Fully Aware
by alejandra

Ben straightened his back as he looked at Ray. He stood as tall as he could. It was unfair of him, surely, knowing that Ray found the slight discrepancy in their heights to be rather intimidating. He never said anything, but his actions spoke loudly enough. That and his scent, and his --

"Fraser, are you even listening to me? I cannot believe that you aren't even listening to me!" Ray slammed his hand onto the table, and Ben bit back a warning about splinters. Ben had sanded that table himself, as smooth as he could get it, knowing Ray would never remember to be careful around it.

"I'm listening to you, Ray," said Ben. He drew in a long breath, and let it out slowly. Ray smelled of anger -- spicy, peppery anger. Ben wasn't sure what, exactly, had set off Ray's anger this time. He'd come home from his shift at the detachment, stomped through the door, shook off snow, asked what was for supper, and...

"You say you're listenin' but I don't think you are. Are you listening to me? Do you hear what I'm saying?" said Ray.

"I am listening," insisted Ben.

"Okay, so what did I say?" Ray leaned over the table and looked up at Ben. Ben licked his lower lip and focused.

"You said that I am -- an idiot, I believe is the phrase you used. You know, Ray, the generally accepted definition for the word 'idiot' is 'a person of profound mental retardation'. Now, I know that I am, perhaps, not as clever as some other people one could name, but certainly I am not --" Ben stopped himself when he saw Ray's fingers clenching into a fist.

Never had Ben anticipated a situation like this when he and Ray set out on their adventure to find the Hand of Franklin. He should have, and felt sheepish that he didn't -- two men in such close quarters for so long... The natural course of action would be to turn to each other during the dark, cold nights. The Inuit knew that, and so did Ben's father -- all those stories about Buck Frobisher were in his journals for a reason. However, Ben preferred not to think about that, and knew better anyway. His mother never would have tolerated...

No, she would have tolerated. Would have -- and did -- tolerate anything and everything. There was no reason for her to have stayed with his father for so long, but she did. Her love was tremendous -- and forgiving.

"Ray, I wish we could have a candid discussion about whatever it is that's bothering you tonight," Ben finally said. Ray glared at him. Ben straightened his spine again, and sat down in his chair. Ray's hands were good for so many things, only one of those things being a hitherto unknown talent for woodcarving, for creation. Ben should have realized that too. There were so many things about Ray that he should have put into proper perspective before their journey.

Perhaps he would have been able to avoid the ugly scene sure to follow, now that Ray knew the truth. Or suspected the truth, at any rate.

"Here's candid for you, Fraser: you are a liar. This is not buddies, this is not friends. We're supposed to be a duet, and here you are sitting on all this crap? I don't think so, Fraser. I really do not." Ray slumped back in his chair. "So you'd be happy to do this forever, huh?"

Ben cleared his throat. Surely Ray wasn't asking him --

"I mean," said Ray, "don't you got any idea what it means to protect yourself, Fraser? Don't you know that you can't just run around with your heart on your sleeve everyplace? We got all the Inuit talking. You know they hate homos, you know Tulita got about eighty people in it who aren't me or you and none of those eighty people want to know what we get up to when we're shut up in our cabin."

Ben had the uncharitable thought that Ray didn't want to know about it either -- he wanted to do it, and then pretend they hadn't. Ray so disliked being vulnerable to Ben, being in the position of having little to no power, being... on the bottom.

Ironic -- Ben chuckled inside his own head -- since Ray was most often on top, digging his fingers, those long fingers with perfectly formed knuckles, into Ben's chest.

He shifted in his chair and willed his erection to go down. It was not an appropriate time to be having these thoughts.

"Ray," said Ben, "I am fully aware of the dangers of our situation, and --"

"No, Fraser, I don't think you are 'fully aware'. As far as I can see, you're aware of nothin'." Ray jabbed a finger at him. Ben wanted to get up, to do something, to have tea, to have a place to put his hands other than in his lap. "You're not aware of anything at all, and I think we both know that. Because I think we both know -- you want candid? Here's candid, okay? Here is candid! You can sit there and tell me you don't love me?"

Ben felt himself jerk, carefully schooled his face to, hopefully, not reveal any of his thoughts. How did Ray -- of course. Ben consistently underestimated Ray's emotional depths. It was one of his many flaws, and so unfair to Ray. Still -- it was difficult to not be put off from closer examination by Ray's brash exterior, to just assume that Ray was also not looking past the surface.

"Yeah, that's what I thought, Fraser. You ever gonna tell me? Were you ever going to say, 'Hello, Ray, have some stew, by the way, I love you'?" Ray's eyes burned; Ben thought that perhaps if Ray were on the other side of the -- admittedly small -- town, Ben would still be able to feel his eyes upon him.

It was almost foreplay, sometimes, the way Ray looked at Ben. Now, though, it was the prelude to Ray leaving. It must be. Ray calling him Fraser, Ray bringing up things Ben had carefully not allowed himself to think about -- or tell stories about, or try to communicate in any way other than through their physical assignations. Ray staring hard at him, his mouth tight and his lips flat, his jaw sticking out a little, that was Ray saying goodbye. No -- that was Ray saying, "Dot it, sign it, stick it in a box marked done, Fraser, because I am out of this for good."

"Certainly I love you, Ray. You are... my best friend." Ben couldn't help being somewhat guarded in his reply.

Ray held Ben's gaze for a moment, and then dropped his head into his hands. "So that's it, Fraser? That's it, huh? That is all you have to say to me? That I'm your best friend? You just gonna settle for that? You just gonna sit there and tell me that's enough?"

Ben swallowed hard. "Well, Ray, I do realize that your life is very different from mine, and eventually you'll leave, and -- frankly, Ray, I believe that for the length of time you're here in Canada, certainly I can love you enough for -- for both of us to be satisfied."

Ray exploded -- stood up swiftly and kicked his chair over and kicked the wall and screamed, yelled, louder than Ben had ever heard him yell before. In the corner, Dief whined, but Ben didn't spare him a glance. Dief could take care of himself -- but Ray looked like he was about to throw himself out into the snow, ten miles outside of town, and if he fell into a drift... Ben didn't want to think about it.

Ben didn't want to think about a lot of things, apparently. He'd never realized before that he had such an issue with avoidance. Perhaps it was a legacy of his Uncle Tiberius.

"Well?" yelled Ray, and Ben leaned back in his chair, as though that would help him escape Ray's wrath.

"Well what? I have no expectations of you, Ray. I don't wish to be yet another person wanting you to be someone you aren't. You've made it rather clear these past few months that you don't -- that we..." Ben licked his lip again, but stayed his twitching fingers from reaching up to his eyebrow. "I didn't wish to be like -- in a similar manner in your life to Stella, with expectations, needing for you to be someone you aren't."

"No expectations?" yelled Ray. "Don't you think you deserve something out of this?"

"I'm getting plenty out of this."

"You're getting -- you're crazy, Fraser, that's what you are. You're insane, you have no idea how to protect yourself or what you're supposed to be getting." Ray kicked the chair again, and again, and Ben glanced down. At least Ray was wearing trainers, rather than his heavy mukluks or the soft slippers. One would hurt the chair, and the other would hurt Ray's toes.

"Obviously you and I have different ideas about what I deserve, Ray," said Ben, fully expecting Ray to interrupt him -- and Ray did not disappoint.

"What the fuck, Fraser? What the fuck, Ben?" said Ray, and Fraser felt his heart clench a little. No, obviously his heart would not clench, but the feeling was one that Ben almost couldn't... describe. The feeling was... similar to seeing Victoria again, similar to every night, when Ray would chant his name, lick his sweat, drink down his -- every night.

Ben let out a shaky breath and drew in a stronger one.

"You are fucking insane, Ben, you are a fucking idiot. You're sittin' there, right across from me every night, thinking that I don't love you, that you've gotta take what you can get because you can't have nothing else? You don't deserve nothing else? What the fuck, Ben? You must have eaten too much pemmican or something, maybe it expanded into your brain!"

Ray stayed standing, but leaned over the table until they were nose to nose. He lowered his voice to the dark, threatening voice he used on suspects; his breath smelled of sweet carrots and coffee and chocolate. "You think I don't love you? You're a fucking dumbass. How does that even make sense, Fraser? How does that even make sense? I am living in fucking Canada! You don't even have ESPN, or delivery, or Mr. Wong's pan-fried noodles, and I am living here! We built this cabin together, and we're being shunned by the fucking native tribes here for being queers, and you think I went through all that just to leave? You think I'd've done all this if I was planning on going to Splitsville?"

Ray stopped there. Ben was sweating, breathing heavy, and so was Ray, but Ray was -- furious, so furious, so angry, so filled with rage.

Ben opened his mouth -- to say what, he didn't know, but he surely had to say something to Ray, something to diffuse this situation, make it stop, make Ray -- make Ray stop.

But Ray shook his head. "Do not say one word, Ben," he said, and then he pulled on his mukluks, the ones Ben had made for him, over his sneakers, and pulled on a sweater, and bundled into every piece of cold-weather clothing he owned, and took a rope and a flashlight and a lantern, and with everything Ray picked up and put on, Ben felt his heart sink further and further. Yes, he did think Ray was going to leave, eventually, but it looked like Ray was leaving now. Then Ray picked up his glasses and shoved them into his coat pocket, and turned to Ben.

"I fucking hate you, Fraser," said Ray, and let the door slam behind him.

The night was still and quiet. The snow would come in less than a day, but Ray would make it to town in under two hours, and could leave tomorrow -- leave. Leave with the supply plane.

Ben could hear Ray tramping through the snow, the thin layer of ice on top cracking with the pressure of the snowshoes. The steps faded soon enough. Ben laid his head down on his arms on the table, and listened as hard as he could, but the steps faded into the crackling of the fire. A log broke, fell, and once the flames had settled down from that, Ray's footsteps were gone.

Dief padded up to him, pawed at him, scratched his arm through his flannel shirt.

"What do you want?" said Ben rudely.

Dief whined at him, growled in a lecturing tone.

"What was I supposed to do?" said Ben. He didn't look up, didn't lay a hand on Dief's head, and didn't look over at the emptiness on the other side of the table. "He's a grown man, Diefenbaker, and if he wants to leave, we can't stop him. He knows the way to down and what to do if he falls into a drift or a crevasse."

Dief snapped at Ben's arm and stalked away to lay in front of the fire. Ben stayed at the table, his face in his hands, thinking about Ray, letting himself feel everything, all the brief moments, all the minutes he'd stored up for this very day, the day when Ray walked out the door to go back to Chicago and civilization and heterosexuality.

Ben had tried to tell him -- so many time he'd tried to tell Ray everything, but how could he? Ray loved women. Ray loved Stella. Ben was just... an aberration.

But that didn't mean that Ben wouldn't hold close to his heart the memories of sleeping with Ray, the way Ray's feet were always cold, always pressed against Ben's warm shins, the way Ray would steal Ben's flannel shirts and wear them flapping out of his jeans, the way Ray would never initiate physical contact, but would fling himself into Ben once Ben touched him. The dark, wet cavern of Ray's mouth around Ben's cock, and the salty-sweet taste of Ray's cock on Ben's tongue.

Ben drew in a long breath through his nose, stood up, and put the kettle on.

The world would continue to turn, and he would continue to exist and do his job, and serve the people of Tulita as best he could in his capacity as one of the two local members of the RCMP. Ben told himself this as he drank his tea, and then again as he did his evening ablutions and fed the dogs, let Dief out for one last run, and then again as he laid in bed, by himself, staring at the ceiling of the cabin and feeling very much alone without Ray next to him.

After listening to him toss and turn for more than a half hour, Diefenbaker finally took pity on him and jumped into the bed, pressed his warm, furry body against Ben's, and licked his face.

Ben couldn't help feeling bitter at Ray's timing -- Ben and Corporal Jenny Arnauyuk were scheduled for one week on, six days off duty, barring unforeseen events, because they both lived outside of the town, and it was easier than making the journey into the town every day. There was a small apartment behind the RCMP detachment, and while it was comfortable enough, it wasn't home.

Now even home wasn't home. And Ben had an entire week, all to himself, during which he could contemplate that. A week he had planned to spend with Ray, putting together rocking chairs and perhaps even camping out one night on the shore of the Beaufort, and having a lot of sex. A lot of sex.

Ben had found that once he allowed himself to want Ray, he wanted Ray all the time. He still wanted Ray all the time -- but Ray wasn't there to be wanted, to put his cold feet on Ben's warm shins, to press himself against Ben's morning erection, to drowsily stroke himself to full hardness and push into Ben's --

Ben spent the week fishing (he caught nothing), hunting (there were no caribou), hiking (there was nothing to see but snow), and reading Rudyard Kipling aloud to the dogs. Only Diefenbaker really had any appreciation for Kipling's poetry. Unsurprising -- Ben always found Diefenbaker to be a half-wolf of refined tastes, his love for doughnuts notwithstanding.

And he thought about Ray. What set Ray off? Was it the domesticity? Was he finally just... just tired of Ben and Dief and the snow? Did Ray pick the fight deliberately so that he would have an excuse to leave? Ben's speculation continued, and turned into... moping. He moped. Ben did not mope -- ever. Except now, apparently, he did. Ray was a bad influence -- but Ben already knew that. And he'd accept it, if it meant that Ray would just... come back. Come home.

Ben couldn't take it past the fifth day, so he decided to trek into town a bit early and let Jenny have some extra time with her family. He certainly didn't need it, and being alone with Dief had begun to wear on his nerves, as Dief took every opportunity to lecture him firmly on allowing his mate to run away. Ben didn't bother to explain to Dief that Ray hadn't been his mate -- that wasn't the same thing as being partners, buddies, a duet, a team. Mates were permanent things; partners were only until the next partner came along.

He hitched up the dogsled, and the girls bounced around excitedly. Dief made disgusted noises in the back of his throat that Ben didn't bother to translate, and led the way into town. It was a short trip, brisk and bracing, and as Ben breathed in the crisp, cold air, he realized that, as long as he was in the north, in the cold and the bitter Territories, he would be able to survive this. In Chicago, without Ray, he would have been lost, the way he was lost when Ray Vecchio went undercover. At least then he'd had Ray Kowalski, with his funny hair and flat accents and jittery nerves -- it didn't assuage the pain, but it distracted Ben from it.

He didn't need a distraction from the pain of losing Ray here in the Territories. He had the land and the people and his duties as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

And with that in his mind, he stood up straighter on the back of the sled and tilted his chin into the wind, and drove the dogs into the tiny, 80-person town.

They didn't really need an RCMP detachment -- but so much poaching was done in the area, so much of the Beaufort Sea was navigated by those who would do the environment and Inuit ill, that it made sense to have two Mounties in a small town.

Ben could hear his father's voice in his ear: "In my day, son, there were ten Mounties for the entirety of the Territories, and I think we did all right."

It was so vivid, he almost turned around to see if his father was standing behind him on the sled, but no -- no, his father was gone, hadn't been around in six months. Six months and ten days to be exact, which Ben was, because it was six months and two days since he and Ray had first been together -- in two zipped together sleeping bags, trying to keep warm, bumping each other -- and only five days since Ray had left.

The five days seemed much longer than the six months, although Fraser knew that was theoretically impossible, and he was pulling up to the detachment when he heard a familiar voice on the street, vivid like his father's. Now he was hallucinating Ray. Perhaps he was slightly insane after all.

Ben leaned over the sled, trying to catch his breath, ignoring the knife of pain that went through him at Ray's flat vowels. He looked up again, in time to see someone wearing Ray's furs and Ray's orange hat go into one of the tourist bungalows across the street.

For a moment he couldn't breathe. He pulled off his gloves, unhitched the dogs, and stabled them in the small hut outside the detachment, right in with Jenny's dogs. He fed them, watered them, put his gloves back on, and walked across the street, not waiting to think, just needing to know why Ray was still in Tulita.

He knocked on the door of the bungalow, and Ray opened it, looking hale and hearty and happy and not at all like Ben felt, not like someone wasting away, dying. Moping.

"Fraser!" said Ray, and he sounded surprised, and panicked, and he smelled like sour sweat.

"Ray." Ben looked down at the ground, at the snow. More snow was beginning to fall. He looked up at Ray. He had no idea what to say, how to begin, because nothing was going to be able to fix anything -- Ben's stomach twisted with despair. Then Ray spoke

"Ben," said Ray softly, and even though Ben knew that nothing he said would fix anything, maybe they could -- move on. Wasn't that what a partnership was? Like a marriage, like a bond, one that had to be worked at and constantly maintained.

"You're right, Ray," said Ben. "I am a -- a dumbass."

Ray grinned at him suddenly, open, his eyes crinkling, his teeth shiny. "Yeah, Ben, tell me something I don't know," he said, and he twisted his hand into Ben's furs and pulled him into the bungalow room, kissing him before the door even closed all the way.

"This won't solve anything," said Ben breathlessly.

"Who cares?" said Ray, and kissed him again, rubbed their tongues together, brushed their cheeks together, bit Ben on the neck. "Come on, Ben, come to bed."

Ben closed his eyes and let himself be consumed by kissing Ray, let Ray maneuver him across the room, to the bed, unlace his coat and shove it off his shoulders, undress him and touch him. Ray's rough fingers running over his nipples made Ben shudder, and Ray's hot mouth on his skin made him gasp, swallowing convulsively.

Ray kissed and licked his way down Ben's body, pulled down his jeans and long underwear and boxers, but before he could move his mouth over Ben's cock, Ben pulled him up, hard.

"I'm busy here, Ben," Ray said into his mouth, but Ben had a fast grip on Ray's shirt -- somewhere he must have shed his coat -- and he pushed his face into Ray's, kissing Ray hard, punishingly hard, and Ray kissed him back like there was nothing in the world but them.


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