"I mean, I fell for this guy once, and even got married, but it wasn't--it didn't work out. Which you could probably tell from how I tell the story, right? I fell for a guy? That's not how a marriage is supposed to work, and even the romance novels could've told me so. You need all the parts of it to work." Frannie sighed. "Besides, he turned out to be kind of an asshole in the end."
"So how do you think we got here?" Fraser murmured.
"Partly it must've been luck, I guess? The right people meeting at the right time. But also, I'm older now, and hopefully I have better judgment. And you know, I think I learned something from those romance novels, besides the bit about all the parts of a marriage being important--when something feels right and you know you want it, you've got to go for it."
"Well, that's a good lesson, I think. Certainly one I needed to learn when I was younger, too." He stroked Katie's back, and she stirred, making a little smacking noise.
There was noise from the hallway, the door opening, the sound of boots. "Hey, I'm home!" Maggie said.
Frannie got up to give her a welcome-home kiss. Then it was time for dinner, and the whole noisy lot of them sat down to eat. Afterwards, while Maggie was doing the dishes and Ray was reading bedtime stories for the kids, Frannie stopped by Fraser's room.
There he was, her handsome mysterious Evening man, although not really that mysterious anymore. She'd already known he'd be sneaking some time for reading.
Handsome, though. Really handsome. "Hey," she said softly. "You want some alone time? Or can I come in?"
"No, come in." He looked ruefully at the book. "To be honest, this is heavy going, so feel free to distract me."
"Distract you?" She held his gaze, smirking a little, and yeah, that was an invitation in those blue eyes. Frannie came in and snicked the lock closed.
She crawled up the bed on all fours, climbing on top of him. Mmm, still a little sweaty from cutting wood. She licked at the side of his throat, and he turned his head and caught her mouth in a kiss, tongue sliding in deep from the start.
Frannie remembered wondering about Fraser, when she first saw him, how he seemed like he was pure as the driven snow and all that. But no, he really wasn't. He could be just as horny as any other guy, just as fascinated with her breasts, just as hard and desperate when she sucked him.
Of course, he didn't let just anyone in to see that, and it had taken her time to get there, too.
And he was also considerate in bed and good with his mouth, which not every guy out there was. Really, really good with his mouth. He could spend forever working at her clit, slow and teasing, before he finally pushed her over that edge. And then he'd fuck her after, when she was still all wet and throbbing inside from coming. God, she loved that.
Afterwards, she curled herself back into him, making herself the little spoon, and he smoothed the sweaty hair from the back of her neck and kissed her there. He held her, and the way his breathing slowed down told her he was halfway to sleep.
Frannie thought about Ray, her brother Ray, that was, and how he'd told her she shouldn't reach out for what she wanted. He'd told her she was never going to get it.
But she had.
And Ray had gone for it with Stella, even though they'd just met, because he'd felt they were right for each other. And now they were together.
Maybe Ray had learned something from Frannie this time.
"Hey, do you want to take a look at the snowmobile with me?" Ray asked Maggie the next day after dinner. "It sounded kind of off to me yesterday."
"Sure," Maggie said, grabbing her parka. Ray was good with motors, but while he'd grown up with classic cars, like the beloved GTO he'd brought from Chicago and only drove during the summer months, she'd grown up with snowmobiles, and her mom had taught her how to fix them. She liked that about Ray, that he'd ask her for help with something like that.
It had taken her a while to warm to him, actually, even though his interest had been clear from the start. She'd still been raw from losing Casey (from being betrayed by Casey) and hadn't been in the mood to find herself another relationship.
But then she'd found herself a brother in Chicago, and she'd unexpectedly fallen head over heels for Frannie, who was everything Casey wasn't, and they'd fallen into bed together, unplanned and impulsive. She smiled at the memory while she bent over the hood of the snowmobile.
She'd still gone back to Inuvik after, but Frannie hadn't let go--she'd kept calling her, and those long conversations over the phone had been like a lifeline to Maggie. And then there was Benton Fraser, her brother. Who'd become her brother, gradually, as they got to know each other.
And Ray, well, he had courted her, carefully, slowly. She remembered the first time she'd been back in Chicago to visit, when Ray had asked her out for dinner, and she'd hesitated, then accepted. She remembered thinking he had nice hands, moving restlessly while he talked, and had felt the first stirring of interest when she realized that maybe she wouldn't mind those hands touching her.
Those hands were now deep in the bowels of the snowmobile, coming up black and greasy, wiping off on a rag before pulling on his mittens again. "Brrr, cold. You think that'll fix it?"
"Think so. Take her for a ride and check?"
"Sure." Ray started it up and drove a loop on the field down towards the river. The headlights of the snowmobile lit up the white snow, the dark branches of the trees.
Maggie had never really had a model for how to make a family, how to be in a family. Her mother had been a single parent, which had been unusual in the traditional community where she'd grown up. Of course, things were loosening up--many people didn't even marry properly nowadays, and just lived in couples or triples instead, or alone. With her and Casey, there had just been the two of them.
"Sounds okay to me now," Ray said as he came back.
"Yup, me too," Maggie said.
They went inside again, and Ray went to check on the kids, only to find that Fraser was already reading them a bedtime story.
Ray threw her a look, a mix of suggestion and impish fun that had her smiling back before she knew it, and she followed him into his room. He caught her up in a spin that ended up against the door, like a dancing move. She laughed, and pulled him down for a kiss.
He'd taught her to dance, somewhat. She was surprised to find that she enjoyed it--he made it easy to follow his lead, and didn't make her feel bad when she made mistakes. But she was no Stella, that was for sure. Ray had shaken his head when she'd said so, though, holding up his hands as if to stop her. "People aren't interchangeable like snowmobile parts. I don't need you to be Stella."
He was good at making her feel good in bed, too. Those hands she'd admired, before they ever went to bed together, those hands could do things to her.
He talked a lot in bed, sometimes in a sort of stream-of-consciousness way that made her smile, sometimes just encouragement: "Yeah, keep doing that, Christ," or questions: "That good? You want it like that?", accompanied by quick glances, intent on her. And then at the end, just before he came, it would all devolve into soft little moans and incoherent panting.
"I love the way you look just after coming," she murmured afterward.
Ray gave a little snort. "What, like my IQ just dropped thirty points?"
Maggle laughed. "Silly." She turned her head towards him and kissed him. "No, you look--vulnerable. Open." Like everything was written on his face, no hidden secrets.
Ray pulled her closer, kissed her again, languid and unhurried, and Maggie relaxed into him.
Even if you weren't looking for anyone, sometimes people found you instead, and somehow got through the defenses around your heart. She was glad they had.
Maggie, in front of Fraser, raised her voice to halt her team. "This look good to you?" she said, turning her head back towards him.
Fraser stopped his team, as well. "It looks good, yes," he said, setting the snow anchor and tramping it deep into the snow.
Wordlessly, they began the tasks of setting up camp for the night, Fraser staking the teams while Maggie got the tent up and began to melt water for the dog food. Dusk fell while they worked, and the tent glowed red in the night, translucent with lamplight.
"This is the last of it," Maggie said, coming out with more dog food. Fraser sloshed it into Joe's bowl, watching as the husky ate. The other dogs had already rolled up in the snow, with only their eyes still alert and glinting green as they caught the beam from Maggie's flashlight.
She turned it off and pointed upwards. The sliver of new moon had set in the west while they'd set up camp, and the sky was clear. Fraser blinked as his night vision adjusted, and saw that the touch of northern lights he'd seen earlier, faint and as mundane as a low bank of clouds, had spread its green unearthly sheets over the sky. As the light intensified, it appeared to spread in rays from a point near the zenith, and it shifted as they watched, fading in and out in a rhythm slower than breathing.
Fraser watched until his neck began to ache and his toes were cold in his boots, and then he looked down and stamped his feet, breaking the moment. He sensed more than saw Maggie smiling at him in the dark.
"Dinner?" he said.
"Chicken curry with rice," she replied.
It had grown cold while they'd waited, but they boiled water for tea, and ate dinner in the cramped vestibule of the tent, where they'd dug down into the snow to get some space for their legs and feet.
They didn't talk much, but it was an easy silence, content. Fraser wondered if Maggie, too, felt it as a breathing space from the busy warmth of family life. It made him feel slightly guilty, but he did do his share of the work at home, and it wasn't as if he didn't enjoy coming home. I can enjoy the silence because I can always return home, he thought.
In a way, Maggie felt much more his sister than his sister Julie did, even though Maggie and he hadn't grown up together--he and Maggie were similar in ways they didn't feel the need to explain in words. Of course, perhaps that in itself was a sign that they were not like siblings who had grown up together. Certainly his own children squabbled enough, and Julie and he did not exactly have wordless understanding--in their teens, they had set each other off in disagreements that probably seemed petty when seen from the outside.
"Want me to read a bit to you?" Fraser asked.
"Yeah, that'd be good. Just let me heat up some more water."
Fraser wormed his way into the tent to dig out one of his father's journals from his pack, careful not to upset the stove in the close confines. He shifted, to get the lamplight to fall on the book. It was probably a sign of age, needing more light when he read.
"Mm-hm. Here's your tea."
Fraser took a sip, then read.
May 20, 1957
Buck and I have both had enough of this spring weather--the snow is melting in the sun and freezing at night, and it makes poor going for the dogs. I'll be glad when we're home again. Not only for that: Harry Doublefoot is making a damnable nuisance of himself, and I wish we'd apprehended him somewhere closer to civilization. If he keeps complaining, I'll be tempted to just dump him in the snow.
Aside from that, Buck is getting rather nervous, poor man, and I can't say I'm much better. A letter from Caroline reached us in Alert, and she was none too subtle in saying that she'd love to introduce Debbie to Buck. Having already met Debbie, I'm inclined to think Buck and she would hit it off, but of course that's hard to tell. Especially when I'm hoping so much that they will. Lord, when did I become so eager for marriage?
I'm fairly sure that Caroline's mother, that matchmaking woman, had something to do with Caroline's introduction to Debbie in the first place. But I certainly liked Debbie well enough, so I don't mind it.
Fraser glanced up to look at Maggie, who was grinning. "These journals are turning into quite the romance novel."
Fraser stifled a giggle at the thought of his father writing romance novels. Then he sobered, looking at Maggie with a slight frown on his face.
Maggie shook her head at him. "It's fine, really. I don't--first of all, it's their lives, not mine. And it's not like you can just replace someone, like Mom could just have filled up that space in their marriage. I'm not bitter about it, really."
"All right," he said softly, and continued reading.
After a couple of entries more, he put the journal down and they prepared for bed. The sky, when he went out to relieve himself, was no longer covered with northern lights, but the stars shone bright and sharp. The dogs were curled up in the show, and, as he often did, Fraser thought of Dief, dead a few years ago from old age. He'd never seen Dief's ghost, and he tried to be glad of that--after all, what unfinished business would he have that would keep him here?
Coming back in, he found Maggie already gone to bed, leaving space for him to worm his way into his own sleeping bag.
"Goodnight," he said. "Sleep well."
"You too," she murmured back.
Frannie's irritation at the cold air sneaking in from the open door turned to delight when she saw who it was. "Maggie! You're back!"
Maggie pulled the door closed behind her, then pulled Frannie into a hug. "Yeah, sorry I'm late. You know how it is."
"Well, yeah." Frannie wrinkled her nose. Police work was the same everywhere, apparently. She worked part time at the RCMP detachment as civilian aide, same as she had in Chicago, so yeah, she knew.
Carrie came skidding along the hall, almost bowling Maggie over. She was named Caroline, after Ben's mother, but everyone shortened it to Carrie.
"Hi there, take it easy," Maggie said, kissing her on the cheek.
"Did you get the bad guys?" Carrie said, excited.
"Well, there weren't any bad guys. Just a lost tourist. But yeah, I got him. Eventually."
"Cool," Carrie said, and then she was off again, a whirlwind of energy.
Maggie stripped her parka and boots off. "Wow, I need a hot bath."
"Yeah?" Frannie raised her eyebrows, hopefully conveying "with me?"
Maggie grinned. "Sure."
Frannie loved seeing Maggie smile like that, like she was having fun. She'd been so serious when Frannie first got to know her--well, except for the politely-Canadian smiles--and it wasn't any wonder, really, when you thought about what she'd just gone through, with her husband dead and all. Frannie had tried to--well, she'd tried not to hit on her too obviously, because of everything, but they'd kind of failed at taking it slow, anyway. But hey, it had worked out fine in the end.
"Hey there," Ray said, coming out to give Maggie a kiss. "There's dinner on the stove."
"Thanks. I ate at the detachment, but I'll bring it for lunch tomorrow."
In the bathroom, Frannie got into the tub and started filling it, and watched Maggie efficiently stripping off her clothes. Maggie stepped into the tub with one foot, then drew it up again with a little "eeek" noise. "Hot," she muttered.
Frannie reached out to wrap one hand around her calf. "You're cold, more like."
Maggie got herself into the bath what seemed like an inch at a time, until finally she leaned back into Frannie's arms with a full-body shudder.
"Nnnngh, that's good," she mumbled.
Frannie giggled. "I haven't even gotten started on you yet." She rubbed Maggie's arms. "You have goosebumps."
Frannie started soaping her up, sliding her hands up her stomach and breasts. She loved that Maggie could relax like this and let Frannie take care of her.
They both jumped as Frannie's cellphone rang. "Nah, let it ring," Frannie said. She pulled Maggie back, as Maggie prepared to heave herself out with a sigh. "It's probably one of my Mas. I'll call back later."
That was the one drawback to living up here. She didn't mind the cold, or the darkness in winter, or that it was such a small town (although wow, she totally went on shopping sprees when she went down to Chicago), but being so far away from her family kind of sucked. Not like she regretted anything, though. They'd discussed it endlessly before deciding--Chicago or Canada, Canada or Chicago.
Her parents came up here sometimes to visit and spend some quality time spoiling the kids, and Ray had spent time here, too. And they went down to Chicago sometimes, although of course it was a big project to go all of them at once.
She sighed a little, and held Maggie tighter, snuggling her nose into her neck.
"Hey, something wrong?" Maggie said.
"Not really? A tiny bit homesick for Chicago, maybe?"
Maggie turned in her arms, but before she could start talking, Frannie shook her head. "No saying you're sorry for making me move up here, okay? That is not what happened."
"I wasn't going to say that," Maggie said, rearranging them both to snake her arms around Frannie. "I was going to say that maybe we could go down there when my vacation comes up? We could go just the two of us, and Katie, maybe?"
"Oh, that would be fun," she said, but then made a little squeaky noise when Maggie slid down her chest to nip at one of her breasts. "Hey, weren't you tired?"
"But you looked so tempting." Maggie tugged Frannie's legs up on either side of the tub.
"God, you and your Mountie stamina."
Maggie sniggered. "You just have a thing for Mounties. Admit it."
"Oh, I totally do," Frannie said. "No argument there." She shifted, reaching for Maggie, and banged her elbow into the tub as she slipped. "Ouch. Maybe we should move this to the bedroom?"
"Yeah," Maggie said, rueful.
They moved it to the bedroom--Frannie's bedroom, because she had all the sex toys, hidden in a locked drawer of her nightstand. Maggie hadn't really used any before she met Frannie, so Frannie had had the joy of introducing her to the wonderful world of vibrators. And other fun things.
She coaxed Maggie to lie down on her back so Frannie could play with her, and stroked her hand down Maggie's flat belly to the blond curly hair between her legs. Frannie loved the curves of her there, the rounded smooth skin of her pale inner thighs that looked like they'd never even seen the light of day.
She leaned in, slipped her tongue between the folds carefully--Maggie was sensitive, didn't like fingers there until she was properly wet. When she was, Frannie got out her favorite getting-Maggie-off vibrator, switched it on, and drew it along her folds, not quite to her clit.
Frannie looked up at the very nice view along Maggie's upper body to her face. "More?"
"Yeah," Maggie said, her eyes half-closed, chasing the sensation. Frannie upped the power a little bit, and Maggie shivered.
Given the right stimulation, it didn't usually take long for Maggie to come, but Frannie liked to play around with her, tease her a little. So she didn't go right for her clit, just kept circling around it until Maggie was making little jerking movements of frustration.
"Gimme your fingers?"
"Mmm," Frannie said, and slid a couple of fingers into Maggie where she was wet and ready for her. She kept her nails short these days.
Maggie's breath hitched, and Frannie could feel her tightening around her fingers. God, she loved feeling Maggie's reaction like that.
"You want to come?"
"Yeah, yeah, please." Maggie didn't move, but Frannie could feel her tense up as Frannie moved the vibrator over her clit, back and forth, unhurried, letting it build, until Maggie gave a strangled little noise and Frannie could feel her coming around her fingers. Maggie tugged her down and kissed her like she needed it, making more of those little noises--God, so hot--until she'd come down from it.
Then she rolled Frannie over. "Your turn now."
Which was just fine with Frannie.
"Mmmmrrrgh." Ray burrowed deeper into the pillow.
"Time to get up."
"If you pull the one about me being a Morning person..."
"Wouldn't dream of it," said Fraser's relentlessly chipper voice. Then came his hands sneaking in under the covers, cool and a little rough on Ray's sleep-hot skin, and okay, Ray could be convinced to wake up. Possibly. Fraser's hands disappeared, and Ray made a little noise of protest, but then he heard the door lock snicking shut. By now, he had a practically Pavlovian reaction to that.
Then there were hands again, and Ray sighed as Fraser's mouth closed around his morning hard-on. Thankfully, Fraser didn't tease, just set about getting him off with that dedicated focus of his, working him steadily, and Ray relaxed into it. And then Fraser's finger sneaked back and pressed in.
Ray yelped, his cock jerking in Fraser's mouth. "Oh fuck, you stealthy--when did you get the lube out--oh Christ--" and then he was clenching around Fraser's finger and coming in his mouth.
When he opened his mouth, Fraser was wiping his mouth and looking self-satisfied. "Ready to get up now?"
By now, Ray had remembered why he was supposed to get up, but they weren't in that much of a hurry. "Maybe. C'mere."
"Oh, I don't think--"
Ray threw the sheets off and stretched his naked body luxuriously. "No?"
Ray lunged for the waistband of his jeans and reeled him in, and Fraser gave in, unbuttoning his jeans and straddling Ray on the bed. "All right. But we do have a time to keep."
"I can do quick," Ray murmured, his fingers already at work. He stroked Fraser, muttering deliciously dirty things in his ear, then slowing down his hand until Fraser groaned with impatience and pushed his hand away, finishing himself off and coming on Ray's stomach, muffling his noises in Ray's shoulder.
Flushed and panting, Fraser sat up. "Happy now?"
"Mmm-hm." Ray wiped himself off with a towel, threw it in the laundry, and got up.
It was a good start to the day, and Ray was looking forward to the rest of it. He'd be working extra security at the Muskrat Jamboree--pretty much every RCMP officer in the detachment would be there, including Fraser and Maggie, but they always needed extra people anyway. Ray didn't have a full-time job, or even a steady part-time one, but he did odd jobs around town: security, repairs, that sort of thing.
They negotiated the usual morning kitchen chaos, with Katie wailing and banging her spoon because something was apparently wrong with the yoghurt, and Carrie insisting that she was too old enough to do the blanket toss.
Maggie deftly sidetracked Carrie with a story about her first blanket toss, while Frannie handled Katie. "Go on, okay? Maggie's shift isn't until later. We'll be fine."
"All right. See you later," Fraser said, and they were off to the orientation meeting.
"...so this is the map of the fair grounds. The games will be over here, and there's a medical station set up there, too," Sergeant Koe finished.
They spread out around town, Ray and Fraser sticking together for now, keeping an eye on the fair grounds. It felt almost like old times, except this was a festival, not hunting down a murder suspect or something. Ray missed it sometimes, that connection they'd had, always having each other's back.
But then, there were bits he didn't miss, too, the bits that used to keep him up nights, sometimes: teenagers, just kids really, overdosing on drugs; guys shot to death in drive-by gang shootings. The corpses down in the morgue.
He didn't miss that. And he was getting too old for the stunts they'd used to pull, too.
The crowds were getting thicker, and they split up for a while. Ray dealt with a lost kid and a couple of parking violations, directed tourists towards the portable toilets, and had someone turn in a wallet that they'd found on the ground.
He gave it to Fraser when they met up. "This, this is a good level of crime right here. Chicago could learn from this."
Fraser grinned. "Glad to hear it."
They had time off for a while in the evening to wander around for themselves, and Ray did not let himself be taunted into trying the two-foot high kick or the kneel jump. That way lay humiliation. But they found Frannie and the kids, and Carrie excitedly told them how she'd done the blanket toss (with Frannie reassuring them in a whispered aside that she hadn't actually been thrown very high).
They had another shift at night, when there was a bit more trouble, with people cutting loose and drinking. Ray completed a circuit of the main street, to find Fraser trying to talk sense into two guys on the verge of a fight.
"I think," Fraser was saying, stepping between the two of them with palms upraised the way he did, "that if you just calm down a little you'll find that--" and then one of the guys was taking a drunken swing at him, which Fraser dodged easily.
Ray caught his eye, nodded at one of the guys and pointed at himself. Fraser nodded back, and then it was one on one, and Ray got his guy subdued, arm behind his back.
"You gonna calm down?"
The guy did, sullenly, and then it was over.
There were a couple of more fights to sort out, plus a guy who lay passed out in the street, but at four in the morning they were finally on their way home. Ray slipped his hand into Fraser's as they walked the night-time streets of Inuvik, quiet when they got away from the crowd. There was the faintest tinge of dawn in the east, and their breath steamed in the cold. They didn't talk, just walked together in step.
The windows in the house were unlit. They got in through the front door quietly, fumbled through the dark hall and into Ray's room, where they shucked their clothes off and got into bed, legs and hands and face still cold from outside, curled into each other, and fell asleep.
"Okay," Frannie said, taking command. "They'll be here at six, so I'm going to finish up the lasagna. Maggie, you do the salad, and Ray, you can set the table. Oh, and take out the bottle of wine, it'll be too cold otherwise."
"Yes, sir," Maggie said, giving her a salute.
"And me?" Fraser asked, somewhat relieved at the clear directions.
"You distract the kids so they're not underfoot," Frannie said, already starting to pour sauce into the lasagna pan.
Well, that was no hardship. He went to find Paolo and Carrie already playing in the living room, and put Katie in her bouncy chair nearby so she could watch.
"Hands up! Give me your gold!" Paolo said, leveling a stick at him in a way that, considering his eyepatch, was probably meant to be sword-like. Fraser emptied his pockets of change and put his hands up.
"We're gonna make you walk the plank!" Carrie cried. "But first we're going to tie you up."
Fraser had taught them to tie knots himself, so he was quite thoroughly trussed up when Buck and Debbie and Julie came in the door.
"Grandma! Grandpa!" Paolo and Carrie rushed off, leaving him alone. With some difficulty, Fraser levered himself up on the couch, and watched as his family welcomed his sister and his two remaining parents. They were both retired, though still in good health, aside from Buck's stiff leg.
"Bested by your own kids, eh?" Buck asked him.
"Growing old, I'm afraid," Fraser said, and offered his wrists for untying.
"It sneaks up on you," Buck said, shaking his head.
"Hi Ben," Julie said, coming up to give him a sideways hug, ropes and all.
"Left your family at home?" he asked her.
"Yeah, it'd be such a crowd, plus Eric got some kind of stomach bug, and I didn't want him to pass it on to your kids."
He and Julie had grown closer since Fraser had settled down to marry and have children--it gave them much more in common than they'd had during Fraser's solitary days in the RCMP.
A knock on the door again, and Maggie's mother Ellen came in.
Fraser had found it rather awkward to tell Buck and Debbie about Maggie being his half-sister, since Bob had after all still been married to them back when it had happened. But he needn't have worried--both his parents seemed to like Ellen. It had been long ago, and perhaps they had known about it, after all? Well, he wasn't going to ask.
His arms and legs free again, he lifted Katie up so she wouldn't feel left out. And then Frannie was gently chivvying them all towards the big dining room table. He ended up between Debbie and Frannie, with Katie in her baby chair on Frannie's other side.
"Any trouble at the Jamboree this year?" Debbie asked.
"No, just the usual," Fraser said.
Debbie nodded. "It seemed like a calm year. Although of course, after a beer or two, I had to tell Buck that no, he really is too old to do any of the games."
She had been a Mountie wife most of her life, and knew all the ins and outs of the service. Fraser liked to think that in another age, she would have been a Mountie as well. As it was, they had had a traditional marriage, with the two women in the Day marriage staying at home with the children, and the men, in the Night marriage, out on the trail together.
But when Caroline died--when Caroline was murdered--Debbie had taken her rifle and shot Muldoon dead.
After that, they had left their remote cabin and moved in to the newly built Inuvik, living in barracks the first year, then moving into a house. There had been an empty space where Caroline had been, but Fraser had still grown up on stories of her, Debbie carrying her memory on through bedtime tales, singing alone the lullabies that they had used to sing together in harmony. Caroline was the soprano, Debbie used to say, and now I'm like the harmony without a tune to carry me.
Bob had rarely spoken of Caroline, though, and neither had Buck. Grief took people in different ways, Fraser supposed, although he was gaining a new understanding of his father through his journals, these days.
He looked around the table. Ellen was listening to Carrie, who was no doubt describing her exploits at the games. Frannie was talking with Julie, and doing her usual intense gesturing while talking. She was like Ray in that, Fraser thought, animated like Morning people were said to be.
Frannie should have been surrounded by her own family, like he was. He told her so, in a lull in the conversation, and she smiled at him.
"Hey, no, I've got my family right here, okay? I mean, I'm not going to say I don't miss them, but you guys are plenty for me. Besides, I always wanted adventures."
He raised his eyebrows. "That's not what you said when we were stuck in that car the first winter."
"Um, well. It makes a great story, though?" She looked around at the remains of dinner. "Okay, everybody, time for dessert! Ray, would you clear the table?"
Dessert was chocolate mousse, which Frannie had also made. She perhaps did more than her share of the cooking, especially on occasions like this, which called for something more fancy than the simple dishes that he and Ray and Maggie tended to make. But he hoped the housework evened out in other ways.
"So, do we get some singing now?" Debbie asked, when dessert was done.
There was general assent, Maggie going to fetch Fraser's guitar, although Ray wore an amused expression.
"I can't believe I married into a family of Canadian folk singers," Fraser heard him saying in an aside to Frannie, who scoffed. "Oh, you know you think he's hot when he plays guitar."
Ray only grinned, and went to get Katie and settle down with her in the sofa, murmuring something in her ear that Fraser only hoped was not a disparagement of Canadian folk songs. Despite trying, Fraser had rarely gotten him to sing while sober (although when tipsy, he'd been known to belt out slightly-off-key ABBA songs, which Fraser found very charming). Frannie did like to sing, and growing up with a church choir had given her quite an impressive repertoire of Latin masses. She'd sung in Inuvik's Our Lady of Victory church choir (the Igloo Church, everyone called it) for a couple of years.
"What would you like?" Fraser asked the company, tuning the guitar.
"Something with pirates," said Carrie promptly.
"All right then," Fraser said, and played the opening bars of "Barrett's Privateers". Everyone knew that one, at least enough to come in on the chorus, and Carrie and Paolo sang the lines Barrett was smashed like a bowl of eggs, and the Maintruck carried off both me legs with great gusto.
"I thought you said privateers weren't the same as pirates," Paolo objected when they were done. "They have that letter thingy."
"True," said Buck, nodding. "He's got you there, son."
"You do, indeed," Fraser said. "You can choose the next song, then."
Predictably, Paolo chose something dire and bloody. After that, Fraser accompanied Maggie and Ellen on a lovely rendition of "Canadee-I-O"--which was another of Carrie's favorites, of course, with the woman cross-dressing as a sailor.
Debbie took over the guitar to do one of her lullabies. "You'll be my melody, won't you?" she asked Fraser. She simplified the chords a bit, with her stiff hands, and her deep alto quavered a little more than it had done, but it was still true.
The old lullaby was in a minor key, and it made Fraser think of those who should have been here, but were absent: Caroline, whose part he was singing, and whom he mostly remembered through others. His father, whom he had in some ways known better in death than in life. His grandparents and their library.
And then there were those parts of his family who were not dead, but simply absent: Ray Vecchio, who would no doubt have been rolling his eyes at all the folk songs along with Ray on the couch. The rest of the Vecchios, and Ray's family in Arizona, whom Fraser didn't know well.
Debbie made eye contact, and they slowed down the song for the finish. No one said anything for a moment.
Then Ray stirred on the couch. "Hey. Would you do Forty-five Years?" He looked a tiny bit sheepish, and Fraser raised his eyebrows at him, trying not to smile. So much for not liking his folk songs.
He took the guitar, a little conscious of his hands on the frets, remembering Frannie's comment about guitar-playing. Glancing at her, he could see that she, too, was trying not to smile. She gave him a little encouraging nod.
"Where the earth shows its bones of wind-broken stone
And the sea and the sky are one..."
He lost his self-consciousness as he sang. Ray's gaze was warm on him, and why shouldn't he sing love songs, after all? He looked at Maggie as the chorus came up, inviting her to join in, and she did, improvising a simple harmony a third below him.
Some of those he loved were absent, but after all, so many of the people he loved were here with him. For that, he was profoundly grateful, and Fraser found himself smiling as he sang.