Third (Time Is The Charm, Or So Someone Told Ray Once)
by alejandra

Day One

Ray thinks it's going to be hard for him to get used to being in civilization again. He thinks maybe he's too used to being on a dogsled, to only being with Fraser and Dief, to always being cold. He thinks that having people around and being warm and being able to order pizza --

Fuck it. Who is he kidding? Ray is fucking thrilled to be in civilization again. The first thing he does when the plane lands in Chicago, is he checks to see if his keys are still in the pocket of the jeans he was wearing the day he and Fraser jumped into that snowbank from the back of an airplane. It feels like a million years ago, but it's been less than a month -- and the keys are still there, in the jeans buried deep inside the duffle bag that Ray scammed from Fraser for all the stuff he'd accumulated.

For a fucking wilderness, the Northwest Territories had a lot of fucking stuff.

He hauls ass off the airplane, because he's been on airplanes for, oh, about a year and two months now -- almost twenty-four hours -- and he grabs a taxi, and he tells the driver to step on it. He's going home. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed his apartment.

He lugs the duffle up the stairs, and steps in to a blast of warm air. Who turned on the heat? Not that Ray is pissed about that, no, sir, thank you God, he hasn't been warm since before he and Fraser jumped off that airplane, not the real kind of warm, the warm that you get from a hot shower or a sauna.

Ray wants a sauna.

Fraser must have known that. Fraser must have called his landlord. Fraser --

Ray leaves the duffle at the door and strips down as he walks through his apartment. By the time he gets to the shower and turns on the water, he's ready. He's been ready. He is so ready -- the first touch of the water-needles is bliss.

He stays in the shower until all the water becomes tepid. He washes his hair a million times, until it squeaks when he touches it, and all the shampoo is gone. He uses a ton of conditioner, slathering it on until all the squeaking is gone. His hair is fucking long now, he looks like a mountain man. He could have let Fraser cut his hair with the straight razor, but Ray felt that was too much like taking his life in his own hands, or learning to jump onto the top of a car -- or riding a motorcycle through a window. All in a day's work, but that work was in Chicago, not in Canada, so Ray wasn't gonna chance it.

Which means now his hair is long. Longer. Longish. His beard is even longer, and kind of itchy, and he looks like a fucking -- like a fucking mountain man.

When Ray gets out of the shower, he drips water all over the bathroom floor, which he can do, because his bathroom floor isn't wood stuck together with sticky shit from the trees, and won't warp if the water gets on it. And he wraps a big, soft towel around himself, and another around his head, and lets all the water soak into it.

His feet feel alive again.

He can move all his toes. Not that he couldn't before, but now they aren't cold, so it feels good.

Ray is ready for a nap or something, but instead he calls and orders a pizza with extra pineapple -- it's not Sandor, it's someone else who answers, someone who doesn't know him, which Ray is not okay with -- and then goes into the kitchen and pulls out the biggest knife he's got, which isn't very big since all his kitchen utensils came from just what was left over after Stella took the sets.

Oh, Stella. Ray stares at himself in the bathroom mirror, which is still a little foggy, and thinks about Stella. Now that he's back, he can go see her. Her and Vecchio. Which is something he doesn't want to do. See Vecchio, that asshole.

Ray uses the knife to cut his beard as close to his face as he can, and then he scrapes off the stubble with his disposable razor. Two of them, actually. It's funny, Ray thinks, that his beard grows so fast, but it's also annoying and he's always hated it.

Fraser suggested using a straight razor, which, he claimed, stayed sharper longer than even the most expensive disposable. Stella had bought him an electric razor with a bunch of gadgets and gizmos attached, which normally he would have liked, because he's a real gadget kind of guy -- but he hated it and never used it. It's probably still in his closet somewhere.

The guy looking back at him in the bathroom mirror is the same guy who was there the morning Ray and Fraser left for Canada. The guy is the same guy who was there when Stella served him with the papers, and the same guy who was there when Stella said she'd marry him.

It's just the beard, Ray tells himself, that made you think everything was weird. You are totally normal. You'll even have normal hair again soon. It'll be great. It will be great. It will be greatness.

 

Fifteen Days

There's a postcard from Fraser, with a picture of dogs on the front. It says:

Dear Ray,

Diefenbaker and I hope you had a safe journey home. Diefenbaker says to tell you that he misses you, and hopes you bring a jelly doughnut if you chance to visit us. I am being promoted and reassigned -- to Fort Good Hope. It should be lovely this time of year.

All the best,
Benton Fraser.

There's a period after Fraser's name. A period. Like, stop. Like, the end.

Tonight, Ray decides, he's going to get really fucking drunk -- but when he comes home from work, he just sprawls face down on his bed and falls asleep in his jeans.

 

Three Weeks, Almost

Ray hates his job. He always thought he liked being a cop, and now he knows different. He resents the criminals for being stupid enough to think crime would ever pay, and he hates the murderers for hurting people for no reason.

"Money ain't a good reason to kill someone," he tells the man who killed his wife and mother for the insurance settlements.

"You can say that because you have money," replies the man miserably. He's old and fat and his hands are puffy, and he keeps taking off his wedding ring and putting it back on.

Ray grabs him by the collar and hauls him out of the metal chair and shoves him against the wall. "Don't you tell me what I got!" he yells, and it takes two uniforms to pull him off.

Welsh sends him home and tells him to get some sleep, and to not come back until he can control himself. Well, Welsh has him partnered with a fucking rookie, a kid from the Gold Coast who thought being a cop would be fun because he watched too many episodes of NYPD Blue. If Ray had the right partner, Ray wouldn't need to control himself, because his partner would control him -- and Ray would be able to balance his partner, and it would be teamwork, like how being partners is supposed to be.

Ray goes home and stares at the walls and thinks about nothing. He thinks about nothing. He is thinking about nothing, because there is nothing to think about. Sure, if Fraser was here, but Fraser ain't here, so what's he supposed to do about it?

He hates his job and he hates his partner and he hates his apartment, because it's empty and looks sad and he don't even got a turtle and all the dancing footprints are wearing off. Frannie's got the turtle, and Ray don't think he can go over to her house to visit it, not with pictures of Vecchio and Stella everywhere.

Ma Vecchio would be happy to see him, would pet his head -- which is back to normal -- and pat his cheek -- which is also back to normal -- and would make him polenta and gnocchi and red sauce and mussels and that pie with the cheese and the sausage.

But the pictures, the pictures of Vecchio and Stella --

They wouldn't hurt him at all, so he can't look at them. As long as Ray can't see them, he can pretend that he still cares about what the fuck Stella is doing with her life.

Ray doesn't even remember when he stopped thinking about her, but he remembers when he realized he hadn't thought about her in a long time: when he was sitting at the fire, next to Fraser, their knees touching and their shoulders touching, Fraser drinking tea and Ray drinking coffee, talking about the dogs.

All of a sudden, Ray thought: I haven't thought about Stella in a long time.

Then he thought: I wonder what she's doing right now.

Then he thought: I don't care.

Then he took a sip of his coffee. He didn't tell Fraser. Some things a guy's gotta keep for himself.

 

A Month. Ish.

Ray calls his parents to let them know he's back in America. They went back to Arizona with their trailer and the GTO. He gets their answering machine and is relieved, and leaves a message that he hopes sounds happy. It doesn't fool his mother, though, and he doesn't answer when she calls back too find out what's wrong with him.

 

Six Weeks

There's another postcard from Fraser when Ray gets home. It says, in ugly script, "Fort Good Hope", and there's a picture of some kind of wooden structure.

It says:

Dear Ray,

Thank you for the box of doughnuts. They were surprisingly tasty and not stale. Diefenbaker ate them all except one, and was sick for quite a while afterwards. Surely you should not have gone to the expense, but I know he appreciates it, and misses you.

We hope you're doing well. Fort Good Hope is lovely. I have already increased the "solve rate" here by seven percent.

All the best,
Benton Fraser.

Benton Fraser. Period. Stop. End of sentence.

Ray stays home and in bed the whole next day, looking at his ceiling, thinking about doing the laundry. He calls in to work dead, and Detective Wet Behind The Ears laughs like it's a joke or something.

 

Six Weeks, Two Days

He promised Welsh he'll get his act together, and he's been trying, he really has, closing a shitload of cases with Detective Wet Behind The Ears, saving lots of little old ladies from purse-snatchers. He catches eleven murders, and closes them all, bam bam bam; it's always the boyfriend or the husband, except for the once, when it's the mother-in-law, and the other time, when it's the head cheerleader. That one makes the papers, so that all the reporters can ogle the girls in short skirts.

Even Detective Wet Behind The Ears ogles the teenage girls in short skirts.

Ray pretends he's ogling, but really he's wondering how the fuck he's figuring this shit out. Instinct can only take you so far, he knows, and the logic half of him is missing. Oh yeah -- he knows what it is: he was a damn fucking good detective before Benton Fraser came into his life. He was a detective himself, before he ever became Vecchio. He even almost hit a promotion to sergeant, which maybe he'd've taken if Stella hadn't left him.

He took the job as Vecchio instead.

He's got skills. He's got options. He don't need to stay at the 27th -- he's not even sure why he's there, except that's where Welsh is, and that's where they offered him the job, and that's where he's got his desk that Vecchio didn't have time to mess up before he took Ray's wife and went to Florida.

What Ray wants to know is why he didn't want to look at the girls. That's what he wants to know. He wants to know why he's got a picture of Fraser in his head, looking at the girls, blushing, tipping his hand, saying, "Thank you kindly," and "Won't you please excuse us?" and getting him and Ray the fuck out of there.

Ray ditches Detective Wet, which is a good name for him anyway, since his hair always looks greasy, and goes for some Chinese food, at a place where he never went with Fraser. He takes it home with a six-pack of beer, and he watches SportsCenter, and pretends like sometimes his hand don't drop down to his side with a piece of Kung Pao chicken nestled in his palm for a half-wolf who ain't there.

 

Two Months (to the very day, not that he's counting or anything)

Ray hates his life, and he is spending more and more time at the bar down the street from his apartment, and less and less time in his apartment. He hasn't been to work for three days; there are nineteen messages from Welsh on his answering machine.

He motions to the bartender for another beer, and the bartender raises an eyebrow but serves it up to him anyway.

The slow, rolling drunk of Stella Artois -- not the best beer, but with an appropriate name, and they didn't have anything Canadian -- is not the drunk he wanted. But he wasn't gonna drink tequila, cause that's too fast, and he wasn't gonna drink vodka, because that meant either shots or some girly drink in a martini glass, and gin would give him a hangover, and rum was too -- too fucking happy. And whiskey was what he and Fraser drank as a toast to their fucking adventure, so he sure as hell wasn't going to drink that.

The bartender leans over and says, "Last call" and Ray checks his watch. Last call at eleven p.m.? Yeah fucking right.

"Yeah fucking right," says Ray.

"You've been here since two in the afternoon," says the bartender.

"Today's my anniversary," snarls Ray. "I can drink however long I want to. It's a free country."

The bartender settles onto his elbows. "Anniversary of what?" he asks, and that's when Ray realizes that not only is it not the anniversary of anything at all except two months after he hit American soil, but that he's so pathetic a bartender is trying to get him to talk.

"Nothing," says Ray finally. The bartender's got his eyebrows all the way up almost into his hair. "No fucking thing."

Ray leaves a big tip on his credit card for the bartender, and hopes he remembered why when he he's sober and paying the bill. He crosses the street instead of going home, and goes into the 24 hour corner store, and buys a 40 of Ballantine, to lull himself to sleep with, and a box of women's face bleach. He got his hair cut, but it's dark, and it's greying, and he looks old.

 

Two Months, One Day

Ray examines himself in the mirror. The face bleach turned his hair orange, and he's not sure why he thought it was a good idea. Now he looks worse than old -- he looks like an old guy trying to be young again.

He calls Welsh.

"Where the fuck have you been, detective?" barks Welsh.

"Sulking, sir," says Ray.

Welsh is on the other end of the line -- Ray knows because Ray can hear him breathing. But Welsh doesn't say anything. And doesn't say anything. And doesn't say anything. Ray carries the phone into the kitchen and fills a pot with water and puts it on the stove. The microwave is with Frannie too, and he still hasn't gone over to see her and pat her belly and coo over what will be her babies and talk to her about Fraser. He's got some messages from her on his answering machine too, but he doesn't listen to them, just deletes them.

"Sir?" Ray says, a little timidly. He rubs his face. He sounds like a five year old. Then he scratches himself on the eyelid with his hangnail and winces.

"All right, detective," says Welsh. He sounds tired, but Welsh always sounds tired. "How much time do you need?"

"Uh. For what?" Ray stares at the water and wills it to bubble while he chews on his hangnail. He got kind of used to really hot coffee while he was in the Artic fucking Circle of hell, and he don't want to go back to using hot water from the tap.

"To go back to Canada and see the Mountie and the wolf." Now Welsh sounds impatient. "Don't waste my time, Kowalski. Just tell me when you'll be back, and I'll do the paperwork here today."

"I'm going back to Canada?" says Ray, and bites down too hard, rips the hangnail clean off. Blood wells up and Ray sucks on the poor finger.

"Well you're not staying here," says Welsh, and then Ray is about to mouth off to a dial tone.

He takes the pot off the burner and gets coffee and M&Ms at the deli three blocks south -- which happens to be next door to a drugstore, so he buys real bleach and real developer and by the time he's done doing that, he's ready for another coffee, so he gets it, and then another for good measure, and he's gotta juggle a little to get it all home safe, but he does.

He is triumphant.

 

Two Months, Two Days

So that's it. Ray just misses Fraser, misses the way things were, misses having a friend. He could have a lot of friends, have friends everywhere, have girlfriends, even, if he wanted them. But he doesn't, he just wants everything to be the way it was, minus him being sad over Stella.

But if he's not sad over Stella, why's he sad? Because he misses the way it used to be, which wasn't so long ago, but he feels like a different person. Maybe he is a different person.

He just wants to be somewhere with Fraser where they can smile and laugh and drink whiskey and eat doughnuts and Fraser can tell an Inuit story about hunting and fishing and tracking and trapping, and Ray can call him a freak and sneak Dief some stew on the sly and --

What Ray wants, he decides, as he unpacks the duffle bag he'd been ignoring since he got home, and washes the clothes, and repacks it, is to kind of be married to Fraser, without any funny stuff, and maybe with a girl or two sometimes, because he loves Fraser and wants to be with him, like a buddy, like a brother, like a partner, but not the queer kind of partner. He just -- loves him.

It takes Ray the better part of the day to realize this. He realizes it and then he decides it and then he buys his ticket to Fort Good Hope--Chicago to Houston (Houston? The fuck?), Houston to Edmonton, Edmonton to Yellowknife, Yellowknife to Norman Wells, and Normal Wells to Fort Good Hope, which is not exactly how he got there, which he says to the nice lady on the phone from the travel agency.

She's got a real heavy Russian accent, and she keeps trying to sell him a cruise, and he keeps telling her that he doesn't want to go to the Caribbean, he wants to go back to Canada exactly how he got from there to Chicago but reversed, so she books him on a flight to Toronto, and then the day after that he goes from Toronto to Calgary, and Calgary to Edmonton, which is exactly right. And cheaper.

The jelly doughnuts will be stale and squashed, but Ray will be in Canada, so maybe Dief will forgive him.

He goes to the post office and mails Fraser a post card of the Chicago skyline at night, all lit up and pretty:

You will see me before you get this.

Chicago's no fun without you guys.

I really miss you.

Then he crosses out the last line with really heavy black lines and just signs his name:

RAY (KOWALSKI)

 

Two Months, Three Days, One Hour

Ray almost cancels the ticket three separate times, for three separate reasons:

1. What if there are no women in Fort Good Hope? What worries him about this question is that he doesn't really care about the answer, because he's rather be with Fraser. That's not normal, right? Then he decides he doesn't care.

2. There are no doughnuts. There is no bleach. There is no fruit, not that Ray likes to eat it a lot, but what if he wants pineapple on his pizza? Oh, no, there is no pizza, not even a Pizza Hut, not any kind of delivery, not even that stuff you buy in the grocery store to make your own pizza. But Ray guesses that he can live on Bambi stew or whatever the fuck it is sometimes as long as he never has to eat pemmican again, which, if Fraser has any kind of sympathy for his fellow human man, he will never ask him to. Plus there is a whole town with a whole wooden building and everything, according to the post card, so maybe there's hope yet for getting some kind of good food during the whole year except, probably, the coldest months of winter or something.

3. The coldest months of winter. Would Fraser go on a cruise? They could get a great deal through the Russian lady, who wanted to send Ray to Haiti or something. There would be girls on the cruise, and pizza, and they could gorge themselves. Ray could gorge himself, anyway, and Fraser could play pinochle or something with all the other husbands.

Ray thinks for one second that maybe everyone would think he was gay because he was living with Fraser, but that would never happen, being as how Fraser is an upstanding Mountie and Ray is a cop.

But Ray wouldn't be a cop.

He sits straight up in bed at three in the morning when he realizes that he wouldn't be a cop. Because it seems like he's not just talking about going for a long vacation, but going for a long time, period, stop, end of sentence, and that means he's not a cop anymore.

"Who am I?" he asks the door in front of him. The door doesn't answer. Maybe it's afraid Ray will kick it for giving the wrong answer, which maybe he would.

He figures he can always find work anywhere, and he could be a mechanic, or he could be a fix-it type of guy, or he could do anything. He could write a book. He could even not work if he wanted to take a break from working. He has money in his bank account -- not a lot, but way more than he would have if he was just a normal guy. He and Stella never spent money on kids, and she bought all their stuff with her money from her job, which he hated -- the job and the stuff, all of it -- and he did all that undercover work and got paid real nice for that.

Yeah, Ray is set up. Ray is ready to go. Ray is going, going, gone, baby, gone.

 

Two Months, Five Days

Ray panics in the Toronto airport because it's really clean and really air conditioned and no one is smoking illegally and no one is shoving anyone else, and some old lady actually hands him his bag instead of waiting for him to hand her her bag, and he can't take it.

"I hate Canada," he says, and stomps away from baggage claim, and goes to find the ticket counter to make sure his ticket is ready for the next day, because he fucking hates this place, but he's going to go to Fraser, damn it.

He stays at the airport's Sheraton with all the flight attendants, and he looks at their legs and smiles at them, but doesn't really care, and when one of them slips him her room keycard with the number written across the top in permanent marker, he winks at her and tucks it in his pocket. But he is not interested, which is disturbing. He hasn't jerked off since he went back to Chicago, hasn't even wanted to, and that is disturbing, and he hadn't noticed, like when he hadn't noticed he'd stopped thinking about Stella, but worse because this is his dick and it's not interested, and that can't be a sign of anything but badness.

The bar is full when he goes down, so he turns right around and heads back to his room and cracks open the mini-bar, and does the whiskey first, two mini bottles of J.D., and then the gin, which he mixes with a can of Coke, and then the vodka, which he mixes with the Diet, and then all that's left is coconut rum, which he frowns at, but takes. He locks the door of the mini bar, and sits back on his bed, and tries to figure out how to work the remote control to buy some pay-per-view porn, because it might very well be the last time he ever sees porn, ever. Until he and Fraser go on that cruise, anyway.

He hits the wrong button twice, and rents some movie about kids in high school and some movie about being lost in the woods, and finally he hits the porn. The alcohol has kicked in, and his fingers are tingling, and he rents the wrong fucking porn. He was going for the one with the icy blonde, and instead he got one with some kind of fucking plot.

Whatever, he can jerk off to anything, and he will jerk off, because he's not going to Fraser as damaged goods -- he's gonna carry his own weight and be a normal fucking person and get a job and do something with his life, maybe.

He opens his fly and pushes down his jeans and strips out of his t-shirt and gets naked and comfortable on the hotel bed. The Sheraton beds are real nice, real squishy, with big thick blankets and a lot of pillows.

Ray strokes his dick a little, closes his eyes and listens to the BAH BAH BAH BAM of the porn music, which is a little like elevator music, and he runs his finger behind his balls, and then starts to stroke and wishes he had lotion or lube or something, because he's not hard and he's not wet at all, and when he opens his eyes, the guy on the screen has his dick out and his hand doesn't even fit around it.

Ray's got big hands, and if his fingers didn't fit around his dick, it's very likely that there's no way he'd ever get laid, because his dick would just be too fucking big for anyone to want to touch, but when he looks down at his small, soft dick, and then back at the almost-massive, really hard dick on the television screen, he feels... totally inadequate.

And then the camera pans to the second guy. Gay porn. Of course that's what Ray rented, so now he can watch two giant dicks and feel twice as inadequate.

When the first guy gets on his knees and starts sucking off the second guy -- who looks a little like Turnbull, actually -- Ray's dick starts to pay attention, and Ray is suddenly, horribly aware of why he wasn't jerking off and why he wasn't interested in the cheerleaders and why he didn't go to the flight attendant's room.

It might not be true, he tells himself, but his dick doesn't believe it.

It's just that you haven't seen any porn in a while, he tells himself, but his dick doesn't believe it.

His dick really likes watching the first guy on his knees, and Ray's knees can feel what it would be like if they were bent on the hard carpet of the hotel room, if he was leaning over another guy, and his mouth starts to water.

Ray's dick is leaking, and he got hard too fast and all the blood is in his dick now, and his head is starting to hurt, so he jerks himself off really fast. He squeezes his eyes closed and holds his breath when he comes, and there's Fraser, standing there, in Ray's head, watching him jerk off, and they're surrounded by snow. Ray comes all over his hand and stomach and thighs, and groans.

He can't sleep. He's jittery. He has to pee. Four times. He stares at himself in the bathroom mirror; his hair is too white-blonde and his skin is too red and he looks tired and there's dried come on his stomach. He washes his face and thinks about all the times on the adventure when he jerked off while Fraser was sleeping, Fraser's smell all around him, and the snow -- that must be what it is, Ray just got used to Fraser being there while he jerked off, not that he's --

Aw, fuck it.

Ray calls Stella on the hotel phone, even though he knows they're gouging him for the out-of-country.

"Hello?"

"Stella?"

"RčRay?"

"Yeah, hi, howya doing?"

"Are you drunk?"

"Yeah."

"Do you know what time it -- oh, God, is your mother okay?"

"What? My mother's --"

"No -- shh, Ray, it's Ray -- yes -- shh -- Ray? Sorry. Your mother's okay?"

"Yeah. I just --"

"Why the hell are you --"

"Stell, do you think I'm gay?"

"Jesus, Ray, you're having a sexual identity crisis now?"

"Could you not say that so loud with Vecchio right there?"

"I'm hanging up."

 

Two Months, Six Days

Ray wakes up with the phone buzzing steadily in his ear and the sun shining on his face. He wants to kill someone -- preferably himself. He's naked and covered in come that's flaking off and his head is going to fall off his shoulders, and he's running late. He's got exactly thirty minutes to get to the airport before they close the boarding for his plane. At least he don't have to go through customs again.

His brain is running slow, but his body is moving on autopilot and he makes it with three and a half minutes to spare, and, luckily, none of the stewardesses -- flight attendants -- are the one from the elevator the night before.

The whole way there he thinks about what he can possibly say to Fraser. Does he need to say anything at all? Is Fraser even going to be happy to see him? Ray plays through scenarios in his head in which Fraser says, "Why, Ray, it's lovely to see you, but unfortunately I don't have the time at the moment to bother talking to you, since you didn't bother to write." And other stuff too, but that's basically it, except for the ones when Fraser isn't even there and Ray has to stay in a hotel or something -- that big wooden churchy building -- and Fraser never comes back because he's dead on the tundra somewhere, fallen into a crevasse, broken leg on an ice floe.

Ray's headache just gets worse and worse and doesn't get better, especially when he starts playing through Fraser greeting him warmly as though Ray had been gone on a day trip to Yellowknife to sleep with a hooker or something, and then they live together forever in stupid Canadian bliss with no fighting and no problems and they chase down litterbugs and save the environment and sometimes have barbeques or something.

Ray hates his brain, and chews down all his fingernails and drinks too much water to try to get rid of his headache, and it doesn't work.

When he lands at Fort Good Hope -- he never wants to be in a plane that small again, sitting so close to people who glare at him and speak languages he doesn't understand -- it's dark.

He asks at the only desk in the whole airport: "Where's the Mounties?"

The girl blinks big dark eyes at him. "The Mounties?"

"The outpost. The -- uh -- detaching." Ray rubs his eyes and sighs. "I'm here to see Benton Fraser?"

"Oh!" And the big dark eyes light up and she smiles. "Yes, the Corporal. What you want to do is --" And she gives him the easiest directions in the world, which are to leave the airport and get in a cab -- a cab -- and just ask to be taken to Fraser.

Ray says, "Thank you -- uh. Thank you kindly," and the girl's smile gets even bigger, and Ray feels foolish. He slings his duffle over his shoulder and walks out of the airport, and there's a cab right there, like destiny, like karma or something.

 

Once

The cab drops him off at a small cabin all the way at the end of the paved street, away from the town, where the pavement-cinderblock-whatever turns into dirt. Ray pays helplessly in American money, which the cab driver takes, grunting, "Americans" under his breath, which Ray can't fault him for, because he should have changed his money over.

Which he knows.

He stands outside Fraser's cabin, and his knees feel kind of weak, and his hair feels limp, and he doesn't know what to say.

The windows are all dark.

Finally he takes a breath and goes up the two stairs to the door, and knocks. No one answers -- there's not even any barking.

He tries the latch and the door opens. The cabin is dark inside, but since it's Fraser's, Ray would bet that it's not cluttered, so he steps in, and wishes he brought a flashlight. He feels like he's violating something, but he's not sure what, since he's sure that Fraser wouldn't be mean about letting Ray in.

Or maybe he would.

Fraser has electric lights, Ray realizes, when he automatically searches the wall for a switch and finds one.

Fraser has a living room with a television and a couch. Fraser has a kitchen with a table that looks handcarved. Fraser has giant windows on three sides. Fraser has doors and closets and indoor plumbing.

Ray is looking at Fraser's bedroom, with its one giant bed, too big for one person -- and the cot in the corner that Ray is almost positive is what Fraser sleeps on every night -- when he's knocked onto the bed by a giant white thing.

"Dief! Do not lick my ear! Do not lick my ear!" yells Ray. He pushes Dief off his chest and scratches him behind the ear and lets Dief lick his face.

Fraser is standing in the doorway, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, holding his hat in his hands, staring at Ray.

"Ah," he says.

"Hey, Fraser, I was in the neighborhood," says Ray. Dief barks sharply, and Ray looks down at him. "Yeah, buddy, I brought doughnuts."

"Ah," says Fraser.

"Yeah, good to see you too," says Ray. "I don't gotta stay here, I can get a hotel -- I --"

"Ray," says Fraser, like he still can't believe Ray is standing there.

"So congratulations on your promotion," says Ray, because he doesn't know what else to say, and he never wrote back to Fraser, and he feels like a shit, and there's a part of him that's thinking about what Fraser would have done if Ray had called him to ask if Fraser thought Ray was gay.

Fraser doesn't have a telephone.

At least, not one Ray saw.

"And," Ray continues, "I kind of quit my job, so if you could help me find a new one, I'm a real good mechanic, and I can make anything work, and I can count out change or something, or answer phones --"

"Ray, what are you doing here?" says Fraser. He's twisting the hat in his hands, which makes Ray feel a little better.

"I, uh... It's like this, right? If you think about what happens when you got one wolf and two wolves and you put them together, and then you take them apart, then --" Dief interrupts Ray by barking and Fraser frowns at him.

"Diefenbaker," Fraser says sternly, some of the old Fraserness coming back into him, "if you cannot listen to Ray's story politely, you will have to excuse yourself."

Ray scratches Dief behind the ears. "That's okay, Fraser, I'm not one for telling stories."

"Understood, Ray," says Fraser. "Perhaps you'd care for some supper? I was about to make stew for myself and Diefenbaker."

"Yeah, that'd be great. Uh, thank you kindly!" says Ray, and Fraser smiles at him, and turns around, and leaves the room. Ray can see him through the door, putting his hat on the rack and moving around the kitchen.

Ray looks down at Dief.

"You're happy to see me, right?" Dief licks his face. "You're happy to see the doughnuts anyway."

Ray leans back on the bed and stares at the ceiling, which is exposed wood, but not all splintery.

 

Twice

Coffee. Ray smells coffee. He sits straight up -- he's on a comfortable bed in a cold room, wearing jeans and a t-shirt. Where is he?

"You're awake," says Fraser. He's got a cup in his hand. Ray looks from the cup to Fraser's face to the cup again. Fraser holds out the cup. "I took the liberty..."

"You're a good man, Fraser," says Ray, and he gulps down a burning hot mouthful and nearly chokes himself, it's so good. Chocolate, he can taste chocolate.

Why did Fraser have chocolate?

"I need to go to the detachment today," says Fraser. He's wearing jeans again, and Ray feels like he's observing Fraser in his real natural habitat -- the hat, jeans, flannel, boots. "And..."

"Sorry I fell asleep last night," says Ray. He takes another sip of coffee. Why does Fraser even have coffee?

Maybe, he thinks, Fraser has a girlfriend who likes coffee and soft beds.

And that would be okay, he decides.

That would be the worst thing ever.

"Quite all right, Ray. You had a long and tiring trip. And that is, of course, why I have the bed." Fraser blushes after he says this, which Ray don't get, but okay, Fraser's always been a freak.

"Okay," says Ray.

"Ah." Fraser looks down.

"Yeah?"

"I must ask... Did you -- your job? You mentioned last night that you're planning to stay here for a while?"

Ray nods. "Yeah, that okay?"

"Of course." Fraser puts the hat on and tugs it down firmly. "I'll start the paperwork today, then."

"Paperwork?"

"Temporary citizenship, and civilian consultant-liaison to the Fort Good Hope RCMP detachment," says Fraser, and he sounds surprised, like that's what Ray should have expected.

"The what?"

"It's only me out here, Ray, for several hundred miles. There are quite a few civilian volunteers for various tasks, and with your history as a lauded and decorated officer of the Chicago police department, surely we will be able to find a stipend for you, to thank you for your efforts on behalf of Canada. And --"

Ray interrupts. "So what you're saying is that I'm gonna be like how you were in Chicago?" His heart is pounding so fast it's gonna jump out of his chest maybe.

"Yes. Unless you'd rather --" Fraser blushes again.

"Perfect," says Ray. "Perfect."

"Ah, yes." Fraser nods. "Perfect."

He leaves Ray breakfast on the stove, which is eggs and bacon and stuff that Ray knows was not in Fraser's small refrigerator the night before, but Ray isn't gonna question it, and he leaves Ray a neatly drawn map and written directions so Ray can get anywhere he wants to go, and there's Canadian money, and there's a flashlight and a small knife.

Ray ain't too good with a knife, but he pockets it anyway, and he spends the day exploring the town and introducing himself around. Which he didn't need to do, because it seemed like everyone had heard that he was there and staying with Fraser.

He hits the local diner, which has great coffee and even better pie, and the waitress already knows his name and gives him two squares of a Hershey bar for his coffee. The old guy behind the counter at the general store tells Ray that their mechanic is pretty good but can't quite get everything running right, so if Ray would take a look at their truck when he gets a chance, the old guy would really appreciate it, and would be happy to make sure Ray is stocked up on anything he needs from the States. The three guys and one girl at the mechanic's shop already have a jumpsuit for him, and teach him how to curse in Slavey. The kids at the Pentecostal church give him directions to the Catholic church, and the priest at the Catholic church shakes his hand and tells him that he can come to confession whenever he wants because there are no listed hours, and there's one service Friday and one Saturday and two Sunday, just in case Ray's parents visit and want to come.

The girl behind the desk at the detachment introduces herself as Ethel T'seleie, the daughter of the community leader, and says, "We were all wondering when Corporal Fraser's partner would get here."

Her smile is bright and her teeth are yellowish and she has a real firm handshake, and Ray is -- he's --

"Partner?" he says.

"Of course," she says. "The corporal has told us all about you." Another blinding smile. "Come on, he's back here, catching up on the paperwork. He just got back two days ago from a three-week circuit of the lands -- last one before the thaw, you know."

"Uh-huh," says Ray, and follows her, and there's Fraser, behind a desk, typing on a computer, and he smiles when he looks up and sees Ray.

They eat supper at the diner, with a bunch of old Inuit guys who tell stories just like all of Fraser's, who all sneak Dief food under the table just like Ray does, and they walk home in the dark without flashlights.

Almost halfway back to the cabin, Ray missteps and his hand brushes Fraser's, and his dick leaps to attention, and Ray steps away, and says, "Sorry," and Fraser says, "Think nothing of it, Ray," and continues telling Ray about his tour of the lands.

Back at the cabin, Ray thinks it's going to be awkward, but Fraser excuses himself to shower, and then settles onto the small cot with a book.

"I left plenty of hot water for you, Ray," he says as he opens the book. "Please, feel free -- my --"

"Casa es mi casa, got it," says Ray, and digs through the duffle until he gets a clean pair of boxers.

The shower smells like Fraser, and Ray's dick has been hard since they touched -- not totally, but interested, uncomfortable -- and Ray takes some of Fraser's shampoo and sniffs it. Almonds, maybe, makes him think of biscotti. It foams nice into his hand and is slick on his cock and he braces himself leaning against the wall, forearm above his head, staring down at his hand on his cock, thinking about what if it was Fraser's, what if he's really gay, what if -- what if --

He uses Fraser's shampoo to wash his hair, and supposedly it's good for washing all parts of the body, so he uses it on all parts of his body, and feels his stomach rumble. He wants some biscotti.

Ray sits on the toilet for a while. This isn't anything like their adventure. This is nothing like their adventure. There's indoor plumbing. A shower. A giant bed, and a television, and a lot of people who all want to talk to him, and no dogs, only Dief. And Fraser is being a little too polite, but so is Ray, they're on their best behavior, and Ray don't like that, but they'll settle in.

Ray wonders what Fraser would say if Ray said, "Fraser, I wanna be married. But no funny stuff. Just buddies, until death do we part, which will probably be soon, the way things went last time we were partners."

Ray wonders what Fraser would say if Ray said, "Fraser, I wanna be married, plus every time you touch me, I gotta jerk off, so we could try that funny stuff. I kissed a guy once, on a bet, and I won five dollars, so I know how to do it."

When Ray goes back into the bedroom, the lights are out and Dief is curled up on the left side, and Fraser is asleep. Or pretending. Ray climbs into the bed and gets under the covers -- the sheets are smooth against his bare skin, and his dick twitches, but he firmly ignores it and thinks about the GTO until he falls asleep.

 

Third (time is the charm, or so someone told Ray once)

Ray wakes up when Fraser wakes up, and follows Fraser into the bathroom almost, but sags against the wall just in time and waves his hand and says, "You first," and Fraser closes the bathroom door. When he comes out again, it's less than five minutes later, and Fraser is dressed, but not shaved.

Ray pees, splashes water on his face, comes out to the smell of coffee floating on the air.

"Coffee," he mumbles, and goes straight for it. There's a mug out, and a bar of chocolate, and a small container of cream.

Fraser is sitting at the table, eating oatmeal.

"Diefenbaker is outside," says Fraser between bites. "Today --"

"Yeah?" says Ray.

"Today we'll finish the paperwork on your status," says Fraser.

Ray drinks four cups of coffee and puts the rest of the pot into a thermos that Fraser hands him that matches the thermos Fraser has of tea. Ray looks at it for a while, and then looks at the television. Why does Fraser have a television?

"Hey, Fraser?"

Fraser looks over from where he's washing the breakfast dishes -- his dish, Ray's mug. "Yes?"

"You been expecting me?" Ray leans back in his chair, pointedly not looking at the thermos.

"I had hopes, yes." Fraser looks at him for another moment and then turns back to the dishes. "Of course, I wasn't expecting -- well. Your semi-permanent residency is a pleasant surprise."

"A pleasant surprise," Ray repeats. "Great, just what I always wanted to be, like flowers one night for no reason at all."

"Yes, exactly like flowers for no reason at all," says Fraser, but his tone's got a little more attitude, which Ray likes, cause it's like it's back to normal.

Their hands brush again on the walk to the detachment, which is on the other side of town almost exactly from Fraser's cabin. They stop at the diner, which has doughnuts, and get three for Ray and one for Dief -- Ray figures that his third will probably go to Dief, and makes sure it's jelly.

It's almost too normal, sitting with Fraser at a desk -- there was a desk for Ray, with a computer. Ray got an email account -- rkowa@rcmp-grc.gc.ca, which made him sound like a native, even -- and a little paper i.d. card and fills out a bunch of forms for a gun.

He sends an email to Stella:

Hey, stell. Im in Canada. Pretty queer huh? Im a consultent for the rcmp, so if you need me, you can get me here.

He almost signs it "love" but instead writes "Tell vecchio I say HI." And then his name, and then the address of the detachment. He emails his mother, too, with almost the same email, and he emails Welsh, and he emails Frannie, and then it's lunchtime.

By the end of the day, he's exhausted from smiling at people and being nice all the time, and he's tired of Fraser being polite to him, and he just wants -- he wants it to be like it was before, and he says so on the walk home.

He says, "Fraser, if this is gonna work, you gotta stop it."

"Stop what?" asks Fraser. He looks hard at a tree or a bush or something, licks his finger, and holds it up to the wind. "The ice will start to break up tomorrow. If you heard loud cracking noises, please don't let it worry you -- it's just --"

"Fraser," says Ray. "I don't wanna talk about the ice."

"Of course, Ray."

"No, this is what I wanna talk about. What the -- what the fuck, Fraser?" Ray stops and leans against a tree and sighs. "Why are you being so polite? And do not tell me that you're just being courtesy."

"Courteous."

"I said not to!" Ray slides down until he's sitting on the ground, which is kind of wet and still has a little snow, and his ass is getting wet.

Dief noses his face and licks his chin, and Ray doesn't bother to talk out loud, just mouth the words: "Go on, Fraser and I gotta talk." Dief whines and looks to Fraser, who makes an impatient motion with his hand, and Dief bounds off.

"You're going to spoil him," Fraser finally says.

"I didn't come back here so we could be polite to each other," snaps Ray.

"Oh?" Fraser is scowling at him. "Why did you come back here then, Ray? The pemmican? The delightful scenery? You've suddenly discovered you can't stand the idea of spelling realize with a zed?"

"Huh?"

"I was building a life here, Ray, one that you've now interrupted. So when you've decided you can't live without pineapple on pizza or a bathtub, shall I expect you to be off again?" Fraser puts his hands on his hips and stares down at Ray.

"That ain't fair, Fraser; that's not how it was!"

"How was it then, Ray? Do enlighten me!"

"What, are you pissed at me? For going back to my life? I didn't fit in up here!" Ray stands, because Fraser towering over him gives Fraser an unfair advantage.

"And so much has changed?"

"Yeah!" Ray leans forward, steps right into Fraser's personal space like he's a perp and Ray's gotta get a confession. "You got a television."

Fraser snorts.

"I ain't kidding, Fraser. You compromised. And you know what? I came back before I knew that, so I compromised too. Teamwork. Partners. Buddies, yeah?" Ray leans closer and jabs Fraser in the chest with a finger. "So you ain't got the high ground here. I missed you and I came back. You missed me, I know you did, or you wouldn't have stocked up on coffee."

Fraser pushes Ray's hand away, steps forward, and Ray refuses to step back, refuses to concede the ground.

"You said you were happy to see me. You said I could stay. That changed in the last day?" Their chests are touching, and Ray is angry, so he's not getting hard, which is good, because -- because Fraser is angry too, and now ain't the time for Ray to be thinking with his dick.

"Of course not, Ray," says Fraser, but he still sounds pissed.

"I had to leave." Ray leans onto Fraser's chest a little. "I didn't know. I had to figure it out."

"I --"

"You had to figure it out, too," he says. Instinct, instinct clamoring at him, jump jump, leap, just do it, just find out, now, before it's too late, before you screw something up --

"I always knew," says Fraser, and Ray's mouth drops open.

"What the fuck did you always know?" demands Ray.

"That we worked better together." Fraser sighs and looks down, away, turns his head. "I always knew, Ray, after the incident on --"

"The kissing," says Ray accusingly. He knew there was something queer about that buddy breathing thing.

"No," says Fraser, and looks up sharply. "The submarine. Instinct and logic."

"Uh-huh." Fraser is leaning on him too. They're standing in the middle of the forest on the tundra and they're leaning on each other, and it's just like it's supposed to be, Ray thinks, just like how he wanted it, two people leaning on each other. He could stay like this forever.

"Ray, I would never take advantage," he insists. "That wasn't -- I wasn't -- I didn't mean -- I'm -- I know you're not."

"You know I'm not what?" says Ray, and inside he's throwing a fucking party, because Fraser is, and Ray don't mind that he's got a dick, because Ray's got a dick too, everybody's got flaws, nobody's perfect, and Ray's at least willing to try, even if it's weird and gross the first time, because --

"I know you're," Fraser begins, and then Ray leans forward and pushes Fraser's hat off his head and presses their mouths together. He keeps his lips closed. Fraser's lips are a little chapped and rough, and they're waxy, and slightly parted, and Ray thinks: Just do it, Kowalski, you pussy.

He sticks out his tongue and swipes it over Fraser's lips, and then pushes it inside, and they're kissing, and it's not weird or gross, and Ray can feel Fraser's dick pressing against his, and that is kind of weird, but it's not gross, and when Ray pulls away, they're both breathing hard, and Fraser is blushing.

"Like that? You know I'm not like that? Because I feel like that, Fraser. I feel like that and maybe I didn't always but I do now, and probably will forever, because I don't feel like nothing when I'm not around you, do you know what I am saying here? Am I all alone here, Fraser? You gotta help me out some, do you know what I mean?" says Ray, all in a rush.

Fraser takes one long breath, and then steps back close to Ray and kisses him again.

Ray pushes him back.

"Fraser," he says. "Fraser, I..."

"Yes, Ray," says Fraser.

"You don't even know what I was going to say," says Ray.

"You were going to ask me to sleep in the bed with you tonight." Fraser nods briskly. "And I shall."

"I don't know if I'm --"

"And, of course, this is easy for me?" Fraser picks up his hat from where it fell and brushes it off.

"You've done this before." Ray glares at him. "Me, I was married."

"I haven't done this before. It's just as new for me." Fraser glares back at him, and Ray feels a little deflated.

"If you ain't done this and I ain't done this, how are we going to figure out what to do?" asks Ray.

"Between your instincts and my logic," says Fraser dryly, "surely we can figure it out."

Ray isn't quite convinced, but he sure feels a lot better for the rest of the walk back to the cabin.

 

Twelfth

Ray watches Fraser tape the postcard of the Chicago skyline he'd sent to the inside of his closet door, so that he can look at it every day.

"You taped it inside out," he tells Fraser.

"No I didn't," Fraser says.

"You're supposed to be able to see the skyline." Ray reaches for it, and Fraser slaps his hand away.

"It's mine," says Fraser. "I can tape it however I want." And he studies Ray's messy handwriting with a little smile on his face that makes Ray feel really happy.

 

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