"Hello Ray! Thank you so much for helping me out, I really do appreciate it." Fraser's greeting smile as he waved Ray into the Consulate foyer was so sunny that Ray couldn't help answering with a big, goofy grin of his own. Fraser was so fantastically nerdy that way. Unlike most of the guys Ray'd ever hung out with, Fraser never acted like he was too cool, or bored, or whatever, to care about stuff. Nope, when Fraser was enthusiastic about something, it was written all over his face even if that something was just some skinny Chicago cop showing up at his door to help him move into a crappy little apartment in a lousy neighborhood in a city he didn't even want to be living in.
"Hey buddy, not a problem. You need any help with packing or anything?"
"Oh, no, I'm all done. My things are over there by the stairs. I just have to get Diefenbaker's food, won't be a moment," Fraser said, disappearing down the hallway towards the Consulate kitchen.
Ray decided to start loading Fraser's belongings into the GTO, and walked over to the small lineup of items neatly stacked against the wall. He shook his head in amazement. There were a couple of duffel bags, a garment bag, a bedroll, and two boxes one filled with books. That was it. Period. Finito. Compared to him, I live like goddamned royalty, like Little Lord Whatsisname.
"You know, helping you move shouldn't even count as a favor," Ray said with a short laugh as Fraser emerged from the back carrying a large, mostly full, sack of kibble and Dief's stainless steel food dish.
"Does that mean I don't have to bribe you with pineapple pizza after all?"
"Well, you don't have to," Ray said, shouldering one duffel bag and reaching for the carton of books. "But if you're gonna go and get all Canadian and polite, and insist on it..."
"Oh, I do, Ray. I do insist."
Dief wuffled and emerged from beneath Turnbull's desk, stretching lazily.
"Guess he insists too."
"Hmm. Somehow I'm not entirely convinced that his agreement is unselfishly motivated," Fraser said, eyeing the wolf speculatively. Ray tried to suppress a grin. The true nature of the relationship between the two displaced Canadians was no less puzzling to him now than it had ever been, but Ray had come to feel almost envious of Dief's ability to push Fraser's buttons. Wish he would be that unguarded with me.
Ray gave his head a little clearing shake. Where the hell had that come from? He glanced over at Fraser, who was still standing there having some kind of silent conversation with the suspiciously deaf wolf. God, Kowalski, jealous of Diefenbaker? Well, it was true though, wasn't it? Of course it wasn't just the wolf. Ray couldn't help wondering couldn't stop wondering was more like it if Fraser had been more open before Vecchio had left for his undercover gig in Vegas. Ray shook his head again. More open? I gotta quit reading Frannie's Cosmo in the can.
Fraser kept waiting for the inevitable comment about the location of his new apartment. Ray Vecchio, he knew, would have argued long and strong against getting another place in the same neighborhood as his previous building on West Racine. In fact, Ray Vecchio had complained about his old apartment for the entire two years he'd lived there, every single time he visited. But thus far, Ray Kowalski had failed to utter a single critical remark. He was just helping out, whistling a tune that played frequently on the radio of the GTO, and unloading Fraser's belongings from the trunk.
"Where to, Frase?"
"Second floor, Ray. It's apartment 2B."
"Why is that not surprising, my bookish friend?" Ray said, chuckling, as he used his back and shoulders to push open the front door of the building, his long arms wound around the carton of books. "2B or not 2B, that is the question..."
Fraser stood rooted to the spot, mesmerized by the sight of Ray in his worn-thin black t-shirt, black jeans and boots and that endearingly unruly blond hair bracing open the door to this crumbling inner-city Chicago tenement and ... spouting Hamlet. How did Ray always know how to be so perfect? So charming, and funny, and unexpectedly ... perfect? Fraser felt a smile begin to twitch. He was unaccountably glad, suddenly, that he'd asked Ray to help him move, even though there really wasn't that much to do. He was gladder still that Ray would be staying for dinner.
These moments were happening more and more frequently. Moments where time seemed to draw briefly still, held like a snapshot Fraser could study and store carefully away in his memory. What was funny, or perhaps ironic, was how the events triggering these small, conscious flares would probably appear to be utterly mundane to most people. In his life, however, they were rare, few, and jealously treasured. And then he wished, with a longing that surprised him, that his experience of happiness would not forever be so fleeting as a shared joke and a pizza dinner. That it could last. That Ray might never leave at all.
"Pitter patter, B. buddy! This box is getting heavy," Ray said, startling Fraser into moving forward again. "What are all these, your dad's journals? Guess he was as talkative as you are," Ray added, hefting the carton of books and shooting Fraser a wink as he passed through the door into the dark hallway.
Ray couldn't erase the image from his mind. The expression on Fraser's face as he stood on the cracked sidewalk in front of the building at first made Ray wonder if he'd gotten the Shakespeare thing wrong. Then he'd noticed the subtle curve of the mouth that indicated the Fraser-amused-half-smile, and he realized that Fraser was staring because he'd gotten it right. Because he'd thought of it at all. And Ray was beginning to recognize the warm and squishy feelings that seemed to accompany any evidence that he'd made his friend happy. God, not this again. But it had been sneaking up on him for weeks now, maybe even longer, so there wasn't much use in pretending he didn't know.
It was all because of that damned smile. That beautiful, brilliant, all-too-rare smile of Fraser's that Ray had become completely infatuated with. And he knew now that he'd do just about anything to make it happen stand on his head, knock himself out, make corny jokes about Shakespeare whatever it took to get the corners of that gorgeous mouth to turn up. Gorgeous? Yeah, hell, and he didn't even have to feel funny for thinking it, 'cause it was just the truth. Fraser was so beautiful that Ray had even caught Lieutenant Welsh giving him the ol' roving eyeball a couple of times.
Not that that made Ray's crush any less dumb. It was seriously time to find a girlfriend. He hadn't gone out on so much as a second date with anyone since Stella left, and now look what his twisted little brain was doing: fixating on the big Boy Scout. It was crazy. And like there was a snowball's chance in hell of anything coming of it, anyway. Fraser got propositioned probably every damned day of his life and by much better prospects than funny-haired, divorced Chicago detectives, who, oh yeah, just happened to be the wrong sex. Of course, Fraser just got flustered and turned everyone down anyway. God only knew what he was looking for.
They got up to 2B, and piled Fraser's stuff against the far wall. Ray looked around. It was pretty much what he'd expected it would be: a little bare bones, white-walled box of a studio, but with good western light from two larger-than-average windows. It figured that Fraser would want good light after bunking in that dark little office at the Consulate.
Fraser set the bedroll and duffel bag he was carrying down next to the spot where Ray had put the carton of books, and he hung the garment bag containing his uniforms up in the single, small closet. Diefenbaker made his own round of the place, snuffling thoroughly along the floor.
"Well, this is it."
"I didn't think it was gonna be Lake Shore Drive." Ray walked over to the windows to check out any possible view. Nothing much, unless you considered a wide, Sunday-afternoon-empty avenue lined with more dingy brick apartment buildings particularly scenic.
"I know," Fraser said, then added a little self-consciously, "most people I've met here have difficulty understanding how simple my housing requirements are."
"I lived out of my car for about a week after I dropped out of college. Going back to my parents place was out of the question, 'cause my dad just about disowned me for quitting school, and Stella couldn't put me up 'cause of her roommate. It wasn't the most fun thing I've ever done, and I'm real happy now to have my TV and stereo... but I get the simple thing, I do. Fact is, I'm not sure I totally trust a person who's never spent a night in their car."
"I've never slept an entire night in a car, Ray. Well, except on stakeouts... and then one generally sleeps in shifts..."
"You grew up in a damned snow bank and you've been living in your office for most of a year, Fraser. I think you get a walk on the technicality, there. I meant it, uh, you know, symbolically."
"Ah, I see," Fraser said, but Ray was pretty sure he didn't really. Maybe he should've tried to explain it using narwhals or ice fishing instead.
"So, whaddya say we order that pizza and inaugurate this place, huh?" Ray suggested, pulling his cell phone out of his back pocket.
They sat on the floor beneath the westernmost window, out of the glare of the late afternoon sun, the open box of pizza between them. Diefenbaker had taken up his usual spot at Ray's feet, waiting alertly, and not-quite-patiently, to be handed the crusts of his slices. Fraser had given up trying to break Ray of the habit a long time ago. He even seemed grudgingly amused by it, so long as it was just pizza crusts. Donuts were another story though, and Ray still had to palm those to Dief on the sly.
Fraser bit into a second piece of pizza and smiled suddenly. Ray automatically glanced down to see if he'd dropped a glob of sauce on his shirt.
"What're you grinning at?"
"Pineapple is funny?"
"Not really funny, Ray, just unlikely. I didn't see much pineapple growing up in the Territories. Pizza itself was a pretty exotic thing."
"I can't even imagine that," Ray said, shaking his head. "Sometimes it's hard to remember that you're really from somewhere else."
"Not for me," Fraser said in a quiet voice that made Ray's heart ache.
Ray knew Fraser was unhappy. He knew the whole story about how Fraser had wound up in Chicago in the first place, and it was a fucked up tale if he'd ever heard one. How could anyone take this guy this beautiful guy, this great cop out of those Northwest Areas where he belonged and stick him in a city and make him hand out tourist literature and replace lost passports? And for what? For being smart enough to figure out that it was a member of the same goddamned RCMP Fraser loved so much that had orchestrated his father's murder? It made Ray crazy to think about it. Sometimes he wondered if the RCMP didn't have an Inspector in charge of Special Hells. Thatcher'd be a good one to head up that unit.
"Why don't you quit?" Ray asked, suddenly finding the nerve to ask the question he'd been wondering about for months.
"Quit what?" Fraser's tone was mild, but Ray had the feeling he was doing that dense-on-purpose thing.
"The fucking RCMP, that's what. I mean, I love being a cop, Fraser, don't get me wrong. You can't put up with the crappy hours and crappy pay and crappy coffee, and all the ugliness and misery if you don't. But at the end of the day it's still a job to me. Hell, I was ready to chuck it all that day in the crypt you staked out Marcus Ellery with me, remember? The badge is something I can take off. I get the feeling it's different with you."
"It's, ah ... complicated," Fraser began, putting down his pizza on the paper plate between his outstretched legs as though no longer hungry.
"You deserve better than what they've given you."
"No." Fraser looked down, probably to avoid Ray's searching gaze. "I really don't."
Feeling Ray's continued, disbelieving stare, Fraser gathered up the pizza box and plates, carrying them to the kitchenette's narrow countertop. He was never going to be able to explain it, why he had to stick this out, why he had to do what he could to make amends, for his father and for Victoria. Ray would yell at him and tell him none of it was his fault, but Ray didn't understand. Ray hadn't seen the look on Victoria's face when she realized that he was really going to turn her in after she'd saved his life. Ray hadn't been on the phone that last Christmas, hearing the worry in all the things his father wasn't saying. In the things his father never said. And Ray hadn't been the one not forcing the issue, not going to him, anyway. Now his father was dead, and Victoria was a murderer and a fugitive and he'd almost run away with her anyhow, even when it was too late. He'd put Ray Vecchio's life and family at risk ... and people thought he was good?
"Fraser! Cut it out. What are you doing, man? You're disappearing on me here."
Fraser turned around from the counter, startled to realize that Ray had come up to stand right behind him.
"I'm sorry, Ray. I don't mean "
"You know, talking won't actually kill you."
Ray's hand was gentle on his arm, and Fraser closed his eyes briefly at the gesture. It might, if it means you discover the truth about me.
"Ray, I ..."
"Come on, I unload stuff on you all the time. You know every miserable little thing about me, and I don't know squat about what the hell goes on in your head."
He should have foreseen this. Ray was getting angry now, starting to pace the small room, sounding insulted. But how could he tell Ray what he wanted to know? Because while Ray had revealed intimate, even embarrassing things about his own life, he had never done anything as bad as the things Fraser had done. The only thing that came close was his part in Beth Botrelle's harrowing stay on death row, and even then Ray had managed to get it right before it was too late. As desperately as Fraser wanted to take Ray into his confidence, how could he without destroying Ray's opinion of him? Ray, who was his only real friend here besides Diefenbaker, and the one person who had come to mean the most to him?
"I... this is rather ... difficult for me."
Fraser knew he wasn't the easiest person to get along with. That although he'd become an astute observer and student of human nature, his own actual experience left quite a bit to be desired. He was irritating. Annoying. And those were assessments given by his friends. Both Rays called him stubborn, and he supposed that it was true. He was accustomed to ruling his own life in a simple and uncompromising fashion, for there had never been anybody else to consider. Well, except for Diefenbaker, and just look how contentious their relationship got at times. Finding real friends had always been hard.
He just didn't know how to be with people. Oh, he could be polite that was always safe. He could be official, and helpful, and he could listen. But he didn't know how to just be. He'd spent too much time alone to feel entirely comfortable in his own skin when others were around. He invariably either retreated inside a shell of grandmother-instilled and RCMP-honed formality and professionalism, or worse, found himself so starved for a human witness to his thoughts that when he actually got around people he talked too much and bored them.
The only time he really knew how to let go was when he was working a case, when he could lose himself in the challenge of a puzzle and the adrenaline of a hunt. And he knew it was only the common thread of police work that had gifted him with the two Rays. Would either of them really have had any desire to spend time with him had they met under other circumstances? Especially Ray Kowalski, his "inherited" Ray?
Ray Kowalski managed to be entirely himself, even while pretending to be another man. From the moment they first met, that strange, disorienting day Fraser had gotten back from holiday to find this spiky-haired blond fireball masquerading as his friend, Ray Kowalski had been nothing but himself, one hundred and ten kilometers an hour. Moving, winking, teasing. Talking with so much energy he mangled half his words. He was so alive. So amazing, captivating, and still in love with his ex-wife. Stop it. and...
Fraser looked over at Ray.
Who was still waiting for an answer, and looking angrier by the second. Oh, dear.
The guy was going to drive him to drink. Fucking Fraser thought he deserved it exile and all. He saw the best in everyone but himself. And he wouldn't talk about it, he just bottled up, and it made Ray nuts. How could anyone so smart and strong and capable be so blind? How can he have so much to spare when it comes to picking me up, and never cut himself a break? It wasn't good. It wasn't healthy. Frase was just gonna go postal or something one day, lose it completely. Snap, like he must have when that Metcalf chick came to town, when he'd wound up shot in the back by Ray Vecchio. Fraser had come this close to dying. The bullet was still in there. Ray had read the report, sketchy as it was. He'd almost died a year before Ray had even met him.
He might never have gotten to know Fraser. Ray scrubbed his hands through his hair and squeezed his eyes shut trying desperately not to think about what he'd do or where he'd be without Fraser.
Shit. Now he was really wigging out. Fraser was his favorite person on the planet these post-Stella days, the best friend he'd ever had. Sure, he was weird, but he was also the most trustworthy guy Ray had ever known. And the smartest. Hell, yeah. And Fraser treated Ray like he was smart too. He didn't roll his eyes when Ray's jumbled thoughts spit out the wrong words for things, like Stella used to. Fraser always knew exactly what he meant, and he'd just supply the right word with that little half-smile and wait for Ray to continue. Okay, sometimes it was annoying when Mr. Information Please put in an appearance when Ray wasn't in the mood for it, but mostly he knew Fraser was just trying to help.
And Christ, the conversations they had! Nobody had talked to Ray about the things Fraser did since college; and Fraser wasn't some snotty, show off kid trying to prove how deep he was by batting around Life's Big Questions. No, Fraser really thought about stuff that mattered stuff like justice, and right, and truth and he made Ray think about it. And Ray liked being a person who thought. He liked who he was when he was with Fraser. He liked being with Fraser. He wanted to be with him... pretty much all the time. Oh, God. It really wasn't just about Fraser's smile, was it? And it wasn't really just a crush, either.
"Ray? I know what you're thinking..."
What! No, wait, he didn't really mean that literally. But what did he mean? What the hell did Fraser mean when he said he thought he deserved the way the RCMP brass had shipped him off to Chicago to save face for some bunch of embarrassed politicians?
"So what do you think you deserve, Fraser? What have you done that was so wrong? You feel so guilty over that crazy Victoria chick you think Vecchio's bullet should have killed you?"
The anger had sparked up again and Ray resumed pacing, because if he looked over at Fraser, he'd just give in and let it go. And right now, he didn't want to let it go. He wanted to have it out. He was feeling too much. Way, way too much.
"Well, if you really want to talk about should's, Ray, the storm at Fortitude Pass should have killed me ten years before that," Fraser said, an unexpectedly sarcastic bite in his voice. "But Victoria kept me alive. And I thanked her by arresting her and turning her in."
He was doing that thing again that Ray hated. That thing that sounded logical, but was really just more of his fatalistic bullshit. The way Fraser acted sometimes, it really was like he didn't care if he lived or died.
"So is that why you do all the demented maniac stuff you do? You should've been dead already so what does it matter?" Ray was practically yelling now. This was beginning to feel like a bizarre retread of the fight they'd had at the waterfront the day Ray wound up slugging Fraser. Ray kind of felt like slugging him now, actually. But he would never, never do that again.
"No." Fraser sounded adamant, indignant, even. Then a pause. An eyebrow scratch. "No."
The sonofabitch had actually taken a second to think about it. Ray's hands shook with the itch to grab Fraser by the shoulders and throttle him. Instead he stepped away and rubbed at his forehead in frustration. The veins in his temples began to pound as his pulse quickened.
"You are one seriously fucked up individual, Fraser. You hear me?"
Fraser's eyes narrowed and darkened, and Ray could tell he had some smart ass comeback he was biting his tongue on. He turned his back to Ray, and walked over to the other side of the room where his stuff was piled. Ray started to follow, still mad and not done taking a piece out of him, when he heard Fraser muttering something under his breath.
"What was that you just said?"
Fraser quirked one eyebrow up, making sure Ray saw how pointedly the question was being ignored. Infuriating bastard. Then he gave his bedroll a little kick and it unfurled neatly lengthwise along the wall.
"Dammit, Fraser. Do not do that." If there was one thing on the planet more frustrating than Mr. Know-it-all 'won't stop arguing' Fraser, it was Mr. Silent Treatment 'you've wounded me and I'm gonna sulk about it' Fraser.
Mr. Silent Treatment was sitting on the bedroll now, with his back leaning against the wall, arms folded across his chest, looking away into the corner of the room. Ray knew he should just let it go, should probably just leave, go home and cool off. But getting shut out was making him even angrier because they were right back where they'd started. Ray stalked the rest of the way across the floor and stood at the edge of the bedroll, glowering down.
"Tell me what you said."
When Fraser finally looked up, his jaw was tight and his grey eyes had gone cold. Shit. I'm just gonna wind up pushing him further away.
"I said, that for you to call me... what was your charming term? 'Seriously fucked up?'"
Ray nodded, dropping his head, feeling sick. This wasn't what he wanted at all. Things had just spun out of control somehow. Again. Like they always managed to when Ray and his crazy temper were involved.
"I said, 'If that isn't the pot calling the kettle black . . .'"
Ray felt most of his righteous indignation drain away upon hearing that little poke. He sure as hell couldn't deny it. The wreckage that was the life of Stanley Raymond Kowalski after Stella left wasn't exactly anything to crow about. If it was, he wouldn't even be here now. He'd still be Stanley Raymond Kowalski instead of pretending to be Ray Vecchio.
"Yeah. You're right, as usual," Ray grumbled, sliding his back down the wall, coming to rest beside Fraser on the bedroll. He thumped his head back against the wall a couple of times, and then one last little barb snuck out, almost of its own volition. "But at least I don't have some goddamned death wish."
"No, you have Stella."
Ray looked over at Fraser, startled. He opened his mouth, automatically intending to defend his ex-wife, but a smile snuck up on him instead. And then a laugh.
"You fuck." Ray punched Fraser's leg hard. "I knew that polite Mountie routine was just an act."
Fraser shot Ray a sidelong glance and a half-smirk, and suddenly, just that quickly, the tension evaporated. Ray breathed a sigh of relief. Fraser didn't want to be fighting either. So, maybe neither of them were perfect pictures of emotional health. Shit happened. It wasn't like they were gonna have some magical conversation that solved everything, and Ray sure as hell didn't want to endanger the relationship they did have. Not now. The rest could wait.
They sat side by side on the bedroll for a moment, just smiling in friendly misery into the darkening room. Ray was close enough to Fraser to feel the rhythm of his breathing. Close enough to be aware of the warmth radiating off his body all along his left side where Fraser was sitting, and of that intoxicating worn-flannel clean-laundry scent of him. It was also close enough to notice the drafty, cool, lack of warmth on his right. A little shiver went through Ray at the thought.
"Just don't do it anymore, okay?" Ray said quickly, suddenly freaked out again.
"Don't do what anymore?" Fraser asked warily.
"The crazy stuff. The getting shot, and stabbed, and jumping off really tall things stuff." Ray sighed, really not meaning to take another lap around the same tired track, but the words just tumbled out. "You really scare me. And I don't care if you think you're just some miserable bastard who doesn't deserve to live, 'cause I'm selfish, okay? And I want you around." God, do I want you around.
"All right, Ray."
"And because I got no sense," Ray continued, unable to stop the rush of words now, looking down at his hands, which were twisting helplessly in his lap, "and I trust you, I'll just follow you. And that scares me too."
Fraser's hand clasped his shoulder, strong and warm, and suddenly Ray felt some wilder emotion surging towards the surface which was really, really not what he wanted.
"I wish you'd talk to me sometimes, you know? I wish... I wish I was closer to you."
And even in this state, Ray was surprised he'd let that slip, because it sounded beyond needy. Oh dammit, Kowalski. You are *not* going to do this. This was so much worse than losing it in front of Beth Botrelle's house; at least then he'd had a good excuse. But Ray knew why he was feeling so lost. It had really hit home tonight. He needed Fraser, and Fraser didn't need anybody. Didn't want anybody in there, inside those walls of his. Fraser was the most self-contained, solitary person Ray had ever known. So it was hopeless, for every possible reason. Totally, completely hopeless.
A single sniffle escaped from him, and he knew Fraser had to have heard it. Mr. Bat Ears heard everything. Ray drew his legs up to his chest, wrapped his arms around them, and rested his head on knees which were shaky and hard against his throbbing forehead. He wished he could take the whole day back, fly backwards around the world like Superman and turn the clock back so none of it would have happened. But it was too late for that now. His big mouth had seen to that.
"Ray..." Fraser sounded like he was completely at a loss. He didn't seem to know what to do, and Ray felt so bad and so dumb for not just leaving well enough alone. For not being happy with what he had. He always had to push things. That was what Stella said, and look what happened. Look what happened.
"I'm sorry," Ray said, squeezing his eyes shut.
Fraser's hand tightened on his shoulder. "Don't. Don't be sorry." He sighed softly. "It's..." Ray could practically feel his discomfort sitting there in the room with them like a thing. Big time emotional-type convos were not exactly Fraser's cup of tea. "You ... you are as close to me as anyone ever has been." He didn't say Vecchio's name, but he didn't have to.
Ray picked his head up when he felt Fraser moving beside him, crouching next to him, hand still on Ray's shoulder. He was gazing at Ray with an honest concern that was almost a little unnerving.
"Really?" Ray's voice came out a hoarse croak. Dork.
And leaving one hand on Ray's shoulder for balance, Fraser cupped Ray's chin with his other hand, tilting his face up. Then he leaned in close so their foreheads were almost touching. "You are not only my partner, but my closest and dearest friend."
Some part of Ray had a sudden, crazy impulse to laugh, because Fraser was so beautifully weird it was almost surreal. No guy Ray knew no American guy, for sure, and definitely no cop would even come close to saying something like that. Forget about meaning it. But Fraser would. Hell, he did it. Kind of amazing how he could be so closed up about some things and so totally straightforward about others. And sometimes when they fought, like earlier, Ray would get so caught up in the stubborn, frustrating, unreadable parts of Fraser that he'd forget how sweet he was, how thoughtful. He remembered now.
"Don't give up on me, Ray," Fraser said so quietly that Ray wasn't sure he'd meant to say it out loud.
Ray glanced up, and their eyes met and locked. He knew he was staring way, way too long, but he couldn't stop himself. And before he knew what he was doing, he was straining up towards Fraser, snuffly nose and all, wanting ridiculously, to hug him. Instead, Fraser brushed the back of his hand along the side of Ray's face, and Ray pressed his cheek into the caress, letting his eyes drift shut. Then suddenly, Ray could feel the remaining distance between them closing as Fraser leaned in and kissed him. It was just a little kiss soft, warm, gentle but it was a real kiss, all right. No mistake about it.
Fraser pulled back immediately, shocked by what he had just done. Seeing Ray that upset had made him take complete leave of his senses and he'd acted purely on impulse. When Ray said he wanted to be closer... well, surely he didn't mean that.
A t least Ray hadn't thrown a punch yet. He was probably still too stunned. Fraser chanced a surreptitious glance over at Ray, and found him looking surprised but, oddly, not visibly angry. Ray rubbed two fingers across his lips, as though chasing evidence of what had just happened. Then he looked up and flashed an enigmatic little smile.
"You, uh, always go around kissing guys on the mouth like that, Fraser?"
"Ah... I'm not in the habit of it, no." Fraser could feel the warmth rising to his cheeks. How could he possibly offer a reasonable explanation for his behavior? No anecdotes he could think of at the moment conveniently addressed reasons you might kiss your partner. "You just seemed somewhat, ah, upset and I wanted to..." Well, there was the problem right there. He'd just wanted to. "I'm terribly sorry, Ray, I meant no offense."
"Oh, no!" Ray said quickly. Then he paused and shrugged his shoulders. "I mean, I, uh, wasn't, you know, offended. Just kinda surprised, that's all."
It didn't look like Ray was going to punch him, after all. Fraser let out a deeply held breath. Maybe Ray was merely writing this off as yet another example of Fraser's Canadian strangeness. Hopefully he'd simply call Fraser a freak, as usual, and forget all about it. Of course, Fraser would never be able to forget the incredible softness of Ray's lips against his own. But he would get himself back under control. For the sake of their friendship, he had to.
Fraser got up and busied himself with rummaging through the box where he'd packed his kerosene camp lantern. The electricity in the apartment was not scheduled to be turned on until the following day, and the sun would soon be all but gone. There was still enough light from the street coming in the two large windows to provide some illumination, but all things considered, it was probably not a good idea to be sitting with Ray in the dark at the moment.
While he was safely across the room, Fraser also decided to take the opportunity to change the subject of conversation to the one thing that would be sure to put the damper on any of these nonsensical thoughts of his for good. There was only one logical explanation for Ray's emotional volatility this evening, after all. And he had been trying to open up the possibility of talking... maybe it was Ray who really needed to talk. Perhaps he had seen her recently and was just now having a delayed reaction to it, hence his overly sensitive behavior. Of course that was it. Would Ray really be that upset because he didn't feel like he was close enough to *you*?
"Ray, I don't mean to pry but... is all this about Stella?" As painful as it would be to hear about, Fraser felt that he owed Ray this much, especially after what he had just done.
"Huh? Is all what about Stella?" Ray blinked and looked at Fraser with a confused expression. He seemed taken off guard, as though his thoughts had been somewhere else entirely.
Fraser lit the camp lantern over the kitchenette sink before coming back to where Ray was sitting. He placed the lantern on the floor, a good distance from the edge of the bedroll, then sat back down beside Ray, a bit further away from him than before, wanting to re-establish the bounds of their friendship in a way Ray would feel comfortable with. Ray glanced down at the space left by the increased distance between them, then back up at Fraser.
"Is all what about Stella?" he repeated neutrally.
"You've seemed... today... I've noticed that you've been acting..." This was proving to be harder than Fraser had expected. It didn't usually require much prompting to get Ray off and running on the subject of his ex-wife.
"Like what? A seriously fucked up individual?"
Now the teasing tone was back, and Fraser didn't know quite what to make of it. The only thing he knew was that he didn't want to go anywhere near the 'seriously fucked up' comment. That had stung surprisingly deeply. Of course, Ray had that power over him now. It was a frightening realization. Ray was a lot closer than he knew. Closer, certainly, than Fraser had ever expected for him to become. Fraser measured his next words carefully.
"Perhaps a little... emotional..."
"So, what makes you think it's got anything to do with Stella?"
Was that a hint of a challenge in his voice? Oh dear, this didn't seem to be working very well.
"Well, you are still in love with her."
Ray cocked his head a little bit to one side, and the smirk reappeared. "You don't like Stella much, do you?"
Fraser blanched. Had he made that so obvious to Ray? Of course he had, just earlier he'd made a sarcastic remark about her. Had, in fact, implied that Stella was Ray's equivalent to what Ray had termed Fraser's 'death wish'. Ouch. Fraser bit his lower lip, and Ray laughed softly.
"S'okay, Frase. She doesn't like you either. Actually, she's the only woman I can think of who doesn't like you... well, except maybe the Ice Queen, but she just acts that way to keep from chasing you around her desk."
Ray laughed again, but returned immediately to the question. "So, you gonna tell me why you don't like Stella, or what?"
Fraser's brain worked feverishly for a polite way out. "It isn't that I don't like her," he started in the most reassuring tone of voice he could muster. "She's ... ah, a first-rate attorney. In fact, I'm sure she's a woman of many fine qualities, or else you'd never have..."
"I don't like the way she treats you."
He'd said it before his internal censor could kick in and catch it. Oh dear. Ray would be furious now. Veiled sarcastic remarks were one thing, but now he'd just openly confirmed that he held no particular fondness for the woman of Ray's dreams, Ray's one true love. This entire evening had turned into an unmitigated disaster. Fraser was beginning to sorely regret that once innocuous observation about pineapple being a rarity in the Northwest Territories. In fact, he wasn't sure he ever wanted to see another slice of pizza ever again.
"Is that all?"
"I'm sorry, Ray. Is what all?" Now he had been caught with his thoughts drifting, to boot.
"Is that all? Is that why you don't like Stella? You don't like the way she treats me?"
"Yes." There didn't seem to be any point in attempting to salvage a polite or graceful answer out of what he'd already confessed to. As Ray would say, that cat was out of the bag and on the floor meowing.
"Oh." Ray appeared to think that over for a moment, then he smiled. A real, genuine, warm smile aimed right at Fraser. "I'm not in love with her anymore. I do love her. I mean, I think I always will. But I'm not in love with her anymore. Does that make sense?"
"Yes, I suppose it does," Fraser said, although he was still too dazed by Ray's smile to immediately register everything he had just said. Once his thoughts caught up, Fraser was puzzled. Had Ray just said he wasn't in love with Stella any longer? As though sensing Fraser's confusion, Ray continued.
"I guess I finally realized that it was never going to work out. We want different things, Stell and me. I don't think she was any happier about my dropping out of college and becoming a cop than my dad was, you know. I think things with her started going downhill almost before we even got married. I was just too bullheaded to admit it."
"Loyalty is not a bad quality, Ray," Fraser said quickly, then added, "but I'm glad to hear you seem to have made peace with your feelings towards her."
"Yeah, me too." Ray smiled again. Perhaps the evening was not an utter loss after all.
"So, you're feeling better now?" Fraser asked hopefully.
A sly grin tugged at the corners of Ray's mouth.
"If I said I still felt lousy, would you kiss me again?"
Uh oh, Fraser wasn't laughing. He wasn't even smiling. He looked kind of... blank. Like Ray's joke had been from so far out of left field that he didn't even know how to process it. Joke, right. Like you'd mind so much if he took you literally and leaned over and...
Ray shook his head when he realized that he was looking rather too intently at Fraser's neck. Well, not his neck, really, more like the spot at the base of Fraser's throat that showed just under where the top button of his blue flannel shirt was undone. The spot where Ray could quite vividly imagine himself burying his face to breathe in that fresh, soapy Fraser-scent. And from that spot, it would be so easy to bite and suck and kiss his way up and up and up until he could run his tongue along the length of that strong, beautiful jawline which was just beginning to show the faintest hint of five o'clock shadow... Whoa! Fraser was staring at him now like he'd just sprouted another head. Quick, Kowalski. Crack another joke.
"Actually, today already makes two, if you count that buddy breathing thing from the Henry Whatsisname." Ray knew Fraser was going to blush at that, but not quite that hard.
"Henry Allen, Ray. And... you can't count that," he protested, getting redder by the second.
"Oh, I dunno," Ray said, laughing, enjoying the teasing and beginning to feel distinctly warmer as he remembered that crazy day on the sinking freighter, almost fondly now that it was removed from the cold and the wet, the panic and certainty of death. "Your mouth, my mouth, together... sure sounds like a kiss to me." But then it was almost impossible for Ray not to superimpose the gentle, soft warmth of tonight's kiss over the dramatic memory of Fraser coming back to save him from drowning on the Henry Allen. Oh man.
And then Ray became very consciously aware of the fact that they weren't just sitting on the floor here they were actually sitting on what was, for now anyway, Fraser's bed. And it was getting pretty cozy in the room now that the sun had set and the flickering, soft amber light of the lantern had taken over. Ray swallowed hard and snuck a peek over at Fraser, just in time to catch him pretending not to be looking back.
"Frase..." They both stopped awkwardly, staring at each other. Ray didn't feel like joking anymore. Not when Fraser was sitting right there next to him looking so edible, and not looking like he'd refuse an invitation. When he looked like he was just waiting for one. Oh, God. Was this really happening? Was it possible? Well, there was only one way to find out for sure. Come on, Kowalski, you can do this. Stella was out of your league too. Overreaching is your specialty.
Ray shifted to face Fraser, licking his lips and wiping suddenly sweaty palms on his jeans. Okay, now just reach out, and take his arm, and pull him closer, and...
But before Ray even had a chance to move, a flash of dark hair and blue flannel was coming his way, tackling him down onto the bedroll. Whoa! This was really happening all right. It was happening right fucking now. Sheez, what the hell has gotten into Fras... Oh, *God*.
That gorgeous, soft, warm mouth was covering Ray's for the second time that night, but where the earlier kiss had been merely affection, this one was blatantly sex, unwrapped and surprisingly aggressive. Aggressive, yeah ... nipping, sucking, coaxing open his mouth. Wow. Ray wrapped his arms around Fraser's neck, pulling him closer and returning a little aggression of his own. There was the friction slide of denim against denim as Fraser's knee pushed its way between Ray's legs, urging them apart, and Ray's senses flooded with a rush of warmth as Fraser's weight settled over his body. God, when he'd asked for another kiss, he sure as hell wasn't expecting this! Holy shit. Ray would have smiled if he could have done so without breaking their contact.
Finally, the need for air forced them apart, and Ray let his head drop back onto the bedroll. Now he did smile. He would have offered a lithium the size of a pudding pop to anyone who'd suggested that he would ever wind up rolling around on the floor, making out with Benton Fraser like a horny teenager. But here he was, pressed beneath his best friend, panting deliriously, hard as a rock, and already starting to sweat. Fraser returned Ray's smile a little breathlessly. His hair was slightly tousled now, curling invitingly over his forehead, and his eyes looked liquid and dark. This flushed, aroused Fraser was something Ray didn't think he'd ever get the chance to see, and it was more beautiful than he could've imagined in a million years.
"Fraser, you trying to take my tonsils out, or what?" Ray said weakly, trying to laugh, still trying to catch his breath.
"Ray, I'm sorry. I lost my "
The smile vanished, and Fraser started to push himself up onto his arms, like he was trying to get up. Like he was going to stop. Oh, no. Fraser didn't get that the tonsils thing was a joke. He must've thought he'd made a mistake and gone too far. Ray knew he had to act quickly, before this moment vanished forever.
"No! Wait!" Ray hooked his knee around Fraser's leg, trapping him where he was. "I was only kidding, you dope." Ray tightened his arms around Fraser's neck and hauled him down roughly for another kiss before continuing, "You're amazing, I want this, and if you try to apologize again..."
"You'll kick me in the head?" Something Ray had said must've gotten through, because Fraser's voice had gone all soft and husky, and that hungry look was back in his eyes. Thank God.
"Mmmhmm." Ray nodded, running his hands appreciatively down the athletically tapered lines of Fraser's torso. He tugged loose the tails of that clean-cottony smelling flannel shirt, then set to work undoing what seemed like way too many little white buttons, pausing just long enough to skim his own t-shirt off over his head. The increasingly small part of Ray's brain that was still functioning clearly wondered at how strangely right this felt, when it really had no reason to. He'd never been anything more than mildly curious about men before. Sure, he knew a good looking guy when he saw one, and there had even been men besides Fraser that he would have had no problem describing as sexy but it had always been more from the point of view of how he could see a chick thinking so than from Ray actually wanting the guy for himself.
But he wanted Fraser for himself. Wanted him the way he'd wanted Stella in the good old days. And nothing about it felt weird or wrong or bad. In fact, it kind of felt just the opposite. Ray reached up to pull Fraser back down to him, aching suddenly, needing to feel that hot, smooth skin against his own chest. And not only did this feel right, it felt almost familiar in some strange way. Or maybe not familiar, so much as ... maybe satisfying. Because being with Stella had always been wonderful, even when things between them were unraveling, but this... This feeling right now, being with Fraser, in this hot wrestle on the floor, felt inevitable. Felt like something he'd been missing his whole life and he'd never even known it.
Once their shirts were gone, they started in on the rest of the clothes. God, Frase was gorgeous. He was in a whole other league of beautiful from anyone Ray had ever known, even Stella. Ray was knocked off guard by it once again catching glimpses of creamy skin and well-muscled shoulders, strong legs, thick cock, and perfect ass as they kissed and groped and struggled their way out of jeans, and socks, and underwear. Ray wasn't even sure Fraser was conscious of undressing. Whatever the hell had gotten into him tonight, it had gotten into him good. Really fucking good. He was lying on top of Ray again, kissing him hard and deep, tongue stroking against Ray's in a dizzying rhythm that went round and round until Ray swore he could feel it buzzing through every nerve in his body. Ray's fingers tangled restlessly in Fraser's short, minky, dark hair as he tried to convince himself that so long as he was still coherent enough to do this, he wasn't completely out of control.
But he was burning, and his cock felt so hard and heavy and swollen, twitching and leaking, slicking and sliding against Fraser's body, that he knew he couldn't take much more. Then Fraser was pressing Ray's head back into the thin padding of the bedroll, and he was ravaging the column of Ray's throat with his mouth, all teeth, tongue, and heat. He began sucking at the pulse point below Ray's left ear, and Ray bit back a cry, almost hysterically, not knowing whether to tug Fraser away or pull him in even closer. When Fraser's teeth sank deeper into that hyper-sensitive spot, tongue pressing hard against Ray's flesh, the cry finally escaped as a strangled moan.
"God, Frase, please..." Ray arched up, grinding against Fraser's hip and felt the answering hardness there, pushing back into him. Then Fraser found his mouth for another long, deep kiss, while his hand reached between their bodies for Ray's aching, weeping cock. Fraser was kissing him and stroking him and rocking against him all at once. It was too much sensory assault, and Ray felt the familiar burning sensation in the soles of his feet and the tightening in his balls that signalled the oncoming rush of orgasm. And oh, God, this was a big one. This one was out of control and coming too hard, too fast... Ray's hands slipped down the broad expanse of Fraser's back, searching desperately for something to cling to. Then the rush was tearing through him, and his fingertips were digging hard into thick muscle. He heard his own broken voice crying out helplessly as wave after dizzying wave pulsed through him and out, spurting hot and slippery over Fraser's caressing fingers. Somewhere in the fog of his mind, he felt Fraser coming hard beside him, heard Fraser's deep, throaty sounds in his ear, saying his name, and then his body stilled and relaxed at last.
They stayed just like that for a few moments, silent except for harsh breathing. Finally, Ray tried to lever himself up onto his elbows, but he couldn't muster the energy and dropped again onto his back. He was drained. Drained and breathless, drenched in sweat, and spit, and come. The bedroll beneath him was damp from their exertions, and the surrounding air still felt humid with their heat, thick with their scent. Ray took another shuddering breath and tried to gather himself back in. God, he hadn't even gotten the chance to do much for Fraser, had he? He'd wanted to, but Fraser had seemed like a man on a mission there. Next time Ray would have to return the favor.
Next time? Were they lovers now? That not-quite-stray thought shook Ray out of his post-coital haze enough that he managed to heave himself onto his shoulder.
I guess it's a little late to be worrying about that.
But, Fraser had just turned his world upside down. And he'd assumed... Shit. Fuck. Yeah, fuck all right. Now what? What if he doesn't want a goddamned *relationship* with you, Kowalski? What if this had just been some crazy, primal thing that had taken over Fraser tonight? What if it was because of all the talking and pushing Ray had done? What if the sex was just a one time thing, and now it was over? What if this had been for Fraser what all those All those. Ha! Three! post-Stella women had been for him. Pent-up need relief. Itch-scratching. Oh, God. Was it just the sweat cooling on his body making him feel so cold?
Fraser was lying on his side with his back pressed against the wall, head supported on his crooked arm, watching Ray. He too, was covered in sweat, and his smooth skin glistened softly with it in the flickering light of the camp lantern.
Ray blinked, coming out of his thoughts. Fraser's voice held a strange, uncertain note. Maybe even shy. And then Ray realized that Fraser had said his name several times already, trying to get his attention. Ray cleared his hoarse throat.
"Yeah, Frase. Sorry, I'm just a little out of it at the moment." He offered a smile he hoped would explain his silence. "You just about killed me there. It's gonna take a while to recover."
Fraser's return smile was almost convincing until it faltered and his eyes swept closed for a moment while he tried, and failed, to re-school his features into their normal calm.
"Hey." Ray finally found the strength to prop himself up onto his elbows. "You okay?"
Fraser's eyes were open again, but still downcast, and he looked flushed like it had just occurred to him that he didn't have any clothes on. Ray didn't think he'd ever seen Fraser look so vulnerable. Ray realised Fraser was in the same place he was with the post-sex willies, maybe even in a worse one. Ray dropped back onto his shoulder and draped his arm across Fraser's waist, pulling him in closer until they were chest to chest, stomach to stomach, leg to leg, in a full body embrace.
"It's okay," Ray whispered softly, hands stroking gently now over Fraser's back, soothing the same muscles he had dug into so hard earlier, when Fraser had taken him over the edge. "Ben, it's okay," he whispered again, knowing that hearing it once wasn't going to be enough. He knew that raw, flayed open feeling all too well.
After a few moments, Fraser released a deep, shuddering sigh, and Ray could tell the worst of it had passed. Noticing how sticky their embrace had become, Ray reached for his discarded t-shirt to wipe himself down. Unsure of the etiquette of doing this with another guy, he turned the t-shirt inside out and handed it over to Fraser with an apologetic shrug.
"I... it's been a long time," Fraser said quietly, accepting Ray's shirt to clean himself off. Then he laughed a little, sadly. "Not that that really makes much of a difference, in all honesty. Not in this case."
Ray felt his heart begin to beat faster, and seem to echo louder in his chest. This was special to Fraser, he was saying, and not because it had been a while, but because it was Ray.
"Me too," Ray started, before realizing it was stupid because the phrase didn't really apply to what Fraser had actually said, only to what he'd implied. "I mean..."
"I love you."
Wow. No evading, or delaying, or equivocating there. Ray pulled his head back far enough that he could look clearly into Fraser's eyes.
"I love you, Ben," Ray answered after a moment. He said it very deliberately, and with a smile. "And not just 'symbolically, or something'. For real."
"You do?" Even as he said it, Fraser realized it was actually rather rude to question a declaration like that, but his thoughts were still too busy trying to rearrange themselves into a world where Ray loved him back to register anything more than stunned surprise.
"Yeah, I do. Dopey." Then he broke into a smile. "I'm just glad you 'fessed up first. Jeez, you ever do that before? With a guy, I mean?"
"Not since I was fifteen," Fraser replied distractedly, still trying to assimilate the news that Ray loved him.
"You did it with another guy when you were fifteen?" Ray sounded half impressed, half incredulous. Fraser couldn't help but smile. Although he thought back fondly on those adolescent fumblings with Innussiq, his experiences weren't anything nearly so scandalous or interesting as Ray seemed to think.
"He was fifteen at the time as well, Ray. We'd gotten to know each other in Scouts."
"I thought you said that guy had a sister. Why didn't you mess around with her instead?" Ray asked. Fraser was a little startled and then a pleasant warmth spread through him. He'd never realized that Ray paid that much attention to the stories he told about being back home.
"Well, June was too young, for one thing. And mostly I liked..."
"So you and Inn..."
"Innussiq. Yes." Ray was grinning widely at him, so Fraser hastened to explain. "We didn't do very much, and not for very long before my grandparents moved us again."
"And no other guys since?"
Fraser shook his head. "No."
"Man, if you haven't done that to someone else since you were fifteen, you've got one hell of a good memory," Ray said with a smirk that brought a blush to Fraser's cheeks. But then Ray's smile faded, and he cleared his throat. "So, uh. What does this make us now?"
"Make us?" Fraser paused to think, but Ray cut him off, laughing.
"Boy, sex really does make you dopey, doesn't it? So much for you being the smart one of this duo." Ray waggled his eyebrows suggestively.
Fraser felt a big, silly grin coming on that he knew would only serve to strengthen Ray's dubious claims of his diminished intelligence, but he couldn't seem to stop the smile even if he tried. And frankly, he didn't want to try. He was happy. Really, truly happy for the first time that he could remember.
"Make us," Ray continued, sobering, and hugging his arms across his chest. "Like, oh, hell, I dunno. Forget about it. Can we get a blanket over here? I'm getting kinda chilly."
Fraser got up and went over to dig out a Hudson's Bay blanket out of one of the duffel bags, musing over Ray's question all the while. He thought he understood, but wasn't sure.
"Are you inquiring as to the changed nature of our relationship now?" he asked tentatively, pausing to check the lantern fuel before handing the blanket over to Ray.
"You used the 'R-word' there, buddy. You been reading Frannie's Cosmo too?" Ray laughed softly as he shook the blanket out, then scooted over against the wall so Fraser didn't have to climb over him to get back into 'bed'.
"Frannie's Cosmo?" The reference was puzzling. "Ray, I'm afraid I don't..."
Ray scrubbed his hands though his spiky hair distractedly.
"Look, Fras... Ben. I don't do the alone thing so good. I mean, I know you're like the strong, silent type or whatever but..."
"Ray," Fraser felt the need to interrupt him before he got any further down that path. "I assure you, I really don't, ah, 'do the alone thing so good' either."
"So, you mean, you, uh..." Ray paused thoughtfully, then grinned. "Oh. Cool." And Fraser had the feeling that that would be the extent of their 'R-word' conversation for the time being, because Ray was wriggling closer to him now, and running slender, strong hands across his chest. "We did a pretty good job getting you settled in here, huh?"
"I should say so, yes," Fraser said with a smile that led to a contented groan as Ray's dark blond head moved over him, dropping soft kisses everywhere his hands had roamed.
"You ever got anything else that needs to be, uh, moved," Ray looked up, and flashed a wicked grin, "you just let me know."