Disclaimer: Characters belong to Alliance, not me. I just borrowed them for a bit.
Author's Notes: Thanks to Tara Blue & Mary Ann for not letting me start over. Also thanks to Tara for the inspirational in-between stories. No betas - all errors are mine.
Story Notes: Number 8 in The Mask Slips series
Spoilers for COTW & Victoria's Secret.
The text document thing & I are not exactly hitting it off. Apologies for any oddities . (say . maybe you could just blame the typos on the txt thing? That'd be good!)
Truth & Bone - by Heather Nova - Oyster
Sometimes I can feel you breathing into me. And these hands I can feel them tugging at my sleeve. I move through the day in the rhythm that I've known. I've got this crazy dream of stripping down to truth and bone.
All of it, all of it, all of it stripped down All of it, all of it, all of it to truth and bone.
My mouth is full of secrets I'm too afraid to tell. My body's full of longing for you to know me well. I move through the day in the rhythms that I've known. I've got this crazy dream of stripping down to truth and bone.
All of it ....
I think of sinking in way over my shoulders, let the water take me in and I need you to cut through to where I'm hidden. I'm awkward and I'm too polite and I want two stars for arms like Orion I could breathe in and breathe in and breathe out. If I could only lose myself. I would lose myself in you. I move through the day in the rhythms that I've known. I've got this crazy dream of stripping down to truth and bone.
All of it ...
Truth & Bone
Ray sat at the picnic table, the sun beating down on his back. His head was down on one arm. With the other hand, he was slowly picking at the label of a beer bottle. The beer had long ago grown too warm to drink. Kowalski wasn't even sure why he'd brought it out in the first place. It wasn't like getting drunk solved anything. God knows, he'd tried that. He flexed his hand, looking at the battered knuckles. He'd picked a fight in a bar a couple of days before and lost. But then, that was the idea. Pain was good. He'd forgotten how good, until he'd punched a wall in a men's room at Toronto's Pearson Airport. His mind was so full ... feelings, thoughts, memories, all bombarding him constantly; nothing else would make them go away. One punch. Two. Third time, feeling the shock jolt all the way up his arm into his shoulder. Distraction. A temporary stop to the feelings. Pain and relief. His old religion, brought home again.
He'd left Toronto that same night, afraid he would do something stupid and put himself in a hospital or, worse, a police station. Hopping the next flight to Arizona, he showed up unannounced on his parent's doorstop. They'd been puzzled, but welcoming. His mother cooked all of his childhood favorites and his father tried to interest him in fixing up another car. Ray tried to be appropriately enthused, but he just couldn't summon the energy.
He peeled off another part of the label. A growing pile of tiny pieces of shredded paper lay in front of him. His big accomplishment for the day. He heaved a sigh and tilted his head up to the sun. Big, hot sun. It didn't feel as good as he'd hoped. Of course, he thought disconsolately, nothing did anymore.
Some times he took long walks that went nowhere, only to come stumbling back to the trailer hours later, exhausted and dehydrated. Other times all he could manage was to sit at this picnic table, hoping the sun would fry the memories and the feelings out of his brain.
The first week passed quickly. The end of the day was Ray's favorite part ... and, he thought, Fraser's too. They would cook dinner together, clean up and then play chess, make plans for their adventure, or read together. Ray had found a new book on the Franklin expedition and he and Fraser took turns reading it aloud to each other. And then they would go to bed. Curled up each night in the Mountie's arms, Ray was as contented as he could ever remember being. They had made no real move towards consummating their relationship, Fraser apparently feeling the same awkwardness that Ray was. There had been the occasional kiss early on. Trying it on for size, as it were. But the first night the kiss had started to warm up, Ray had started coughing and couldn't quit. While on the one hand he was disappointed, when Fraser backed off, just rubbing his back and holding him, on the other hand, there was a certain amount of relief. This was a whole new world of things to worry about, this whole guy on guy thing. In his daydreams it worked perfectly and they meshed with no trouble. In his nightmares it was a complete disaster and tore them apart forever. Ray told himself Fraser had enough on his mind right now, with the trial and all without bringing the whole sex thing into the equation. Things were fine the way they were for now. They had plenty of time coming up. But for now, sleeping together was good. It was way beyond good.
Ray smiled wistfully. From inside the trailer, his mother watched, a frown on her face.
Maggie came to visit them the weekend before the trial started. Ray felt somewhat awkward initially. After all, he'd been flirting heavily with her the last time he'd seen her and he wasn't sure what she'd be expecting now. He had been too shy to ask Fraser if he had said anything to his sister about his and Ray's changed relationship, so was just trying to be casual about the whole situation. She arrived Friday afternoon and the three of them stayed up late, talking and joking. Maggie was given the bed and Ray slept on the couch, with Fraser on the floor next to him. He didn't sleep well, until he casually draped a hand over the side of the couch, accidentally on purpose resting it on Fraser's shoulder. His partner reached up and took Ray's hand in his own, squeezing it gently and holding it as they fell asleep.
Saturday morning, they walked into town to have breakfast. Ray was enjoying himself thoroughly. He felt better than he'd felt in ... he couldn't remember how long. The waitress at the diner overheard him mentioning plans to start hiking and told him about several trails good for short hikes in the area. Ray had the feeling she was angling for an invitation to accompany him. After she left the table, he noticed Fraser frowning.
"Hey, relax," he said, laughing. "Dief's my hiking companion `til you're free."
"I'm more worried about your health. You're still not entirely well, Ray."
"No, but I'm good. Loads better. I won't push it too hard, but I gotta start gettin' wilderness fit, Benton buddy. `Sides, Diefenbaker'll protect me. What could go wrong?" His tone was light, but his expression was puzzled. He'd thought Fraser would encourage him in outdoor pursuits.
"This is not the city, Ray," Fraser said in a patient tone. "The dangers here are entirely different. You have to be at your peak ..."
"Relax, Ben," Maggie interrupted with a laugh, stopping her brother before his lecture built steam. "You can't expect Ray to stay in the cabin all day and these trails sound like they're quite well marked." She turned to Ray. "Make sure Ben knows where you're going each day and stick to that plan. That way if something does go wrong, he'll know where to start looking."
"I can do that," Ray agreed in a grateful tone. "No problem." He looked at Fraser. The Mountie looked like he wanted to argue further, but the waitress came with the food and he let it drop.
The rest of the day went reasonably well until after dinner. After washing up, Fraser sat down on the couch. Ray collapsed on the floor, casually leaning against the couch so that his shoulder was close to Fraser's leg. Maggie sat down next to Fraser, facing him.
"How are you handling this?" she asked him, bluntly.
"Handling what?" Fraser asked with a casual tone.
"The trial. Seeing Muldoon every day can't be easy after finding out he murdered your mother."
"It was a surprise, but I've accepted it." Fraser's tone was polite and clipped. Ray looked up at him questioningly.
"Accepted it? You sound so matter of fact about it. It would be bad enough just losing her so young. I can't even imagine...." Maggie shook her head.
"No, you can't. So don't."
"Frase? You okay?" Ray was concerned now. A rude Ben was just ... bizarre.
"I'm fine, Ray. Muldoon is on trial for his part in the plot to sell a nuclear submarine to a group of demented terrorists. Anything that may have happened in the distant past simply does not relate to this trial." Ray could feel the tension radiating from Fraser's body.
"Not to the trial, Ben. To you. I'm just worried about you. I wanted you to know I was here for you, that's all." Maggie's voice was bewildered.
"Thank you for the thought, but it is not necessary." Ray recognized Fraser's tone as a prime example of pissed Mountie. Maggie also seemed to realize that she was pushing too far.
"As long you know, Ben. That's all I wanted," she said in a quiet tone. Ray could feel the muscles relaxing in Fraser's leg as she backed off.
"Thank you, kindly," was all he said. But it was clear to Ray that Ben was still on edge for the rest of the weekend, and it was almost a sense of relief to wish Maggie a safe trip home the next afternoon.
Ray lifted his head and looked again at the sun. It didn't seem to have moved much. He supposed he should go inside. Get out of the heat. But that seemed like more effort than it was worth. He dropped his head back down to his arm, closing his eyes, trying to imagine himself back in the snow. Reliving his past, yet again. If he wasn't stuck in one rut, he was stuck in another. First his life with Stella. Now his time with Ben. Ray supposed there was a message in there somewhere. That too, was depressing.
Ray had started out with short hikes. He quickly realized that even though he was feeling better, he had a long way to go. The snowshoes added a further challenge.
"Yes, Ray?" The Mountie had just arrived home and was changing out of his uniform. Thus far the trial was going smoothly, but, ever conscientious, Fraser insisted on reviewing the security arrangements for the next day as soon as he got home. Ray had tried not to bother him during the week, but since it was now the weekend, he figured it was his turn.
"You think you could how ta walk on snowshoes again?"
"Lost the knack, have you?" Fraser smiled at the blond.
"Yeah, you could say that." The Mountie followed Ray's gaze over to the sopping wet pair of jeans drying in front of the fire.
"Things go okay at the courthouse?"
"Yes." Fraser didn't elaborate. Ray was getting used to this, but it was starting to bug him. The Mountie talked. About everything ... whether you wanted to hear it or not. Kowalski knew something was bothering his partner, but didn't want to repeat Maggie's mistake, so he let it slide. "I think we could spend some time working on your snowshoeing skills tomorrow morning if you'd like."
"Just the morning? I was kinda hoping we could take a hike together. Maybe take lunch."
"I have to spend some time at the court house."
"I'm sorry, Ray. This is an important trial and I have been given a great deal of responsibility."
"Yeah, I know. Maybe I could come help? Unofficially."
"Don't be silly. Technically you're still on sick leave."
"Only for another week."
"Nonetheless, I don't want to violate your work status."
"Right." Ray sighed and let it go. Sacrifice to keep the peace. He'd learned that one with Stella. //Way ta go. Pick another career freak. Must be some weird thing about obsessed people that appeals to you, Kowalski.//
As promised, Fraser spent time Saturday morning helping Ray with his snowshoes. Diefenbaker watched from the side, barking encouragingly for the most part.
"I swear, he's laughing at me when my back's turned," Ray muttered to the Mountie when the wolf was looking the other way.
"Yes, well, I'm afraid he has a rather rude sense of humor," Fraser apologized.
"Right ... picked up in Chicago, no doubt?"
"No. He's been this way as long as I've known him," the Mountie admitted. Ray grinned.
"I'll get even, you wait and see," he told the wolf, who was once again watching them.
"Don't dare him, Ray. That's just ... dangerous."
"He's not gonna hurt me."
"No. He'll just make you pay and pay ... and pay."
With his improved snowshoeing technique, Ray felt more secure and started taking longer hikes. Diefenbaker, once roused from his rug next to the fire, was an enthusiastic companion. He was watchful of where Ray was going, but at the same time, seemed to delight in his human friend's enjoyment of the surroundings. The more they hiked, the more adventurous Ray became, wanting to see everything the area had to offer. The wolf would occasionally draw Ray off the path to see some tracks left by other animals. The blond would try to remember what they looked like so he could ask Fraser what they belonged to. But, as Ray's enthusiasm grew, the Mountie's seemed to be diminishing. Once the trial started, he was entirely wrapped up in it. Ray could barely get a word out of him in the evenings. Fraser started coming home later and later. He always called first, of course. It was, after all, the polite thing to do. Ray took longer and longer walks, trying to tire himself out, so Fraser wouldn't feel he had to come home and entertain him. He wanted to be a partner, not a burden. Not someone Fraser had to worry about.
"Huh?" The blond rolled over and promptly fell off the couch. He squinted up at the Mountie looming over him. Rubbing his shoulder, he blinked a few times, trying to focus. It was cold.
"What are you doing?"
"Guess I fell asleep." He looked around the cabin, trying to see what had upset his partner.
"Without lighting a fire? Ray, it's freezing in here!"
"Yeah, I'm gettin' that. Sorry. Didn't know I was that tired."
"You have to be more aware!"
"I said I'm sorry," Ray protested.
"That's not good enough!" Fraser said, sharply. Ray gave him a strange look. The Mountie rubbed his thumb across his eyebrow. "I'm sorry, Ray," he said in a gentler tone. "It's just that up here, mistakes like that can kill you. I ... I've come so close to losing you before ... I can't ... I'm sorry. I overreacted."
"No. Yer right. I'll be more careful. I'll tell Dief ta wake me next time. He'll enjoy that." Ray started to get up, but Fraser pushed him back onto the couch and wrapped his coat around the blond.
"Sit. I'll start the fire. How about some hot chocolate?"
"Sounds good." Ray sat contentedly and watched Fraser bustling about. The Mountie's coat smelled good, like pine and snow and Ray snuggled under it a bit deeper, letting his mind wander as the cabin grew warmer.
"Move up," Fraser said a bit later, startling him out of his daze. He sat forward and the Mountie sat behind him, handing him a mug. Ray took it, wrapping both hands around the warmth. Fraser pulled him back, wrapping one arm around the blond's chest.
"This is nice," Ray said.
"Yes, it is." They sat in companionable silence, drinking their beverages.
"Saw some pretty cool stuff today," Ray said, after a bit.
"That's good," Fraser told him, but his mind was obviously elsewhere. Ray sighed to himself.
"So, anything happen in court today?"
"Nothing eventful. I have to review my testimony tonight."
"Again? Frase, yer gonna drive yourself crazy with this. You know it, trust me."
"I can't take a chance. Muldoon has to be convicted. A man with his resources and complete lack of morals cannot be allowed loose in the world."
"Yeah, but there's such a think as being over prepared, ya know?" Fraser thought about that for a moment.
"No," he replied, honestly. Ray sighed again and gave it up as a lost cause. He just hoped things would change after the Mountie gave his testimony. For now he was a man possessed. Ray figured he'd better just enjoy the brief moment they were having.
The following weekend, Ray tried again to get Fraser to go hiking with him, but the Mountie instead returned to the court house. He barely spoke to the blond anymore, and when he did, it was usually to correct something Ray was doing "wrong," or to tell him to eat more, dress warmer, sleep longer .... Kowalski was pretty sure he knew what the problem was and he was willing to be patient and give the Mountie time to work it out. Well, as patient as he could be. He lasted another week and a half, which he figured ought to qualify him for some kind of medal.
"You okay?" The Mountie looked up from his report, his expression less than encouraging. Ray had purposely waited until after dinner. He had avoided discussing anything that might put Fraser on edge earlier in the evening, trying to set the stage for a real talk.
"Yes, Ray. I'm fine," he said in a patient tone. "And yourself?"
"You sure? `Cause ... um ... I know it's gotta be tough. This trial and all. And ... and if ya wanted to talk ...?"
"There is nothing to talk about, Ray. It's just another case." Fraser cut the blond off politely and firmly.
"Just another case?" Ray stood and began pacing back and forth in front of the couch. Fraser heaved a large sigh and waited. "Don't do this, Frase. Do not shut me out. You're like one o' them obsessive com ... comp ... yer obsessed, Ben. Just another case? You're not acting like it's just another case. Not even close."
"Ray, I am sorry if I seem to be somewhat caught up in this trial, but it is of the utmost importance. There are international ramifications. It is important that it go well. I had hoped you might understand that this has to take some of my time. Certainly, I understood your need to pursue the carjackers."
"Yeah, `cause I wanted to get the guy that killed that kid. I had a lot of emotion tied up in that. I told you what was goin' on. Why I needed ta do it. International ramifications? Get real! Muldoon killed yer Mom, Frase. Murdered her. Broke up yer family. Made your Dad take off and leave you behind. An' yer trying to tell me that has nothin' to do with the bizarre way you're actin'?" His face was flushed and it was taking all of his control not to yell.
"My mother died a very long time ago, Ray. I have only the most minimal memories from that time. And as I have previously mentioned, Muldoon is not on trial for her death. In any event, I am merely concerned with the mechanical aspects of the trial for the crimes with which he is charged." Fraser's tone was one of utmost patience and his expression completely and carefully blank.
"Nothing, huh? You can't even say she was murdered. Not died. Killed. Murdered, Ben. I know what happens when ya keep stuff bottled up inside. I'm a champion at that, remember? Remember how well it didn't go for me?"
"There is nothing bottled up inside of me, Ray. Except perhaps some impatience with your constant harping on this subject."
"Constant? I been a model o' restraint. Look, Frase, I told you before, I don't need SuperMountie. It's obvious something's buggin' you. Lemme in." The blond looked at him pleadingly. "Let me help."
"Everything is fine, Ray. I have no need of your assistance." Ray pursed his lips, breathing out hard through his nose.
"No. `Course ya don't. You don't need anyone's help, do ya?" Ray drew back, shaking his head. "`Cause yer Benton Fraser, the perfect human being, right? No problems, no untidy loose ends, no baggage ... `cept that kind of kills the whole human aspect, don't it?" He got up and walked over to grab his coat off the rack. "I'm going for a walk."
"Ray, it's cold out," Fraser remonstrated.
"Cold? Oh, really? What a shock!" Ray said in an exaggerated, sarcastic tone. "We're in freezerland here, Frase. What the Hell other temperature would it be? Oh, right. Sorry. I forgot. I'm too stupid ta know these things." He went out, slamming the door behind him.
The snow crunched gently under his feet as Ray wandered down the road. He allowed himself to get lost in the sensations surrounding him: a breeze, softly falling snow brushing whisper soft against his face and a silence that wasn't. This was Fraser's world and Ray longed to experience it with the Mountie. The American had really looked forward to learning about life in the Northern Areas ... //Northwest Territories,// he corrected himself. He hadn't realized what a pain in the ass Fraser was going to be about the "correct" way to do everything. Certainly, the Mountie had been nothing but encouraging and helpful while they were trying to track Muldoon. Never once had he suggested then that Ray wasn't up to the challenge. Now ... now it seemed the blond couldn't even stick his nose outside without some warning about the harshness of the environment. He stopped walking and looked around. It was so ... amazing up here, Ray thought. The snow had stopped falling while he walked and a break had appeared in the clouds, allowing the moon to shine through. He watched, entranced, as the landscape was revealed. It was so different than anything he was used to. Snow, yes. But not clean like this. And not quiet like this. While he liked the town, at night especially, he tended to go the opposite way. Seeking the peace and quiet of the open space, rather than the downtown lights. He grinned. //Who says you can't take the city out of the boy?//
"Ray!?" He heard Fraser's voice coming from behind him and sighed, turning to face his partner. Diefenbaker reached him first and he knelt down to ruffle the wolf's fur, knowing that Fraser would probably scold him later about getting his pants wet.
"Yer worth it," he whispered to the wolf. Diefenbaker nuzzled him. Fraser came up to them a few moments later.
"Frase." They were quiet for a few minutes, both looking at the view. "It's so ... big," Ray finally offered, sweeping his hand out.
"Yes, it is." The Mountie half-turned, offering his hand to the blond. Kowalski accepted it, pulling himself up to a standing position. He faced Fraser. The Mountie's look was distant, still on the view. The temperature was dropping as the clouds moved away and Ray shivered. Fraser, predictably, focused on that. "Let's get you home," he said.
"I'm good," Ray protested. "Yer happy out here."
"Don't be silly, Ray. I can't be happy if you're miserable."
"I'm not miserable," Ray snapped back. Fraser looked at him. "Okay. Fine. Whatever." The blond turned and started back.
"Ray?" Fraser caught up to him and stopped him. Placing a hand on his partner's shoulder, he moved around in front of him. "I just want you to be well," he said softly.
"I know that," Ray said. "I do. Just, uh ... I'm an adult, ya know? I can make my own decisions and everything. I choose to be here with you. I wanna share this," gesturing with his hand, "with you. But I can't do it if ya keep sending me ta my room." That brought a smile to the Mountie's face.
"Understood," he said. "I ... I just ... worry about you up here. If you're going to like it. If you can handle the temperatures and the lack of city conveniences. You did once tell me you broke out in a rash whenever you left the city," Fraser pointed out, smiling.
"I know, Benton buddy. But, uh ... so far, so good. I'll tell you if I'm havin' problems. I promise."
"Thank you." Fraser pulled the blond to him, holding him close. Ray leaned against his partner's larger frame.
"But," Ray forged on. "You need to do the same. This is not a one-way street." Fraser stiffened and Ray shook his head.
"If I have a problem, Ray, I shall endeavor to apprise you of it." Ray gave a half laugh through
"Yeah, right. Look, just ... just know I mean it, okay? That if ... if you do ever decide you need or want ta talk to someone about anything, I'm here for you. Okay?" Fraser was silent for a moment, then,
"All right." He pushed back slightly and looked Ray in the face. "Thank you." He smiled at the blond. Walking back to the cabin, it felt almost like they were in sync again; a duet.
Ray started as footsteps approached the picnic table, jerking him out of his reverie.
"I thought you might like some lemonade," his mother said, setting a large glass on the table.
"Thanks, Mom." Ray grinned at her. "Yer a mind reader."
"I wish I was. You know, Stanley ... if you want to talk about anything ... well, we'd be happy to listen."
"I know. Just I'm still kind o' sortin' stuff out myself, ya know?" His mother nodded. "It helps just bein' able to be here, though. Knowing I could come. That ... well, that's worth a lot."
"I'm glad." She leaned down and kissed him on the head, then turned back to the trailer. Ray guessed she was plotting something enticing for dinner. One thing his mother and the Mountie had in common was an obsession with making Ray eat more. Neither could seem to accept that he was just built lean. He pushed aside the beer bottle and drank some of the lemonade. It was tart and cool and felt good going down his throat. Simple pleasures were the best, he thought. Lemonade on a hot day. Lying in someone's arms on a cold night. His throat constricted suddenly and his eyes stung. He quickly drank the rest of the lemonade and then got up and started walking. //Can't lose it in front of my Mom. Can't.//
Ray was on his best behavior while Fraser gave his testimony. He made sure to do nothing that would upset or concern his partner. Fraser came home early one afternoon.
"It's over," he said, simply. Ray nodded.
"Me and Deif were about to go on a walk. Wanna come?" Fraser nodded yes. The Mountie was quiet and Ray went with that. He asked a few questions about things they were walking past, letting Fraser unwind in the nature he loved. Later that night, lying in bed with the Mountie, Ray offered up a prayer that his partner would be able to ease up now.
Kowalski's hopes that things would improve were quickly dashed. If anything, they got worse. Fraser was now spending all of his time concentrating on security arrangements for the trial. He checked, double checked and triple checked. Ray couldn't figure out how the other Mounties were putting up with Fraser. Obviously they were even more polite than Kowalski had given them credit for.
"I don't know how much more of this, I can take," Ray said to the wolf one morning. Diefenbaker whined at him. "I know this trial's buggin' him, but I can't get through to him. I'd threaten to pop him one if he doesn't talk, but he knows I won't do that again. Can't really hold a gun to his head. Same problem. I got no credibility." Ray looked again at the note Fraser had left him and crumpled it in his hand. "Now, he's tellin' me what to eat and what to wear ... like I can't figure out how hungry I am or that it's cold outside!" He shook his head. Something had to give and soon. Problem was, Ray didn't know what.
"What if he's changed his mind?" Kowalski whispered the question, afraid of the answer. Diefenbaker moved forward and nudged his friend's hand. "I sure hope that's wolf fer `don't be silly,'" Ray muttered, scratching Diefenbaker behind the ears. He continued to worry though. Worried that whatever was bugging Fraser revolved around them, not Muldoon and the trial. Ben had sounded so calm when they discussed their relationship in Chicago. He'd thought they were on the same page. But now ... maybe he was wrong. Maybe Fraser was using Muldoon as an excuse not to deal with Ray. He looked across the room to the bedroll on the floor. Ray had been awakened late the night before by Fraser getting out of bed. He'd assumed it was to use the bathroom, but the sounds had been all wrong. He'd sat up. The Mountie was rolling his bedroll out on the other side of the room.
"Go back to sleep, Ray."
"What're ya doing?"
"I'm feeling restless. I didn't want to wake you."
"You weren't. You won't," fighting to keep the panic from his voice.
"Good night, Ray." The Mountie's voice indicated that the discussion was closed. He'd settled down on his bedroll and closed his eyes. Ray, bewildered and hurt, lay on his side, watching the Canadian for sometime before he was finally able to go back to sleep. Fraser was gone when Ray woke up. That was a first. He always woke the blond first, handing him a cup of coffee and asking his plans for the day. But today there was just a note. Short and to the point. "Ray. It's cold today. Wear layers if you go out. Don't forget to eat breakfast. B."
"Guess I should be grateful he actually cares. That's gotta mean something. Right?" he asked Diefenbaker, wondering how low you had to sink before you sought the consolation of a deaf wolf ... well, any wolf actually. "How `bout we brave the cold and go for a walk?" he suggested. Diefenbaker barked in approval and stood. "Great. Lemme grab my layers." He was moving toward the closet when he heard the knock.
The wolf growled, his ears lying back, flat against his head.
"Trouble?" Ray asked and then groaned. "God, I sound like I'm in a Lassie movie." Diefenbaker growled again. Ray hesitated and then watched as the door swung open. Fraser had once again left it unlocked. Figured. A woman stood framed in the light, her hands in her pockets, her head mostly covered by her hat.
"I'm sorry," she said. "No one answered. I thought the place was empty." She smiled coolly at him.
"Oh and you always just walk into a place when that happens?" It wasn't just Diefenbaker's attitude putting Kowalski on edge. There was something very unsettling about the woman.
"I'm looking for Benton Fraser," she said, ignoring the sarcasm.
"Yeah, well, he's not here." //Course yer bugged. She's gorgeous an' she's lookin' for the Mountie. My Mountie.//
"That's all right. I'll wait," the woman announced, moving further into the room.
"Pretty certain o' yer welcome, aren't you?"
"I'm an old friend. Who are you?"
"Name's Ray. Who are you, `old friend'?"
"You're not Ray. I've met Ray." She pulled off her hat with one hand, unleashing a dark cascade of hair. Kowalski's eyes narrowed.
"Victoria," he said, flatly.
"So, Ben's mentioned me." Her tone was pleased.
"Don't flatter yerself. I read the file." Now her eyes narrowed.
"Who are you," she demanded coldly.
"Told ya. Name's Ray." They glared at each other. "He'll just take ya in. Yer wanted. He can't overlook that."
"He can. He did. He would have come away with me if he hadn't been shot." She pulled her other hand out of its pocket. It was holding a gun. She motioned towards Diefenbaker, who was standing with his ears flat back. "If the wolf makes a move, I'll shoot him." She leaned against the table, clearly comfortable with herself.
"You already did that once. Didn't exactly endear ya to Fraser." She laughed.
"I know Benton Fraser far better than you. He's not the perfect Mountie. He's a human being. With needs and desires like any other human being."
"Things have changed for him."
"I doubt it." She looked casually around the room. "He's not married. I checked. You're here, so that pretty much rules out a live in girlfriend. He's taking the bedroll and giving you, his visitor, the bed, right? Always the gentleman." She looked back at Ray and smiled. It was a cold smile.
"Look, leave now and I won't say anything." Ray didn't figure the odds were good, but he had nothing to lose by trying.
"Without Ben? I don't think so."
"You're so sure he's gonna leave with you, you brought the gun along? For what? Decoration? Get over him and move on. Fraser did. He shook you off like a virus." Ray said snidely. "He won't go with you." Her expression turned cold.
"You'll never know. Let's take a walk," she said, pointing the gun at his chest.
"I'm comfortable, here."
"Sorry. I don't need another Ray meddling in Ben's life."
"What ... afraid Fraser might not go with you if his friend's lyin' dead on the floor? Or just worried about the blood stains ruinin' yer grand reunion?"
"Move. Where's the wolf?" She looked around. Diefenbaker had vanished.
"He split. Guess he went to get the calvary."
"More likely he just remembers what happened the last time he crossed me."
"Oh, I'm countin' on it." Ray had seen the wolf slinking by out of the corner of his eye. He figured Diefenbaker knew Victoria better than he did and had gone for help. He knew the wolf wouldn't just desert him. He was pack.
"Move," she said, motioning with her head. Ray shrugged and turned to go. "Take your jacket," she said. "I imagine Ben will wonder why you went off without it otherwise."
"Right, `cause he won't be so eager to go with you if he's worried I'm out there without my coat on?" Ray grabbed his jacket, managing to slide the note from Fraser into his sleeve as he put it on. From everything he'd read about Victoria, she wouldn't like surprises. He didn't know how much she'd read into the note, but he knew he'd never worried about his buddies wearing enough layers when they went out. Fraser would wonder why Ray wasn't there when he got back. Add Victoria to the equation and he knew the Mountie would figure on foul play.
"He'll be happy to go with me," Victoria said in a certain tone. "I just don't need anyone around appealing to his sense of duty."
"It doesn't need appealing to. It's just there. If you don't know that, you don't know Fraser."
"Too bad you won't be around to find out." She was completely calm. "Move." She motioned to the door again and Ray stepped outside. "That way," Victoria said, motioning away from town. Ray smiled wryly and went in the direction indicated. Victoria walked next to him, holding the gun under her coat. To anyone passing by they would have looked like any ordinary couple out for a walk. But no one passed by. They didn't talk. Ray figured they'd walk just far enough so that she felt safe shooting him without being heard by any of the neighbors. He began trying to plan ahead, trying to figure out where he might have a chance to get the jump on her. He hoped Diefenbaker was following, but didn't dare turn and look.
"Keep going. I'll tell you when to stop." Her voice was colder than ice. //Sure, she's beautiful, Ben. But what the Hell else did ya see in her?// Ray shook his head. It was nice to have proof every now and then that the Mountie wasn't perfect, but this really wasn't what he had in mind. He wondered what Fraser would do in this situation. //No. Don't wanna go there.// He really was running after her at the train station. Welsh had told him about it on the off chance that Victoria might reappear in their lives. They were getting further away from the town. Ray knew his time was running out. He began edging to the side of the road.
"There's no hope for you there. It's just a ravine. But it will make it easier to dispose of your body," Victoria said, without breaking step.
"Yeah, well at least this way, I'll be lookin' at something pretty when I go."
"I'm not that easily insulted. Surely you can do better."
"Surely," he said sarcastically. "Just gimme a minute."
"Can't think under pressure?" Ray snuck a sideways glance. She was smiling. "Just move a little closer to the edge there." Kowalski backed up, his eye on the gun. "Another step," she suggested, raising it and pointing it at him. He narrowed his eyes, watching her finger as it began to squeeze and then, suddenly, turned and threw himself into the ravine.
The fall seemed to take forever. He tried to curl himself into a ball and roll, as he tumbled through snow, a few bushes and over rocks. He couldn't seem to hold onto anything though and ended up sliding down the last part on his stomach as the ravine angled into a slope towards the bottom. He met the ground abruptly, hands first. One arm gave and he landed hard on his side. He lay still, almost afraid to breathe. Above, he dimly heard another shot, but felt nothing new. Now that the fall was over and his adrenalin subsiding, Ray could feel pain. Lots of it. He fought to stay conscious, forcing himself to lay still, hoping Victoria would think he was dead and leave. //Head hurts ... gotta stay awake ... gotta save Frase ... hurts ... this sucks.// The snow felt good. Cool. Ray sank into it; sank into the darkness it brought.
Something was smacking at his head.
"Frase? It's cold!" he whined. Another tap on the back of his head. He started to roll over. //Big mistake. Hurts. Fuck, that hurts.// He was definitely awake now. Really awake. He heard a whining sound. Carefully, very carefully, he opened his eyes and blinked. //Fur. Feet. Furry feet ... wolf?// He lifted his head slightly. Diefenbaker whined and nosed at his forehead. //Oh, good. Friendly wolf.// Ray closed his eyes again, just for a moment, gathering strength, and then slowly, pushed himself up. Sitting was bad and he whimpered. Diefenbaker nuzzled at his face.
"I'm up. I'm good." Ray managed. He wasn't sure if he was trying to reassure the wolf or himself. Dief cocked his head and looked at the blond. Kowalski took an inventory. His right arm was hanging and it really hurt. //Probably dislocated my shoulder. Maybe broke the arm, too.// His head was pounding and there was blood in the snow where he had been laying. There was a sharp pain running up his back as well, but his legs seemed intact. "That's a start, right?" he said to Dief. He carefully tilted his head up. From the looks of the sky, he'd been unconscious for several hours. Fraser would be returning from the courthouse soon. Ray took a deep breath and then, using his left arm and the side of the ravine, he managed to maneuver and push himself to a standing position. That move brought on a wave of nausea. He stood still, carefully and slowly taking deep breaths, waiting for the feeling to pass. Then he tried to concentrate.
He figured the wolf wouldn't be waking him up if Victoria was lingering above waiting to take him out, so he was probably safe for the moment. Ben wasn't though. She'd be going back, lying in wait for the Mountie. And if he said "no" to her ... Ray didn't want to think about that. Victoria didn't strike him as the type that handled rejection well. Standing seemed okay now, so he tried a step. Pain jolted through his body, bringing back the nausea as well. He grabbed the wall again for support. The wolf was right next to him, looking anxious. "I'm good," Ray said after a minute, looking at Diefenbaker. The wolf looked back. "Yeah, well, maybe not good ... but good enough. We gotta get to Ben. Maybe you could go head him off? Warn him?" Diefenbaker looked indecisive. "Go on. You have ta get to him. I'll be right behind you ... I promise." Ray looked up to the top of the ravine. No way was he climbing out. Not with his arm hanging by his side like this. He was going to have to hike out to where the ravine ended, and then double back to the cabin. "I'll meet ya at the cabin," he said, encouragingly. Dief barked and then moved a few steps ahead, looking back at the blond, clearly unwilling to leave him. "Yeah, okay. I get it. I'm coming." Ray took a deep breath and followed, pushing himself as fast as he could, trying to focus on his feet and ignore the pains.
The ensuing journey was far rougher than anything he'd ever experienced. Every step jolted his shoulder and the muscles around it. The pain was white hot and nauseating. After a few minutes, he stopped and forced the hand into a rip in his jacket, making a sort of a sling, which seemed to help a little. He could make a better one by unzipping his jacket, but didn't think he'd be able to handle the loss of heat. He hoped numbness would eventually take over. His head throbbed with every step. At least it wasn't bleeding, though. One good thing about landing in the snow, he guessed. It was just one big ice pack. Whatever was wrong with his back didn't particularly enjoy the walk either. His clothes kept rubbing against it, irritating it. But he kept going. Fraser needed him. No way was the Mountie prepared to deal with Victoria. No matter how much the Mountie argued otherwise, Ray knew Fraser was not at his emotional best right now. He kept his partner's face fixed firmly in his mind. A goal. And he walked as steadily as he could towards it.
When Ray stopped for a breath. Diefenbaker also stopped.
"Ya gotta go on ahead of me. It's gettin' dark. I'll ... I'll, uh, just keep following along. Go warn Fraser, Dief. Please," Ray pleaded. The wolf came back to him and nosed his good hand. Ray scratched the top of his head. "Go on, buddy. Go rescue Fraser," Ray say looking down into the wolf's eyes. Diefenbaker whined and went a few steps looking back. Ray started walking again. "Go on," Ray encouraged. The wolf ducked his head and then took off. "Good boy," Ray said. He took a deep breath and started walking again, trying a new tack to take his mind off the pain: Concentrating on the various punishments he would like to mete out to the woman who had caused this.
"Psycho fuckin' bitch. Wish Vecchio'd shot her. I'll shoot her myself," he muttered under his breath as he stumbled along the ravine bottom. "Crap, I'm in Canada. No gun. I'll throw the fuckin' bullets at her. Push `em into her brain one by one." It felt like hours before he reached a point where he was capable of climbing out. Then he began the journey back to the cabin. It was dark and still no Diefenbaker or Fraser. That couldn't be a good sign. Ray caught himself standing in place, swaying. He closed his eyes, briefly, gathering strength, shoving back his fears. //Gotta keep going. Gotta save Ben.// He forced himself forward again.
Finally, the cabin. There was a light on. Someone was home. Ray desperately needed to know who. If he walked in on Victoria again, he'd be dead for sure. But if she had Ben in there ... //What if he's glad to see her?// The fear he'd been trying to shove down, suddenly popped right into his mind. "No," he said aloud. "She's a murderer. She shot the wolf." //But he was going to go away with her,// the evil voice in his mind said. "No. He wouldn't have. Would've changed his mind. Once he'd had time ta think about it." //Sure. You go right on telling yourself that.// God, he had a snide subconscious, Kowalski thought miserably. He crept up to the house, listening. He forced himself to control his breathing, quiet it, so he could hear any noise inside. He waited and was rewarded.
"Come with me, Ben. You know you want to." Ray heard her voice as it raised. "What do you have here? They may even let the son of a bitch that killed your mother get off. Your friend's gone and he didn't even leave a note. Why would you stay? What do you have to stay for?" Ray couldn't hear Fraser's reply. His partner's voice was too low. It was enough to know that she was having to persuade him. Carefully, he moved around to the door, picking up a good sized piece of wood from the pile, hefting it in his left hand.
"I won't leave without you. Not again. We're meant to be together; you know that. You were going to come with me last time. Don't tell me it's because of your duty this time. What has doing your duty ever brought you?" Again Ray couldn't hear what Fraser was saying. Sliding his weapon into the crook of his right arm, Kowalski gritted his teeth against the pain as he carefully lifted the latch on the door and slipped into the dark entry way. Neither Victoria nor Fraser saw him, both concentrated solely on the other.
"Why won't you come with me?" the woman was pleading. "I've risked everything to come here. We can go away together. Be safe. Live as we were meant to."
"I can't," Fraser replied. "Things ... are different now." Ray scanned the room, looking for Diefenbaker. There was no sign of the wolf.
"Different? I love you," Victoria said. "Are you saying you no longer love me? That you don't care? I don't believe that."
"I need to know, Victoria. What did you do to my ... friend?" Ben asked.
"How many times do I have to tell you, Ben? He's gone. He was leaving when I got here. Told me to wait, that you'd be along eventually."
"What did you do to him?" Fraser repeated.
"Nothing. Really, Ben, I don't understand why you're fixating on someone who walked out without leaving a note."
"Because he wouldn't do that." Ray smiled at that. //One for me and the Mountie!// Victoria raised her arm and Ray could see the gun in it. //Uh oh. Think fast Kowalski.// Ray balanced the wood in his left hand and calculated the distance he would have to cross. It wasn't going to be easy.
Pointing the gun at the Mountie, Victoria took a deep breath. "I didn't want to do it this way. But I will, if it makes it easier for you. I'm not leaving without you. I mean that." Fraser was looking at her with a sad expression. "I love you," she said, aiming the gun at Fraser. "Come with me."
"I can't," Fraser said, as Ray moved up behind her as quickly as he could. She heard him coming and started to turn as he reached her. Ray slammed the wood into her head as the gun went off. Victoria and Fraser both stood still and then both crumpled and hit the floor at almost the same time. Ray stood over the woman, swaying, but not letting go of the wood; ready to hit her again if necessary. She didn't move. She had dropped the gun as she fell, and he used the wood to knock it to the other side of the room. Then he moved to Fraser. The Mountie was lying on his back, looking up, looking dazed. Ray dropped to his knees; and sat back on his feet. He carefully touched Fraser's face with his good hand.
"Ben?" he pleaded. "Talk to me. Please!" He looked down to the blood stain was slowly spreading across the front of Fraser's shirt. "Oh, God. Be okay, Ben. Please be okay." A hand grasped his knee. Ray jolted in panic, just managing to not scream from the pain the movement caused. Fraser's hand, he saw with relief. "I'm here, Ben. It's me. It's Ray. I'm here, buddy." The Mountie looked up at him. "Just take it easy," Ray told him. Fraser licked his lower lip slowly.
"Victoria?" he whispered.
Lost in his memories, Ray stumbled over a rock and fell, hard, landing on his hands and knees. Startled from his daze, it took him a moment to realize what had happened. Looking down, he could see that he'd torn his jeans. Blood was oozing from a gash on his right knee. He stared at it, fascinated for a few moments, drawn back in his mind, to the horror of watching the spread of blood across Ben's stomach.
Incapable of getting up, he'd stayed next to Fraser, trying to apply pressure to the Mountie's wound. He didn't lift the shirt to see how bad it was. Didn't look at Victoria. He just sat and waited, numbly, beyond doing anything else. Fraser didn't say another word, and neither did Ray.
Mounties arrived eventually, accompanied by Diefenbaker. They took over the first aid. Ray vaguely remembered the wolf licking his face. Then nothing else until he woke up in the hospital.
He shivered and looked up at the desert sky. The sun was going down and it would be cold soon. Time to turn around and go back. No need to worry his parents any more than he already had. Sure, their son was a headcase, but at least he could be a present headcase. He forced himself back to his feet, grimacing at the pain in his knees and then turned and started walking back toward the trailer park. He tried to concentrate on the pain. Tried to use it to block out the memories. But the pain faded, just as it always did, abandoning him when he needed it most.
Ray's time in the hospital was mostly a blur, between the pain meds and mind-numbing boredom. Fraser wasn't in the same room, but had the nurses wheel him in a few times. His wound was healing nicely and he was more mobile than Ray. The blond desperately wanted to talk to his partner about what had happened, but their conversations were strained and frequently interrupted by hospital personnel or other patients in the room. Fraser seemed distracted and uncomfortable in Ray's presence, which worried the blond considerably. Fraser was always at his best when the blond was injured or hurt. Ray kept looking for some sign, a hint of any kind, that Fraser was there for him. At night, he kept dreaming about Fraser coming to visit him, but when he woke up and looked around, there was never anyone there.
Maggie came to visit while they were in the hospital and spent time with both men. She was the one who told Ray that Diefenbaker had gone to get the Mounties, presumably because he was too late to catch Fraser on his way home. Ray was finally able to ask some of the questions he had about the incident. Fraser had been remarkably unforthcoming and the hospital staff seemed determined to protect the blond from any one official. It was Maggie who told Ray that Victoria was in the same hospital, under guard. Ray had mixed feelings about her survival, but figured it was probably easier on Fraser if she lived. Maggie agreed with him.
"So ... you and Ben. There's something there, isn't there?" she'd asked Ray the day before she left.
"Uhh ..." Ray was stunned, uncertain where to go. Maggie laughed.
"I'm sorry. You look like a deer caught in my headlights."
"I'm gettin' a whole new appreciation for how they feel," Ray said, grinning. If she was laughing, she probably didn't hate him.
"Look, I just wanted you to know, as long as Ben's happy, then I'm happy for him. And having you for a member of the family ... well, it would be fine by me."
"That's ... that's nice ta know ... but, uh ... things weren't goin' all that well before the bit ... uh, witch showed up. He's not ... he doesn't talk about stuff that's buggin' him. Not the really important stuff."
"I wish I could give you some advice, Ray, but I just don't know him all that well. Dad was the same. Mom used to complain about him. And you were there when I tried to talk to Ben. I think he's still mad at me."
"Thanks for the encouragement," Ray said glumly.
"I'm sorry. But, please ... keep trying. I know he cares about you. I can see it in his eyes, hear it in his voice. He needs you, Ray." The blond nodded and smiled wistfully, wanting to believe her.
Fraser was released first. Victoria's shot had done surprisingly little harm, going cleanly through and missing everything vital. There was muscle and tissue damage, of course, but it was healing well. Ray was held a few days longer, the result of a fever. The strange sharp pain in his back had been a bullet wound. It was only a flesh wound, but it ran half the length of his back. The walk back to the cabin had irritated it enormously and it had infected. But, finally, he too was released.
The Mountie was there to pick him up. Fraser was strangely quiet on the ride back. Ray bided his time, waiting to talk in the privacy of their home. But, when they got back to the cabin, Ray found himself looking at an extra bed. He stared at it, almost uncomprehending at first.
"I ... I didn't want to hurt you," Fraser said, quietly. "The doctors said ... they said you were in a lot of pain. That you should get as much rest as possible and try not to move too much. I ... I've been restless."
"Fine," Ray said, dully. He took a deep breath and walked over to the second bed. "Fine." He sat carefully and looked past the Mountie, afraid to see what was in his eyes. "So ... how's ... uh ... how's Victoria?" he asked.
"Ah ... well ... her ... uh, her health is fine." Fraser reached up and stroked his eyebrow with his thumbnail. "She, well, she has amnesia. She doesn't appear to remember anything since high school."
"So before the bad boyfriend ... before the bank robbery ... before you ..."
"Yes. It's ... it's causing some difficulty." Now he was flicking his tongue across his lower lip. "The ... the legal experts are trying to decide if she can be held to answer for crimes she can't remember committing."
"There's still the stuff in Chicago."
"Yes, but even assuming they were willing to prosecute under the circumstances, Canada is unlikely to extradite her if she is going to face the death penalty there for Jolly's murder."
"For killing a criminal scumbag? I think Chicago'd be happy to go for life on that one." Ray thought about it for a moment. "You sure she's not fakin' it? Tryin' ta get away with her crimes? She's smart enough." He forced himself to look at the Mountie.
"She seems ... genuine." Now Fraser was studying the floor.
"So ... you've uhh ... you've seen her."
"Yes. I've ... I've been visiting her." Ray nodded, still not looking Fraser in the eyes.
"In a manner of speaking." Fraser hesitated. "I've been ... trying to decide."
"To decide what?" Ray held himself absolutely still, afraid of what might follow.
"It's not important..."
"Fuck that! I'm asking! It's important!" His anger startled both men. Fraser rubbed his eyebrow again.
"Very well. I ... I can't help thinking that the situation, as it currently stands ... she's got a second chance, Ray. A chance to start over. And I might have a chance to help her. To try to make up for turning her in."
"How ya gonna do that?" Ray fought to calm his voice and then fought to stay quiet until Fraser answered.
"I'm not sure," the Mountie finally said, still not meeting Ray's eyes. "But as one of the victims in both the outstanding cases, there must be ... something I can do." Now Fraser was pinching his forehead, clearly in distress.
"How? You think you can just make it go away? What about me? Am I supposed to pretend I shot myself in the back and dove into the ravine for fun?" Calmness was lost.
"Ya want me to lie for you? For her? That it, Ben?"
"No! I ... I just thought ... if ... if I told them that ... that I had encouraged her. That it was my fault."
"An' then I made her mad `cause I blew up her pretty romantic picture? That my part in this?" Ray was clutching the side of the bed so hard, his entire arm ached.
"No ... no. I ... I haven't been able to think ... decide .... I just ... I know that second chances are precious and rare. I *don't* want to let this one slip away."
"She's a criminal, Benton-buddy. A murderer. And it's sheer luck her body count wasn't higher this time. `Course that might o' made it easier on you, right? If I died, that ...."
"No!" Fraser interrupted the blond, his tone horrified. "Ray, you can't think ..."
"Forget it. You decide you wanna lie for her, go ahead. Just clue me in, so I don't screw up yer plan." He concentrated on his feet as he spoke.
"Ray ..." Fraser's voice trailed off.
"I'm ... I ... feel kinda tired. I'm gonna take ... take a nap," Ray said, laying down on the bed.
"Certainly. You ... ah, you need your rest. I'll ... wake you for dinner." Ray could barely hear Fraser over his own thoughts screaming around in his head. He closed his eyes, but he didn't sleep. The Mountie stayed where he was for a few minutes and then quietly walked away. Ray listened to Fraser moving about the cabin and eventually going outside. Then, finally, he let the tears slide down his face. He didn't make any noise though. //One good thing about childhood abuse. Ya learn to cry quiet.// He buried his face in the pillow. Diefenbaker came over and gently poked his nose against the detective, trying to offer what solace he could.
In the days that followed, the two men treated each other very politely. Ray spent a lot of time in front of the fire, purportedly reading, but mostly staring into the flames. Fraser spent a lot of time elsewhere. The trial was still going on and he spent some time at the courtroom, unofficially, since he was still not fit for duty according to the doctors. The rest of the time ... he didn't say where he was and Ray didn't ask, but the blond knew. Every day, Fraser went to visit Victoria. Ray tried several times to get Fraser talk, but every time he brought anything concerning her up, the Mountie flinched as though he was in pain and then changed the subject. Even Diefenbaker was quiet, skulking back and forth between the two beds, lying under Fraser half the night and Ray the other half.
"Stay with him," Ray finally told him one day. "You and him, you were partners first." The wolf lay his head on Ray's lap and the blond smiled and ruffled his neck. "I need to know he's got you. I can't ... I have to know that you're with him, Dief." he said. "That he's with someone he can trust."
When Fraser got home that afternoon, Ray's bag was packed. He was sitting on the couch, waiting. The Mountie looked at the bag and then at Ray, his face expressionless.
"This ... it's not working," Ray said simply. "There's a plane to Toronto leavin' tonight."
"As you wish," was the Mountie's reply. And that had been it.
He could see the trailer park now and limped toward it. Once in range of the lights, he straightened up and shook off the pain and depression, trying to look as normal as possible for his parents' sake.
"Stanley! What happened?!" His mother rushed toward him, looking horrified at the sight of his bloodstained jeans.
"S'okay. I just tripped. No big deal," he assured her. "I'll just clean `em off, put on some disinfectant and be good to go. Just wasn't looking. You know me. Always kind of clumsy."
"That's not true and you know it," she told him in a serious tone. He hung his head. "Oh, Stanley. Go get out of those jeans. Put on some shorts and let me take a look."
"I can take care of it."
"I know, honey. But I'm your mother. You're supposed to humor me in my old age." Ray grinned at her.
"Oh, right. And if I humor you, then I'm agreein' yer old. Nope. Not goin' there."
"Stanley Raymond Kowalski!" his mother said in a stern tone.
"Oh, full name time. This is serious. Yes ma'am." Going over to his pack, he grabbed out a pair of shorts and then went into the bathroom and changed. When he came out, his mother motioned to a chair at the table. She'd set out some more lemonade for him and he drank it gratefully. When she'd satisfied herself that his injuries weren't serious, she sat down across from him.
"This can't go on, Stanley." He looked down into the lemonade glass. "I mean it."
"I ... I didn't mean ta worry you guys. I'll ... I'll go."
"No, that's not what I mean. We're your parents, honey. We're supposed to worry. It's part of the contract."
"Yeah? I never got to see a copy of that contract." It was an old childhood joke, this mysterious contract.
"I've misplaced it again," his mother said.
"There's a shock."
"I kept your dinner for you. I'll get it."
"You don't have to do that," Ray protested.
"I know." She smiled and reached out, stroking his cheek. "I love you, son. You do know that, don't you."
"Yeah. I do. An' I love you, too." She smiled and got up, fetching a plate out of the oven and another out of the refrigerator.
"Here you go. I have to go out for a bit. Promise you won't go out again tonight?" She tried not to look at his knuckles, but Ray could see her glance and look away.
"Yeah. I'll stay put," he said, figuring he owed her that much peace.
He ate his dinner quietly and then got up to rinse the plates. The door opened behind him and he turned around.
"Dad." They looked at each other for a long moment. Then Damian sighed.
"I'm gonna make some coffee. Want some?"
"Uh ... sure." Ray finished washing up and sat, watching his father putter about the kitchen. The elder Kowalski finally set out two cups of coffee and sat down across from his son. Both men sipped at the hot coffee. The silence grew and Ray began to fidget.
"Raymond ..." Damian trailed off. Ray closed his eyes, briefly.
"Look, I ... I should go. I'm sorry ..."
"Shut up." Damian told him. Ray sat back, startled. Damian was quiet, clearly marshaling his thoughts. Ray waited, trying not to fidget too much. Finally, the elder Kowalski spoke.
"Anything worth having, takes work. Hard work and lots of it." Ray looked confused. Damian sighted and ran his hand through his hair. "Like the GTO. Think o' the hours we spent on that car. Lookin' fer the right parts, gettin' her to run ... then tinkerin' with her `til she ran better." Ray was now completely lost.
"If this is about gettin' another car to fix up ..."
"No. No. Not that. It's a met ... a meta ... an example. If ya have somethin' that's important to you, ya don't throw it away just because it's not perfect. You work on it. You try ta fix it." Ray looked at his father oddly. "Like the GTO, see?" Ray clearly did not. His father sighed again, looking into his coffee cup as though expecting to find inspiration there. He tried again. "People are like cars, Son. They take work too. For two people ta ... ta be together ... sometimes ... it takes work."
"I know that. I know that. But what if ya got nothing ta work with?"
"Then ya gotta fight."
"I ever tell you how I met yer Mom?"
"At a party?" The younger man was thoroughly confused now. Damian smiled and nodded.
"Her engagement party. God, she was beautiful. And the minute I met her, I knew right away that she was the one. Knew it the instant we spoke."
"Yeah?" Ray smiled. He'd never heard his father talk about his mother like this. Then he thought about what Damian had just said. "Her engagement party? As in to someone else?"
"What did you do?"
"I fought for her, son."
"You fought the guy? Like ... like a duel?" Ray was incredulous and Damian laughed at his son's expression.
"No. That mighta been easier. I had ta show her she'd be better off with me. That she belonged with me. And I was sure she did. Everything was just ... so much better with her around. Everything. The view, the conversation, the day ... whatever. So, I ... I fought for her."
"And ya won."
"Yeah. But I've had to fight for her over and over through the years. We've had some tough times, yer Mom and me. Some you know about. Some you don't. But I always knew that my life was better for having her in it. That she was worth any amount o' fighting ... and any amount of work, no matter how hard." He looked at his son. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"That you love Mom. Yeah, I get that."
"No. I mean, yes, but ... look me in the eyes, Raymond. What I'm trying to tell you is that if you're lucky enough to find someone who makes you feel like that ... sometimes, ya gotta fight for `em." Ray looked at his father for a long moment. A very long moment.
"Stella?" he finally asked, hesitantly. Damian shook his head, sighing.
"No. Not Stella. I like the girl. Always did. But you two ... I think if you hadn't met and gotten together so young, ya never would have."
"But ... if not Stella ..." Ray looked at his father with something akin to horror. //He doesn't mean ... he can't ... he can't know ...// But, Damian was nodding.
"The Mountie ... he ... he means something to ya, Raymond. I could see it pretty much right away. And I could see how much you meant to him. Whatever's wrong between you two, it's killin' you. Literally." He reached across the table and awkwardly touched Ray's bruised knuckles. "Stop fightin' walls and bums. That won't get you what you want. Go fight for what you really want."
"He's fought for you. He got yer Mom and me ta see how much we were still hurtin' you. Made it possible for you to come here when you needed a safe place. He's a good man. He wouldn't hurt you on purpose, son. I'm sure o' that. Don't know exactly what it is between the two of you. Not sure I need to." Ray ducked his head, seeking refuge in the table top. "It's all right," Damian said softly. "It took me too many years, but I know what's important to me now." He tilted Ray's chin back up. "Your mother and I ... we just want you to be happy, Son. That's all. Whatever that means."
"Well, we'd have some problem if you turned out to be one o' them serial killer types, but I, uh ... I don't think that's a real danger."
"No." Ray smiled. "That's ... not my ... style."
"Anything worth havin's worth fighting for, Raymond. And nothin' really good lasts without work. You just think about that."
"I will," the younger man said softly. "I will."
"That's good." Damian got up. "I gotta go get your mother. She's over at Lily's helping her with her new baby." Ray nodded and watched the older man get his coat and move to the door.
"Thanks." Damian nodded.
"You're welcome, Son."
Fraser came into the cabin, rubbing his hands together briskly. "Well, that chore's completed," he informed Diefenbaker. The wolf, stretched out on the couch, looked mournfully at the dark fireplace and then back at his packmate, the meaning clear. "It's not that cold in here," the Mountie scolded him. "Chicago made you soft ... all right, made both of us soft," he admitted as Diefenbaker twitched his ears at him. The wolf looked pointedly back at the fireplace. Fraser sighed. He knew what he was doing. Procrastinating. Staving off the inevitable moment when he could no longer distract himself from his own mind. He walked across the room and sat heavily on the couch, next to Diefenbaker, who moved so that his head was resting on Fraser's thigh. The Mountie automatically started scratching behind the wolf's ears. Never before had he been so grateful for the wolf's companionship. He wasn't certain he could have gotten through the last month without him.
He knew Ray's leaving was for the best; knew he had helped push the blond into leaving. Some paths were meant to be walked alone and after the latest debacle with Victoria, Fraser knew for certain that his path was to be a solitary one. He sighed again and Diefenbaker looked up. The wolf's eyes were sympathetic and Fraser suddenly felt a sharp pricking behind his eyes. He took a deep breath.
"I miss him, too," he said. "But we belong up here, you and I. He doesn't." Diefenbaker's whine clearly disagreed. Fraser ignored that. They had to get back on their path. Chicago had turned out to be a surprisingly pleasant interlude, but now they were home and it was time to shake off the trappings of the city. For Dief, that meant no more junk food. For Fraser ... no more Ray. It had been so obvious to him when he saw the blond lying injured in the hospital. But he'd failed to anticipate just how hard it would be; how much he'd miss Ray's companionship.
He'd missed Ray Vecchio terribly when he left to go undercover, but Ray Kowalski had been there to distract him and, in a frighteningly short amount of time, to become closer to him than anyone he'd ever known. But now he had no one to distract him and the blond's absence was shaking him to the core. Fraser found himself in the previously unimaginable position of being unable to concentrate fully on anything. It was remarkable how many seemingly innocuous words or objects brought Ray to mind, always accompanied by a fresh jolt of pain from somewhere deep inside of him. Fraser could feel the tears gathering behind his eyes now. He got up quickly, dislodging the wolf, and moved over to the fireplace. There was nothing to be gained by giving in to his emotions. The best thing was to stay occupied.
He'd tried going back to work, on light duty, as soon as he was able. After three days of misplaced files, lost messages and forgotten tasks, it had been tactfully suggested that perhaps he should give himself a bit more time to recover. So now he was left to his own devices. Victoria had been moved to another city and was being held there while the authorities decided what they should do with her, and so he no longer had even that distraction. Muldoon's trial was finally wrapping up, but Fraser had purposely avoided the courthouse. He knew he wasn't emotionally strong enough to look at the man who had destroyed his family and couldn't have borne breaking down in front of Muldoon.
Fraser finished building his fire and lit it. Watching the flames take form, growing larger and hotter as they eagerly reached for more fuel, the Mountie remembered how much pleasure Ray had taken from the fireplace.
"Fire's kind of magic," he'd told Fraser. The Mountie, watching the light play over the lines of Ray's face and turn the top of his hair bright, could only agree. He'd harbored a secret desire to see what the flame's reflection would do for the rest of Ray's body. He wasn't sure why they hadn't consummated their relationship. Nervousness, he supposed. A fear of disrupting what they did have; finding out that they couldn't function as lovers and have the whole partnership come crashing down around them. Not that it had made any difference in the end. He closed his eyes, feeling the tears slip down his face, as he gave in once more to the pull of his memories.
It had started well. They'd settled into the cabin quickly. Ray, still recovering from his illness, was taking things easy. Fraser had a week before he had to officially report to duty, so beyond taking care of some administrative details, he'd been able to spend most of his time with the blond. They'd wandered about the town on good days, stayed inside when it stormed ... it all felt so ... right. Evenings were spent at home. Fraser reflected on that for a moment. When Ray had been there, the cabin had been home. But the day after he left, Fraser had started calling it the cabin. He hadn't even noticed until now.
"I'm pathetic," he said to the wolf. "As Ray would say, a regular pity party." Diefenbaker woofed softly. "Yes, I know," Fraser said. He looked back into the flames.
He'd reported for duty just two days before Muldoon was transferred from the high security prison he'd been kept in while awaiting his trial. Fraser had been given some of the responsibilities for guaranteeing security during the trial and so was on hand when the transfer took place. The weapons dealer turned and given Fraser a cold smile.
"So, Benton. We meet again," he said. Fraser didn't reply; just signed the transfer papers and led the way to Muldoon's cell. Outwardly, he was certain he'd presented a professional picture. Inside, he was shaken, completely unprepared for the rush of emotion ... of anger ... that swept over him. His father's and grandparents' training had held though and he was able to push his feelings down, concentrating hard on the minutiae of the transfer .
But later that night, lying in bed, holding Ray, Fraser dreamed. Dreamed of his mother, touching his cheek in the mineshaft and then saw her crumpling heavily and gracelessly to the ground. Lying in snow, which slowly turned red and then pink around her. His arms tightened and Ray squirmed, waking him. Grateful for the distraction, Fraser immediately focused his attention on the blond, making sure that he was covered and warm. Concentrated on the practicalities to push away the images of his dream. Ray mumbled something incomprehensible and sighed contentedly. Fraser smiled against the back of his partner's neck. //This is good. This is happiness.//
Maggie came to visit the week before the trial had officially started. Fraser had worried about her visit beforehand. He and Ray were hardly to a place where they could declare themselves a couple, yet he knew Maggie had been interested in Ray in Chicago. When she came, though, she just seemed to treat Ray as another brother; someone to get to know and befriend. He missed sleeping with his partner and was glad when Ray appeared to feel the same way, surreptitiously reaching for him in the dark. He fell asleep quickly and remembered no dreams on waking. He dismissed the dream of his mother's death as a one time aberration.
When he had originally invited Maggie to visit, he had thought mainly of how good it would be to see her again. It hadn't occurred to him that she might cause problems. He was pleased to see how well she and Ray got on, teasing each other in a companionable fashion, almost as though they were the brother and sister.
But, when Maggie took Ray's side in the hiking issue, it took every ounce of self control Fraser had not to yell at her. She knew the dangers of the area ... knew better than to send someone out unprepared into them. Fraser remembered all too clearly, those horrifying moments on the freeway in Chicago. Watching the car fall and then explode. The intense relief at finding that Ray wasn't in that car. He couldn't go through that again. He had vowed to protect Ray absolutely and completely, and now Maggie was thoughtlessly undermining his efforts. Fraser knew Ray was ill-equipped to handle the dangers. He was still ill ... and so fragile. He had no real experience in this environment. Robert and Caroline Fraser had grown up in wilderness areas far more treacherous than this. All their knowledge and skill hadn't saved them. Hadn't been any use to them at all in the end. Fraser opened his mouth to explain this ... to make Ray and Maggie see the dangers that lay out there for his partner, but the waitress interrupted, delivering their food and the moment was lost. He comforted himself with the fact that Diefenbaker would be his stand-in. He vowed to have a long talk with the wolf, explaining his responsibilities thoroughly and completely, so that there would be no misunderstandings.
Then, that night, Maggie brought up his mother's death ... and Fraser had frozen. He did not want to discuss that. Did not want to think about it. Logically, everything he told Maggie was true. His mother had died many years ago and Muldoon was not on trial for that. Fraser did not want to be reminded ... did not want to have any more dreams about his mother crumpling to the snow ... didn't want to find himself staring down at her dead face.
"Why won't they let well enough alone?" he asked Diefenbaker later that evening, as he took the wolf for a brief walk before bed. "She's dead. Talking about it won't bring her back. I dealt with her death a long time ago. I don't want to have to deal with it again." The wolf had no answers for him.
Diefenbaker interrupted his reverie, licking his face and bringing him back to the present.
"What?" Fraser asked. "Oh, now you want dinner. You know, wolves in the wild have been known to get their own dinner." Diefenbaker whined. "You're only thinking of me? Well, I'm not feeling particularly hungry this evening. If you're so concerned about me, then why don't you fix dinner." The wolf gave him a somewhat baleful look. "Right you are ... thumbs are necessary for lifting pots and opening cans. Very well, then." He stood and moved over to the stove, lighting a quick fire in it and putting some water on to boil. Perhaps a cup of tea would energize him, he thought. Food held very little interest for him of late. If not for Diefenbaker's constant nagging, the Mountie suspected he would forget to eat much of the time.
Fraser managed to distract himself with reasonable success until he was done cleaning up from his meal. Sitting in front of the fire, he picked up the book he'd been trying to read. He'd checked it out of the library over a week ago and had yet to get past the first chapter. No matter how many times he started it, he couldn't seem to remember a word he'd read. He stared moodily at the flames, but his mind was elsewhere. Outdoors. On an adventure. They would have been acquiring supplies by now. Obtaining maps. Deciding on a starting route. He told himself again, that logically, that Ray was better off far away from him. But no matter how many times he reminded himself of that fact, his heart remained unconvinced. He missed the blond, missed him absolutely and completely.
Even when things hadn't been going well, the one absolute in every day, was that he would end it curled around Ray, holding him close, breathing in his unique scent. As the trial started and Fraser was forced to see more and more of Muldoon, he was sleeping less and less. But somehow, holding Ray in his arms at night ... feeling the blond's warmth, his breathing, his occasional twitches ... still brought the Mountie a measure of peace. Now, every moment spent in this cabin was a reminder of what he'd lost. What he'd pushed away. The nights ... the long, dark, lonely nights were the worst. He'd considered leaving, but couldn't summon the energy to do so. Then there was the fear that these feelings might follow him wherever he went. He put the book back down. Logically, he knew he'd made the right decision ... that Ray was safer and better off away from him, but that didn't seem to stop him waking up in tears. "What doesn't kill you will cure you," his grandmother had been overly fond of saying. //Very well.// He sat back and closed his eyes, letting the memories flood through him.
Shortly after the trial started, rumors had started going around town. Rumors of a plot to blow up the courthouse; a plot to take the jurors hostage; a plot to free Muldoon. The Mounties stepped up their security and brought in reinforcements, but Fraser found himself consumed by the thought that anything might impede Muldoon's trial. He went over the plans at every opportunity, seeking to assure himself that nothing had been left to chance; that they were prepared against every possibility. He knew he was neglecting Ray, but told himself that the blond would understand how important this trial was. Due to its nature, international attention was focused on Canada, and it was of the utmost importance that Canada put on a good showing to the world. That's what he told himself then. Now he knew better. While there was truth in that, it didn't explain his actions entirely. He was obsessed by Muldoon. The criminal smiled the same smile at him every time they had occasion to meet. The smile that he'd had on his face at the mall amusement park as he told Benton how his mother had died. The same smile Fraser saw in his dreams when he looked up from his mother's dead and lifeless body to see Muldoon standing there, looking back at him. Fraser tried to lose sight of that smile by concentrating on the details of the trail. He began spending most of his spare time during the day at his desk, going over all the police reports from the town as well, just in case there was something that had been overlooked.
He was so engrossed in these reports one day that he didn't hear when someone entered his office. His first clue was a brown bag thunking down on the desk in front of him. Startled, he shoved back in the chair, ready for the worst.
"Whoa!" Ray put up his hands in mock self-defense. "Remind me not to sneak up on you. Give a guy a heart attack, why don't you!"
"I ... I think that you have that reversed."
"So we're both a little jumpy. Brought you lunch. Me and Dief missed you. Figured you had to take a break long enough to eat."
"I really don't have ti..." He looked at Ray and changed his mind "Thank you, kindly." Ray gave him a long searching look and then nodded.
"You don't start eatin' more regular, you'll be thinner than me."
"That's hardly likely."
"I'm gaining my weight back, Ben. Your uniform's looking a little loose. Anyway, I brought you healthy stuff." He began to unpack the bag.
"Hamburgers?" Fraser asked, lifting an eyebrow.
"They got lettuce and tomatoes on `em," Ray said. "Got french fries, too. Potato. That's a vegetable. And juice for you." He pulled out a soda for himself and pulled up a chair making himself comfortable across from the Mountie.
"Dare I ask what you gave Diefenbaker?"
"He's a carnivore. I gave him a hamburger. He didn't seem too impressed by the lettuce."
"I daresay not. Perhaps if it came covered in chocolate," Fraser sighed, looking over at the wolf. Diefenbaker gave him a wolfish grin.
"That would probably do a lot for salads in general," Ray said around his mouthful of hamburger.
"Chocolate. You know, use chocolate syrup instead o' dressing." Fraser blanched at the thought and Ray laughed. "I'm kidding! Well, mostly." Fraser smiled back at Ray.
"This is nice," he said. "Thank you." Ray shrugged.
"No problem. `Sides, this way I get to see you a little more." He caught Fraser stiffening into a defensive posture. "Jeez, relax. I'm not hintin' at anything. I know you have a lot to do with this trial. I just figured you probably hadn't thought to get lunch and I could kinda help out with that, plus get to see you. Seemed like a win win deal." Fraser forced himself to relax and nodded.
"I know I'm neglecting you, Ray. I promise, I'll make it up to you." Ray gave him an exasperated look. Reaching over, he picked up the now empty lunch sack, turned it upside down and shook it out over the desk.
"You see a guilt trip fallin' out o' here? `Cause I sure as Hell didn't order one up with lunch. I'm a big boy, Frase. I can entertain myself just fine. Yeah, I'm lookin' forward to when you're done with this and it's just you and me and winter wonderland, but I get this. If it's important to you, Ben, it's important to me. We're partners."
"Exactly. Now eat your hamburger before Dief decides it's his."
After Ray left, Fraser looked back at the reports in front of him. A part of him had wanted to go with the blond. To spend an afternoon away from the courthouse and Muldoon. But this was his duty, he reminded himself, pulling the top file towards him. Muldoon first. Ray later.
The night Ray brought Caroline Fraser's death up followed a particularly hard day and Ben had taken it out on his partner. After Ray stormed out of the cabin, Diefenbaker had growled at the Mountie, voicing his displeasure with Fraser's attitude.
"I can't help it. I simply do not need his harping on the subject," Fraser had told the wolf. "Just because he feels the need to trot out his feelings and explore them in great detail, does not mean I have the same need." His answer was an extremely disdainful look. "Well, I don't," Fraser told him. He sat silently for a bit, staring at the file he'd brought home. Ray's volatility was part of his unique charm. Fraser knew and understood that the blond needed to express himself and his frustrations ... that holding them in resulted in an explosion such as he'd just witnessed. But, what Ray didn't seem to understand or appreciate was that he, Benton Fraser, was different. That he operated on logic, not emotion. He had let emotions hold sway once before. He was not about to repeat that mistake. All he had to do was hold firm. The dreams would pass. Muldoon would be convicted for his terrorist crimes. Life would go on.
Fraser looked over at the fire, checking. The cabin seemed strangely colder without Ray in it. The Mountie shook his head for that fanciful thought. Details. Facts. That was what he needed to focus on right now. Not feelings. But after a few more minutes he pushed the file back. He couldn't concentrate knowing his partner was out there and upset.
"Come on, Dief. Let's go get Ray," he said, standing. The wolf barked his approval and went to wait by the door.
Fraser was certain the situation would improve once he started to give his testimony, but if anything it felt worse. Between the stress of sitting in the witness box with Muldoon staring at him all day long for several days and the worry that his testimony might be flawed, disbelieved by the jury or in some other way contribute to the smuggler going free, Fraser could hardly sleep or eat. He was on edge the whole time. Ray was remarkably patient and restrained. Fraser could feel the tension in his partner every time he pulled out his reports to go over them yet again, but the blond never said a word during those rough days. Muldoon continued to smile at him all day and his mother continued to fall in front of him each night, over and over again. Several times he was awakened by Ray, trying to escape a suddenly too-tight grip.
"Ow! Hey, Fraser ... lighten up! I'm not goin' anywhere," Ray told him one night, sitting up and rubbing his upper arm where the Mountie had grabbed it.
"I'm sorry, Ray. I just ... well, I'm not quite sure what I was ... thinking."
"`S'okay, Ben. I kind o' like that ya want me that close ... just it's not physically possible. Got that whole flesh and bone thing in the way, ya know?" Ray had teased. Fraser had smiled and pulled Ray back to him, grateful for the distraction from his dreams.
"I'll try to keep that in mind," he said, gently stroking the blond hair. He pulled Ray back down, resettling them, kissing the blond hair. A part of him wanted to keep kissing Ray, to possess Ray in every possible way, right then and there. To use him to chase away the vision of his mother. But he didn't think that would be fair. To himself or Ray. Fraser deliberately evened out his breathing to mimic sleep and eventually his partner relaxed and went back to sleep himself. The Mountie lay awake for the rest of the night, ensuring that he didn't squeeze Ray too hard again.
After his testimony, Fraser consciously tried to relax and failed miserably. Now that his part was done, he could only pay attention to the details of security and worry about the outcome of the trial. Instead of relief, he found himself with one less distraction from his torments. Muldoon took to greeting him every time they had occasion to pass each other.
"Hello Ben-ton," he would say, stressing that last syllable. "Enjoying the spectacle?" Fraser ignored him. He knew it wasn't polite, but was fairly certain his grandmother would have agreed that this situation wasn't covered in the etiquette books. How to greet the man who caused your mother's death. They'd never covered that one.
The nightmares grew worse. Ray looked more and more concerned each day, but didn't push him. Somehow, knowing the blond was holding back was even worse than having him just come right out and comment on the situation. Fraser found himself spending less and less time at home, unable to face the concern on his partner's face. He didn't want to burden Ray, he told himself. He'd vowed to protect the blond, not dump his own problems on him. Deep down, he knew that if he told Ray what was going on, the blond would be sympathetic, but admitting that he was having problems felt like admitting defeat; giving Muldoon the upper hand. Fraser couldn't bring himself to do that.
The final straw came late one night when he found himself dreaming, yet again of the vision of his mother falling to the snow. "Like a sack of potatoes," Fraser heard Muldoon speak the words again. The criminal stood in front of him, holding the smoking gun that had killed Fraser's mother.
"And you can't do anything about it, Ben-ton. For all your dedication and pursuit of justice, I get to just walk away from that. Your father tried to kill me for it. But, I walked away. I laughed at him. I've been laughing for over 30 years now, dead to law enforcement. 30 years that your mother lay rotting in her grave, while I was free to do whatever I wanted. Your mother's not so pretty now, is she Ben-ton. And there's nothing you can do about it. Nothing at all ..." Fraser found himself walking closer and closer to the body, until he finally looked down on the empty, decaying face of his mother. He woke up, breathing hard. He'd looked at Ray, still peacefully asleep and suddenly he couldn't bear it anymore. The closeness. The touching. The emotion. He carefully slid out of the bed and went to pull his bedroll out of the closet.
Diefenbaker had watched from by the fireplace as Fraser set up his bedroll on the ground. The wolf narrowed his eyes, looking displeased. After watching the ensuing conversation between his packmates, the wolf went over and slept the rest of the night by the bed. By Ray.
"It's his fault," Fraser told the wolf the next morning. "Just because he feels the need to examine his emotions at every turn, doesn't mean I have the same need. Now he's got me remembering things I never even saw. There's no logic in this. Why can't he accept that I am long over my Mother's death. Granted the revelation of the cause gave me brief pause, but it alters nothing. She's still gone. The manner of her death changes nothing at this point. I don't need this ... these memories. They simply are not logical!" The wolf had turned his back, effectively cutting off Fraser's argument. Deep down, the Mountie knew the wolf had a point. Instead of confronting his problem, he had taken it out on Ray. He had climbed out of the bed and set up his bedroll on the floor, knowing that it would upset his partner. //Or perhaps punishing yourself?// The nagging thought crept through his head. He hadn't slept again all night; had missed Ray's warm body curled up against his. Lying on the floor he had tried to mentally justify what he was doing, over and over again, finding himself wide awake and uncertain of everything when morning came.
"Benton, my boy."
"Sergeant Frobisher! Come in," Fraser stood to greet his father's old partner.
"Just thought I'd come say good-bye. I'm leaving this afternoon. Have to get back out to my post and whip those young Mounties back into shape. God only knows what they'll have got up to in my absence." He looked critically at Fraser. "You look like Hell."
"I ... didn't get a lot of sleep last night."
"No. I expect this trial's hard on you." Fraser's mouth tightened at that. "Don't get your shirttails in a twist," Frobisher told him. "I know. You're Bob Fraser's son. You have complete control over your emotions and feelings ... except when you don't."
"Sir," Fraser tried to interrupt.
"Sit down," Frobisher said, waving him back into his seat. Fraser obediently sat. Frobisher took the chair on the opposite side of the desk. "You see your father anymore?"
"No. Not since the mine." Frobisher nodded.
"I thought it might be that way." He looked at the younger Mountie for a moment. "You and that friend of yours figured out when you're going to need that dog team?"
"I'm not sure."
"You've given your testimony. I'm sure they'd let you leave at any time."
"I ... I want to see this through." Frobisher nodded.
"Because of your mother," he said, sagely.
"Why does everyone automatically assume that I'm doing this for my mother? Why doesn't anyone understand that it's simply a job that needs to be done and done well," Fraser burst out. Frobisher just raised an eyebrow at him. The younger man subsided, feeling somewhat foolish.
"Don't let Muldoon do to you what he did to your father," Frobisher finally said.
"What is that supposed to mean? I brought Muldoon back alive. I had the chance to kill him, but I didn't."
"Not that." Frobisher sighed before going on. "After Muldoon killed your mother, your father could barely stand to return home again. He felt as though he'd brought Death into his own home. Introduced him to those he loved the most. So he stayed away. Made himself miserable. Didn't even get to know his own son. Everywhere he looked, all he could see was his own guilt. I think the reason he came back after his death was for you, as much as Muldoon. Just now that Muldoon's captured, the two of you have come full circle. Bob Fraser let Muldoon destroy his happiness. Don't let Muldoon do the same thing to you. You and your friend; you go on this expedition. See where it takes you. Just make sure it takes you far away from Muldoon. The man's poison, pure and simple." Frobisher pushed back his chair and stood. Moving to the doorway, he paused. "You let me know when you need that team. I'll have it ready for you."
"Thank you," Fraser said automatically, still pondering the older man's words. Frobisher looked at him for another moment, then nodded and left. Fraser sat still for a long time, turning the conversation over and over in his mind. Finally, he decided that the only thing to do was to sit down and have a long talk with Ray, to tell him everything, starting with his father. Fraser went home that night intending to do that. Instead, he'd been greeted by Victoria.
His memories for the first two days that followed that evening were scattered. There was pain, of course. Both physical and mental. And there was an almost overwhelming feeling of relief that Ray was alive and expected to recover fully. He'd been so certain that Victoria had killed the blond. Ray would never have left without a word. It wasn't his way. Ray was a fighter through and through.
There was also relief that Victoria had survived. And there was guilt. It clouded his waking moments, shadowed his dreams. Wrapped itself around his heart and squeezed it tight. Made even the simplest things, like breathing, feel difficult.
As soon as he was capable, he began sneaking out of his room at night to watch Ray. He went late at night, when he thought his partner would be asleep, easing quietly into the blond's room and standing ... just watching.
The blond appeared stressed, even in his sedative induced slumber. The bandages made him look so very vulnerable. Fraser leaned in the doorway, watching him. //My fault. All my fault.// He blinked back the tears that pricked at his eyes.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. He wanted to touch Ray. To hold him close. But he knew that he had forgone that privilege. So he stood and watched quietly instead.
Ray mumbled in his sleep, jerking Fraser out of his reverie. The Mountie knew he should get back to his own room, before the nurses discovered him missing. But he couldn't tear himself away just yet. Ray in sleep looked so young, so innocent. At one time he had thought the same of Victoria, but that was before the mask was peeled away, showing her true face. He'd seen beneath Ray's mask too. The difference was that Victoria wore hers to cover up an inner darkness. Ray's hid light. Light buried under years of pain and hurt, and a heavy layer of cynicism, but still light. Victoria had used the wrongs done to her to excuse her for the wrongs she then perpetrated. Ray had tried to excuse those who wronged him, taking the blame on himself instead.
"I don't deserve you," the Mountie whispered. After taking a last look, he forced himself to turn and go back to his own room.
Fraser knew exactly what he was doing when he bought the extra bed. Knew what he was doing as he left Ray alone for hours at a time, day after day. Knew it and continued to do it, no matter how hard it was. No matter how much he just wanted to pull the blond into his arms and hold onto him as tightly as he could. But even though he consciously pushed Ray away, he wasn't prepared for the absolute raw pain when the blond finally left. Pain that hadn't let up in the slightest since.
Diefenbaker suddenly whined, jerking the Mountie out of his reverie.
"What is it?" Fraser asked, quickly swiping at his eyes, grateful for a legitimate distraction. Dief whined again, looking towards the door, his whole body straining in that direction. Fraser was debating the wisdom of investigating when he heard the unmistakable sound of someone crashing into his newly stacked woodpile. The wolf moved across the room to stand by the door. Fraser walked over and opened the door, following the wolf outside. Diefenbaker raced over to the woodpile and began licking the face of the man sprawled in its remains.
"Yeah, I missed you too, Dief." Fraser froze at the sound of that voice. //My marbles have all fallen out of the bag.// But no, Diefenbaker was greeting him. The wolf was unlikely to greet a hallucination. Then, //Oh, God, please no. He's dead and come to haunt me.// Fraser sat down hard, on the doorstep, his legs no longer supporting him.
"Frase? You okay, there?" Ray was trying to climb out of the mess that had been the woodpile. "Talk ta me. Say something. Fraser?"
"Ray?" It was whispered.
"Yeah. Sorry about this," waving at the scattered pieces of wood. "Ya moved the woodpile."
"Yes." Logic caught up with the Mountie as he watched the blond clamber to his feet. //Ray knocked over the woodpile. Ray is wet and bleeding ... ergo, Ray is not dead. Not a ghost.//
"I ... I woulda called, but, uh ... I was afraid you'd tell me not ta come." He stood in front of the Canadian, his expression and posture tentative. "You ... you gonna invite me in?"
"Yes, of course." Fraser stood and moved back inside the cabin. "I didn't mean to forget my manners," he said politely, motioning Ray in. "Please, do come in." Ray shook his head as he stepped into the entry.
"Don't go all polite Mountie on me," he said. "If yer mad, say so." Fraser just looked at him.
"Why are you here, Ray?"
"I called Maggie. She said you were still here." Ray looked around the cabin as he spoke. Fraser shrugged.
"It seemed the logical thing to do, since I had no ... plans."
"If you say so. Ya look like hell."
"Why are you here," Fraser repeated. The blond looked down to his boots, as if for inspiration and then slowly, back up at the Mountie.
"I came ta fight for you," he said, finally.
"You want to fight me?" Fraser asked, disbelieving.
"No. No. Not that ... not that. Never again." Ray shuddered. "No. I came ta fight for you."
"I don't understand."
"My Dad, he ... he said if ya love someone, sometimes you gotta fight for `em." Ray shrugged. "I love you. So, I'm here to fight for ya." He looked the Mountie in the eye and waited. Fraser looked back at him. An uncomfortable silence grew.
"Would you like some tea?" Fraser finally suggested.
"Yeah ... yeah, tea'd be great." The Mountie nodded and moved over to the kitchen area, relieved to occupy himself with a familiar ritual. As he set the water on to boil and got down the mugs and the tea, he stole glances at the blond. Ray was here. Here. To fight for him, whatever that meant. Fraser had spent so much time thinking about Ray, he was still having trouble believing the blond was real. He desperately wanted to touch him, but at the same time was terrified to do so for fear the blond would turn out to be a hallucination after all. Forcing himself to maintain a calm demeanor though, he carried the mugs over to the table and motioned Ray to join him. The American had been giving Diefenbaker a good scratching. He got up and moved over to the table to sit across from Fraser.
"You're limping," he said.
"I was attacked by a mad pile o' wood," Ray said, giving him a half smile.
"I think the wood can argue self defense," Fraser said in a grave tone, pleased to find refuge in the banter.
"Figures." Ray shrugged. "Probably get a fancy defense lawyer and sue me for police brutality. Guess I'll have ta let the matter drop."
"Probably wise," Fraser agreed. "Let me look at your knee."
"You're bleeding, Ray."
"Just opened up an old cut. Leave it. I didn't come here so you could take care o' me." His tone was one of anger and Fraser frowned at it.
"You are being unreasonable," he countered. "Now, let me take a look at your leg."
"No." He was quiet for a moment, holding up a hand, forestalling Fraser's interruption. "See, I figured something out." He looked at the Mountie. "Yer always takin' care o' me. And I really needed that last year. Needed it a lot. Needed you. But ... you ... ya did a good job, Benton buddy. I'm a lot stronger now."
"So ... you no longer need me?" Fraser whispered, trying not to show how much that thought hurt. How devastating Ray's words were, especially in light of his suddenly renewed hopes. Ray eyed him speculatively for a moment and then sighed.
"I do need you, Ben. I just don't need ya in quite the same way. I ... I need ... a partner. Not a caretaker. And ... I need you ... need you ta need me back. But you ... ya won't let me in. You gotta do everything yerself. What the Hell you tryin' ta prove, Ben? You figure if you hold it all inside, it makes you stronger than the rest of us. Better, maybe?"
"No," Fraser protested, caught off balance by the sudden shift in tone.
"`Cause ya know what that gets you, Frase?" Ray was on a roll and not to be stopped. "It gets you alone. Sittin' in yer little cabin all by yerself." Diefenbaker whined. "Sorry, Dief. Alone except for the wolf. That what you want, Ben? That really what you want?"
"No," Fraser whispered.
"Then let me in. Let. Me. In. If we're gonna be partners, you gotta learn to share more than yer tea."
"Are we? Partners?"
"Dunno. I want us ta be, but we got stuff to work out. I ... I can't keep goin' like we were. You ... yer great ... beyond great, when I need help. No mistake. I wouldn't've made it through the last year and a half without you. You know that. But ... I ... I can't always be the weak one. Not even for you. I can't do that. You have ta trust me to help you when you need it. Partners is sharing. Ups and downs. But you don't trust me enough to share."
"I trust you," Fraser protested.
"No, ya don't. You don't trust anybody. An' I'm not sayin' you don't have some good reasons. But, Ben, that's not living. That's just existing." Fraser frowned and pushed his tea back.
"Ray, I'm sorry you don't believe me, but I do trust you. I trust you with my life."
"Yeah, ya do. But, ya don't trust me with your soul."
"What do you want from me, Ray?"
"I'm telling you. I want you to let me in. To share stuff with me ... good and bad. And really share, not just tellin' me some weird Inuit story that sort of might say something if the listener doesn't fall asleep before ya get done. Tell me what's wrong. Even if I can't fix it, I can at least share it with you."
"And how does it help us if I burden you with my ... problems?"
"Sharing, Benton-buddy. Not burdening, sharing. We're good together, you and me. And you know it. But you pushed me away. And then you let me go. You ... ya just let me walk away. Was that what you wanted?"
"Ray, you said you wanted to leave," Fraser protested, his tone angry.
"That's not what I asked. I asked if you really, deep down, in that little selfish part we've all got, wanted me to go."
"No," Fraser admitted, in a suddenly quiet voice.
"Then why did you let me leave?" Ray demanded.
"You ... you said you wanted to. That you couldn't do this anymore." Ray made a rude noise.
"C'mon, think about it. Frase. When was the last time anything I said made a difference when you wanted somethin' different. I told you I was going and you just let me. But if you ... if you still wanted me, why didn't you say so? You have argued with me about everything. Every single little thing ... since the day we met. But all of a sudden you just clam up. `As you wish,'" he repeated. "What the hell was that? For over a year, you make me argue about all these weird ass ... ab ... abs ... idea things, like justice and doin' the right thing so people can put their kids ta bed at night, but you can't argue with me so we can go ta bed happy? `As you wish' ..." He snorted, shaking his head. "What about you, Frase? What do you wish?" He looked straight at the Mountie. Fraser sat still, seemingly frozen. "What do you want?" Ray asked again, in a more gentle tone.
"You," the Mountie whispered.
"So why is that so hard to say?"
"I ... I don't deserve you."
"I almost got you killed."
"You almost got me killed thousands of times in Chicago ... in bizarre and unusual ways I couldn't have thought of in a million years. Didn't seem ta slow you down any before." Fraser closed his eyes for a moment and then opened them again and Ray could see the pain in those blue eyes.
"It was my fault that Victoria came here. She only returned because I ran after her at the train station. She thought I wanted to be with her ... and at one time I did. So she came back for me. I wanted to protect you. Instead I almost got you killed."
"What kind o' logic is that? You figure when she shot you, that was attempted suicide on yer part? She's a killer, Ben. Killers kill.
"Perhaps. But what part did I play in that? What if I hadn't turned her in? She was only involved with the robbery because of her boyfriend at the time. Perhaps she would have turned out differently."
"And maybe she would have just become a killer even sooner. You only have her word for the fact that she was forced into it. And I gotta tell ya, Benton buddy, I don't think her word's too good."
"But, I'll never know."
"No. You won't," Ray agreed. "We all got stuff like that. What ifs and maybes. And we'll never know. You have to make the best choice you can at the time and move on. You've told me that same thing. You're only stuck on Victoria `cause ya let her in. You let her get close to you and she betrayed you. You can't stand that someone you trusted would be that bad. That you could be that wrong. It's kind of like your Dad and Muldoon. Yer Dad was obsessed by Muldoon `cause he was a friend, but then he betrayed him. Turned out he was a criminal. So yer Dad goes into that `track him to the ends of the earth' thing. Then Muldoon kills your Mom to distract yer Dad and I'm guessin' yer Dad thought that was his fault. Like if he'd caught on or not trusted Muldoon in the first place, things would've been different. I'm guessin' maybe that's one o' the reasons he stayed away after that. He let Muldoon rob him of his wife and son. He compounded his original hurt. That's what yer doing, Ben. You're lettin' Victoria ruin yer whole life instead of just causin' you some bad times."
"He brought Death home," Fraser said, remembering.
"My father. He brought Death home ... and so did I. She tried to kill you!" Fraser took a deep breath and held it for a moment, remembering. Ray could see tears glittering in his eyes. "I would come to your room in the hospital at night and watch you sleep. All those bruises ... the bandages ... and I could see you were in pain. I wanted so much to protect you, but there you were ... hurt again. And this time it was my fault. I wanted to talk to you ... to tell you ..."
"Why didn't you?"
"I felt that I had lost the right. It was my fault. All my fault." There was a catch in his voice and he looked away.
"It was Victoria's fault, Ben." Ray's voice was gentle. He reached across the table and put his hand over the Mountie's, rubbing it gently. "She was a psycho bent on revenge. Kill you or destroy you, either would have pleased her just fine. Trust me on this, Ben. I know you want to see the good in everybody, but there was no good in that woman when she showed up on your doorstep. She didn't know what was goin' on between you and me. She just thought I was a friend. I offered her the chance to leave. She coulda just waited and talked to you later ... stopped you on yer way back ta the cabin after work. For that matter, why didn't she try ta contact you before? She knew where you were. She could've called. Written? But instead, she shows up with a gun and ready to use it. I think she read about the trial. Maybe she saw that feature about you gettin' the guy that killed your Mom. So she knows yer at a low point and shows up to take advantage of it. From what I read about this lady, she's willing to go to extremes to get her way. You sent her to prison for ten years. I think she's still tryin' ta get even.
"No. If I hadn't ..."
"What? Turned her in after she committed a crime? Cared about her? Defended her after she committed another crime? Run after her on a train? What one thing do you figure you did that was so wrong? Stuff happens, Ben. You can't spend your whole life worrying about every decision you ever made ... second guessing yerself."
"I don't know. I just ... I should never ..."
"Shh." Ray cut him off with a finger across his lips. "It's over and done with. The past is gone. How many times you told me that? It's okay to remember stuff ta learn from it. The lesson here? You don't want to encourage psycho bitches from Hell. Most of us kind of get that from the start, but you bein' such a nice guy, it takes a little longer to get the message in." Fraser smiled faintly at that. He sat silently, still holding onto Ray's hand. "Talk to me," Ray prompted.
"What do you want me to say?"
"What're you thinking?"
"That I'm afraid."
"Of needing you. Of losing you."
"That's a risk of lovin' someone, Ben. There are no guarantees. You just have to make the best of what you get. And sometimes it hurts like crazy."
"Losing you ... hurt," Fraser admitted in a low voice.
"I know. I feel the same way. But you and me ... we weren't ... look. In Chicago, we were partners. You looked out for me and I looked out for you. Started our first day. You pulled me out o' that car after we went in the lake ... and I .. uh, I stepped in front of the bullet. A duet. A really good duet. We worked together real good for awhile, but then ... then it fell apart. We stopped communicating. We were still talking, but we weren't talking. We were just makin' noise. Remember?"
"Smuggl ... Pirates."
"Yeah," Ray nodded, a smile tugging at the edge of his lips. "Pirates. See, I think the same thing happened to us here. We forgot how ta communicate. I knew stuff about the trial was buggin' you. You were havin'... uh ... nightmares. Ya talk in yer sleep, by the way. But you wouldn't share. I felt like you didn't trust me anymore. And you were always focusing on what I was doin' wrong, like I couldn't figure anything out for myself. And then ... you got out of bed." Ray closed his eyes for a second, swallowing hard at the lump that memory brought. Fraser waited. "Then Victoria shows up and she makes it plain she wants you. An' I tell her she can't have you. But she's ... well, that is one stubborn bit... lady and she's not gonna give up. Tries ta off me. `Course, she don't know how stubborn I am. I manage to get back and clock her. And then, I'm standin' over you, watching you bleed ... wondering if I'm too late and yer already dead ... if I blew it again ... and ... and you open yer eyes and look up at me and say her name. That hurt, Ben. That ... that really, really hurt." His voice trailed off and he looked down at the tabletop.
"I'm ... I'm sorry, Ray ... I don't remember much about that. I thought when I saw you that ... well, that you were a ghost. I was so certain she'd killed you. She'd packed up your clothes and told me you were gone, but I knew that you wouldn't just leave, so something must have happened. And when I realized it really was you ... I was so afraid she would get you. I didn't see you hit her. Is that why you left?" His voice cracked slightly on that question.
"No. I left because I thought you wanted to be with her."
"What!?" Fraser's tone was incredulous.
"You kept goin' ta see her. And you were talkin' about second chances bein' so important. I read the files when I did my background stuff before goin' in as Vecchio. And Welsh pulled me aside and told me about her. So did Huey. They were worried she'd show up again. I know that you and her had this ... this major ... thing going. That she was like ... it for you Your one true love, `cept she's a criminal. Still, ya almost went with her that time. Would've if Vecchio hadn't shot you. Then I whack her upside the head and suddenly all the bad stuff's gone. The stuff that kept you and her apart. And you visited her every day. You didn't have two words ta say ta me, but her you could talk to for hours. So, I ... uh, I figured you wanted her. I sure as Hell knew yer life would be easier with her ... yer career too. Even if Canada is all friendly an' polite, I don't get the feeling everyone up here's all yippee skippy happy about same sex relations either. I just ... after all you did for me over the last year, I thought ... I thought maybe here was something I could ... do for you. And ... I .. I uh, I was scared you were gonna tell me ta go anyway. I thought maybe it'd hurt less if I left first."
"But you didn't bother to discuss any of this with me," Fraser's tone was foreboding.
"No. I didn't. And I'm sorry for that. But every time I tried ta get you ta talk about what was goin' on in your head, ya shut me down. Pushed me away. And when I tried to figure out how we got by before, the only times you ... that you would really admit ta having feelings, was in a crisis. Usually revolvin' around me. So I'm lyin' in the hospital and I'm thinking, well, okay. Positive side, at least now Ben and I can finally talk. But ... nothing. And then I get back here and ... and there's two beds ... and we're still not talking and now yer avoidin' me. And yeah, okay, I'm damaged ... again, but I'm still not stupid. I know what that means. So ... I left.
"But now you're back."
"Yeah. I ... I missed you. A lot. I want ... I want to try again."
"Because. I love you."
"You say that like it's easy."
"It is, Ben." Fraser looked down at Ray's hand on his arm and his expression softened. Taking the hand in his own, he gently touched Ray's still battered knuckles and then looked back up at the blond. "Leavin' wasn't easy, Frase. Stayin' away was harder. I ... I thought I was doing the right thing. Doin' something good ... unselfish ... for a change, ya know?"
Fraser nodded. "It ... it wasn't entirely your fault, Ray. There ... there was a time when I would have given everything up for Victoria. But that was before I met ... before I loved you. Watching you sleep in the hospital ... I could see how much pain you were in. I ... I just ... I didn't want you hurt any more. And I thought you'd be safer away from me." His voice cracked and Ray got up and moved around the table, straddling the bench and sitting next to his partner, wrapping his arms around the Mountie and pulling him into a hug.
"So you were pushing me away `cause you loved me." Fraser nodded. Ray pulled back slightly to look Fraser in the eyes and shook his head. "That's d-u-m, dumb, Benton buddy. We had this discussion once, remember? After the brownies? I told you then. Losing you hurts worse than any stupid injury. I meant it then. I mean it now."
"I'm sorry," Fraser whispered, his arms coming up to return the hug.
"S'okay," Ray said gently, leaning back into his partner. "We're on the same page now. Just we have to work at keeping ourselves there. Gonna have to work on the communication thing. Women are better at it I think. Stella was always makin' me talk about my `feelings.' Used ta drive me nuts, but I guess there was somethin' to it."
"So we need to get in touch with our feminine sides?"
"Let's not get too carried away here," Ray chuckled. "I read about Ms. Fraser." The Mountie smiled, but didn't comment. They sat quietly, holding each other close. "God, I missed this," Ray said after a bit.
"As did I," Fraser assured him. Ray lifted his head and looked at the other man, then leaned in and kissed him. The Mountie responded. Ray followed up with a longer kiss. After a minute, Ray pulled back and looked into Fraser's eyes.
"Yes," the Mountie assured him.
"`Kay. If yer sure."
"Ray ..." he stopped helplessly.
"So, yer not." Ray started to pull away, but Fraser held him tight. "I can't be certain about something I've never done before, any more than you can. But I enjoy holding you. And I enjoy kissing you. And I am certain that I would enjoy more ... with you. But I will admit to some trepidation over what this might do to our friendship."
"Okay. That's a word I know. And, yeah. Me, too. The fear thing. And the rest." Fraser worked his way through that statement.
"But you want to proceed anyway?"
"If that's yer way of asking do I wanna make love to you ... yeah, ... I do."
"Even though you're ... afraid." Ray chuckled.
"I was terrified the first time me an' Stella had sex. But that worked out good ... well, not so great the first ... anyway, I think the thing here is, we're ... we're too caught up on the sex part. That this is ... is all about sex between two ... guys. Leastways, that's what I think's been messing me up. But, what it ... what it should be ... really, about is two people who care about each other sharing something special that brings `em closer together and feels real good." Fraser thought about that for a minute and then nodded.
Ray looked at him for a moment, giving him a chance to back away. When he didn't, Ray tentatively leaned in and kissed the Mountie again. Fraser gave a small, odd sounding sigh and kissed him back. It was a slow, sweet kiss, lips exploring lips, gently and thoroughly. Fraser awkwardly rearranged himself on the bench to face Ray, without breaking contact. Once he had settled to his satisfaction, he reached out with his tongue, tracing the outer edges of the other man's mouth. Tasting. Ray closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation. He parted his lips a moment later, to let Ben in. The Mountie let his tongue glide in softly, teasing around the inside of Ray's lips, then over his teeth, and then, gently dueling with his tongue. Ray's mouth was warm and inviting; Fraser reveled in it, seeking out each different taste. Coffee. Chocolate. Something mint ... possibly chewing gum. And some other unique, wonderful, taste Fraser recognized simply as Ray. He pulled back slightly, going back to Ray's lips. The blond sighed happily and relaxed further into Fraser's arms. The Mountie pulled him slightly closer. Ray tangled his fingers through Fraser's hair. The Mountie was surprised at how good that felt. They continued to savor the kiss, allowing the heat to build slowly. After awhile, Fraser drew back. Ray moaned slightly in protest, blinking his eyes back open. Ben smiled at him and leaned forward again, tilting his face up slightly. Using his tongue, he traced the blond eyebrows, first one and then the other, and then tasted the tip of that strangely delicate nose, before returning to the eagerly waiting mouth. The kisses began to grow harder and more urgent. Fraser delved back in Ray's open mouth and sucked the blond's tongue back into his own mouth, holding it there. He wrapped his hands around Ray's lower back and pulled him most of the way onto his lap. Ray groaned and pulled his head back, sharply, taking a deep breath and then another, before leaning his forehead against Fraser's.
"What? What's wrong?!" the Mountie asked, suddenly afraid.
"Nothing," Ray said quickly, trying to smile. "Just ..." he stopped, his breathing ragged. Fraser reached up and smoothed back the blond hair, waiting, anxiously.
"Ray?" he asked, after a minute.
"I ... uh ... I never ... never ... been kissed like that." He smiled. "Kind o' took my breath away there, Benton buddy." Fraser smiled, relieved.
"I'll try to allow for breathing time."
"That'd be good," Ray allowed. He looked at Fraser, his expression suddenly serious. "You still okay with this? I mean, I'm not pushing you, am I?" Fraser shook his head.
"There's no place I'd rather be," he assured the blond. The smile he got in return almost took Fraser's breath away. He tilted his head to kiss the American again, more gently this time, but Ray kissed back, harder. Fraser wrapped his arms around his partner, pulling the blond all the way onto him. He could feel Ray's solid body pressed up against his own; Ray's arms wrapping around him. Fraser wanted to be even closer. Reaching down, he tugged at Ray's shirt, pulling it up, searching for bare skin ... and the blond pushed him back again.
"What?" Fraser asked, a whine of desperation slipping into his voice. Ray chuckled. Fraser looked up at him. The blond was rumpled, his hair going in every possible direction and his lips swollen and red from kissing. He looked, Fraser thought, unbearably sexy. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, fighting for control. If Ray had doubts, any at all, he would wait. No matter how frustrating it was. And it was unbelievably frustrating, he thought.
"Bed?" Ray suggested, interrupting Fraser's thoughts.
"Ungh?" Fraser managed.
"Speechless Mountie! Never thought I'd see that one," Ray grinned.
"Yeah. Be more comforta ..." Ray started, when Fraser's lips claimed his again. The Mountie stood, dislodging Ray from his lap. Pulling the blond up to stand, Fraser began walking, pushing Ray backwards toward the bed. Kowalski went willingly, stumbling slightly and then falling backwards onto the bed. Fraser lowered himself down on top of the smaller man, enveloping him. Bed was nice, he decided. Bed had all kinds of advantages. Ease of exploration, for one thing. He began working his way down Ray's jaw and neck. The blond made encouraging noises, so he lingered there awhile, finding several sensitive spots; finding that Ray really liked being licked under his ear and in the hollow of his throat. Ray, meanwhile was tugging at his sweater. Fraser obligingly lifted his body, so it could be pulled free. Then his Henley. Ray snarled in frustration at the red underwear beneath.
"How many damn layers you wearing?" he demanded.
"Well, it does get cold up here and layering is the best way to ..." he was stopped with a hard kiss. Then,
"Take it off." Fraser sat back on his knees and unbuttoned the top, shrugging it off. Ray smiled and ran his hands up over the Mountie's bare chest. "That's better," he said softly. Fraser reached down and unbuttoned Ray's flannel shirt. The blond sat up and let him remove it and the shirt underneath. Then he yanked Fraser back down on top of him. Caught off guard, Fraser fell full length onto Ray. Both men gasped as their groins met. Fraser hissed as his rapidly growing erection was pressed up against Ray's hard hip. Added to that was the feel of his bare chest against the blond's. It was almost an overload of sensations and he fought to control himself. He pressed his lips to Ray's again, seeking the heat of his partner's mouth with his tongue, letting his hands explore the body below him. The blond was rubbing his back in long sweeping motions, his hand ranging down to Fraser's waist ... back up to his shoulders ... down to his waist ... and further. Fraser felt long fingered hands reach down and caress his ass, pulling him tighter against Ray's groin. He groaned and forced himself away.
"What?!" Now Ray's voice held a tinge of desperation. Fraser smiled and pushed him back down, using the leverage of his position to hold Ray there. With the other hand, he reached down to the blond's belt and began slowly undoing it. Then he reached for the buttons of Ray's jeans and began undoing them, one by one. He wanted to make this last and he was so close. He took a deep breath and then another, closing his eyes, trying to think of an image that would slow him. The blond pushed up against him, seeking contact, and Fraser's hand brushed against Ray's penis. Even through the other man's underwear, he could feel the heat. He opened his eyes and looking down, saw a wet spot on Ray's briefs. Darting his tongue out along his lower lip, he tentatively ran a finger along the length of Ray's penis. The blond groaned and Fraser looked up anxiously, removing his hand.
"`S good," Ray assured him, his body arching up to follow the Mountie's hand. Fraser allowed his hand to cover Ray's length, still inside the briefs. //So hot. So alive.// He leaned back up to kiss Ray again. The blond took advantage, pulling Fraser down hard and bucking up against him, while sucking his tongue in deep. Fraser was undone by the multitude of sensations. Groaning loudly, he came, sprawled out on top of his partner. It was several minutes before he felt able to make a move.
"Ray," he began, afraid to meet the other man's eyes.
"Hmm?" Ray rubbed his back, encouragingly.
"I'm ... I'm so sorry."
"Fer what? First time an' all, I'm not exactly figurin' we're gonna break any endurance records."
`But, I ... did you?"
"Yeah, Ben. I did." Fraser finally dared to pick up his head and look at his partner. Ray looked amused. "Ya know," the blond continued. "I was kind o' thinking that would be one of the big advantages of us both bein' guys. That we'd never have ta ask that question. Never have ta wonder ..."
"Ah, well. I sort of ... lost track of things."
"Yeah. I get that." Ray lazily stroked his partner's soft, dark hair. "That's cool," he said, smiling. Fraser leaned in and kissed him, gently. "Mmm." The blond's tone was one of contentment. Fraser rolled off of him and arranged himself on the bed, then pulled the other man up against him. Ray shimmied and moved himself even closer, causing a twinge to reverberate through Fraser's groin. He smiled and buried his head in the crook between Ray's neck and shoulder. Suddenly he felt completely safe ... completely secure. Secure enough to ask,
"So, are we?"
"Definitely." Ray smiled and Fraser basked in the warmth of it. They lay together quietly, companionably, kissing occasionally. After a bit, Ray began to wriggle.
"What's wrong?" the Mountie asked, pulling back slightly to look at his partner.
"Sticky. Cold." Ray explained, sitting up to remove his boots. Fraser thought about that and realized he was in the same straits. He started to remove his own pants, but was caught up in the vision of Ray undressing. He'd seen his partner in various stages of undress, but had studiously avoided really looking at him. Now he allowed himself the privilege. The blond caught him and blushed. "Kind of scrawny, I know."
"You're beautiful," Fraser said in a serious tone.
"No." Ray's tone was one of utter conviction.
"Yes," Fraser assured him.
"You got that snow blindness thing?"
"Not that I'm aware of." Ray looked at him dubiously and then shrugged and wriggled out of his pants and then, studiously not looking at Fraser, his shorts. Wrestling half naked with another man and coming all over his pants was somehow considerably less embarrassing than undressing in front of him. The Mountie obliging held up the covers and Ray slid under them gratefully. Fraser quickly stripped down and joined him. There was a certain amount of shyness induced by naked flesh coming together, but they finally settled into a comfortable position, Ray lying on his side, wrapped in Fraser's arms, his head on Fraser's shoulder. The Mountie smiled. He had always enjoyed holding Ray while he slept. Holding a naked Ray, though. Well, that was ... truly wonderful.
"You said `wonderful.'"
"No, you said it."
"You're wonderful. Holding you is wonderful."
"Naked's nice too," Ray said in a drowsy tone.
"Yes, it is." Fraser kissed the blond hair.
"I'm tired," Ray said, yawning.
"Go to sleep."
"`Kay. It was a long day."
"Shhh." He began rubbing Ray's back, slowly rhythmically. The smaller man's breathing slowly deepened and he fell asleep. Fraser fell asleep shortly after.
The Mountie woke a short time later, slightly confused. Ray shifted in his arms and he remembered. Ray was here. Ray had come to fight for him. The blond had had the courage that Fraser lacked. The Mountie ran his hands up and down his partner's back enjoying the feel of the warm skin under his hand. Ray murmured something and snuggled closer. He'd missed this, the Mountie suddenly realized. Not just Ray's company, but the easy affection the blond brought into his life. Fraser had always assumed he was reserved by nature; that he wasn't, as Ray had once described himself, a "touchy feely person." The Mountie wondered what other truths he had to discover about himself. He reached up and stroked the blond hair, enjoying the feel of it against his hand. It occurred to him that now that Ray was his ... his lover, he was free to do this just because he enjoyed it. It was no longer a guilty pleasure to be stolen only when his partner was in distress or asleep. Ray and he were now lovers. He pondered that for awhile, thinking about what it meant.
Fraser had long prided himself on his ability to walk the path of life alone. He told himself year after year, that he did not need anyone. That he was best suited to a solitary life in the desolate reaches of the North. The events of his past seemed to back this up. With his mother's death, he had suddenly been cast into an unpredictable world. His father, hardly a regular presence before, had spent even less time at home. Benton's grandparents had been loving in their own way, but primarily they had been interested in raising their grandson to be self-sufficient. To take care of himself. To this end, there was very little by way of affection in the Fraser household. Benton had accepted that lack. Had adopted it as a way of life. His way of life. As an adult, the only people he had been close to had been Victoria and Ray Vecchio. Victoria was, of course, a disaster, from start to finish. Ray Vecchio had been a wonderful friend and had tried to bring Fraser into his own family, but it never quite worked. The Vecchio family was too different from what he had been raised to. Too outwardly emotional. Too ... much He had recognized this as confirmation of what he already knew; that he was destined for a life alone, out in the wilderness, relying only on himself ... and Diefenbaker. He was completely unprepared for his reaction to Ray Kowalski when the blond entered his life. He knew immediately where the blame lay after the latest episode with Victoria. It had been his mistake. His fault. For forgetting that he was not meant to have that kind of life. And so he had pushed Ray away, knowing it was for both of their own good. Knowing that Ray would return to the U.S. and the life he was meant to have and that Fraser would go north, as far north as they were willing to send him; to the life he was meant to have ... alone.
But now, with Ray here, warm and heavy in his arms, he suddenly realized how wrong he had been. What, exactly, he had been doing. He had to move; get away from the warmth that Ray offered and the hope that came with it. The hope he absolutely didn't deserve. He carefully disengaged himself and climbed out of the bed, moving quietly across the floor, huddling in the far corner, shaking.
//How could I do that? What kind of hypocrite am I? Holding myself out as some example of the way to behave. What kind of example could I possibly be?// Tears were running down his face. Diefenbaker woofed quietly, next to him and Fraser reached out to the wolf, pulling him close and burying his face in the wolf's fur. He didn't hear Ray get out of bed. Didn't notice him crossing the room.
"Ben?" The blond's voice was anxious. Fraser shook his head, crying harder into the wolf's side. //Go away! I don't deserve you!//
"Ben? Please? I'm sorry. I ... I should ... shouldn't've pushed you. Please, Ben, talk ta me. I'll go away if that's what you want. I can leave right now. I didn't mean ta hurt you, I didn't, I swear. Please?" Ray was touching Fraser; touching his arm, his forehead, stroking his hair, trying to force him to look up. "It's my fault, Ben. Please. I'm sorry. I'm sorry ... oh, God, I suck," he ended, on a whisper.
"No," Fraser managed, the blond's distress the only sound that could reach him; could pull him away from his own misery. "No. Not you. Never you. Me," he choked out, looking up. Ray's expression was one of fear, more than Fraser could ever remember seeing on his face before, even in the worst of situations. "Not you," he said again, firmly. "Me." Ray waited, his expression anxious and still somewhat fearful, but Fraser was silent. Tears were still running down his face.
"Talk ta me, Frase. What's goin' on?" Ray asked in as calm a voice as he could manage. The Mountie shook his head and closed his eyes. Ray sighed and sat down on the floor next to him. "Ben, for you an' me ta be an us, we're gonna have ta do better than this. Yer gonna have to talk to me about your feelings."
"I'm fine, Ray."
"Which explains why you're sitting naked on yer floor crying," Ray said in a sardonic tone. He moved a bit closer to Fraser and put his arm up around his partner's shoulders. The Mountie tried to shrink down away from that comforting touch. //I don't deserve you! Go away! You don't know who I am! What I am.// "Feelings are a sore spot for you, aren't they? It's okay to have `em, ya know. Even the messy ones," Ray said.
"You think I need your permission to have feelings?" Fraser demanded. "Just because I'm not the emotional wreck you are ..." He stopped himself. He was losing ... had lost ... control. Had attacked Ray! He really *didn't* deserve the blond. Didn't deserve anyone .... "I'm sorry," he whispered.
"It's okay, Frase," gently massaging the back of the Mountie's neck. "And yeah, I do. I do think ya need my permission. I don't think anyone ever told you it was all right. Least, not since you lost your Mom. Yer Dad taught you ta be all uptight and stiff. Kind of the Mountie standing guard thing, only you don't get to relax even when you're off duty. From some of the stuff you've said, I think he taught you ta bury yer feelings way down deep, where no one could ever see `em. And I bet he learned that from his parents, who ended up raising you and teachin' you more of the same." He shook his head, slowly.
"No wonder you lost it over Victoria. You meet her in totally screwed up circumstances ta begin with, and then ta top it off, ya ... ya go an' fall for her. All of a sudden you're just full of all these messy, complicated feelings. But you ... ya shove `em back down and turn her in. You maintain the right, just like you were taught. Even though yer sending a woman you think yer in love with to jail, you don't let any of that out. You do your duty." Ray sneaked a sideways glance at Fraser to see how he was taking this. The Canadian was sitting stiffly, staring at him. Tears were still slowly tracking down his cheeks, but the expression on his face was one of confusion mixed with a certain amount of anger. Ray took a deep breath and went on.
"So, then, when she shows up again, all those messy feelings come pourin' right back out, `cause you never dealt with `em. And that time ends in disaster. Dief gets shot. You almost run away with her and end up gettin' shot by your best friend, who feels bad about it, which makes you feel bad about puttin' him in that position. Guilt on top of guilt on top of more guilt. And you didn't blame Victoria, did ya? You blamed the feelings. You decided it was the feelings that led you astray, not the bitch from Hell."
"What are you doing?" Fraser choked out.
"I'm fightin' for ya, Frase. I'm tryin' ta tell you that I love you. All of you. Proper Mountie guy. Pissy, snarky guy. Licking electric wires guy. Proper preparation guy. Freezerland guy and even the guy that fell for Victoria. The guy with the big, messy feelings that he can't get to behave like his hair. The guy that once in awhile forgets logic and makes a decision based on emotion. People make mistakes, Ben. Happens all the time. It's part of the package. Of course, you being such an overachiever, you always gotta aim big. But that's okay. I still love you."
"But I do. I love you Benton Fraser. Messy feelings, bizarre outlook and all. You can't drive me away. Not this time. No matter how bad you think it is ... how deep and dark a secret ... it won't drive me away."
"How do you know?" in a whisper. Ray grinned at him.
"`Cause I know you. And `cause you did the same for me last year."
"Yeah. Ah." Silence. "So?"
"Ray, I don't know if I can be the type of emotional person that you are. I don't know that I'm capable of it."
"That's not what I'm askin' for," the blond said softly. "I'm not lookin' to change you, Ben. I'm just lookin' to free you."
"Free me? How?"
"Share the burden, Ben. That's part of a relationship. I take care of you and you take care of me. If yer havin' problems, admit it. Just admit it. It doesn't have to be a big sobfest or anything, but sometimes just sharin' the fact that you have a problem can be helpful. And if nothing else, it tells me why I need to give you space. I can go with that. But I need to know what's goin' on with you. Shuttin' me out doesn't help either of us. I'm pretty strong, Ben. I can handle a lot. I don't need to be protected from what's going on in your life. I don't want to be. I can't be. For us to be an us, we need ta be able to share stuff." He stopped and looked at the Mountie, one eyebrow raised, questioningly. Fraser nodded.
"I'll try," he said, simply. Ray smiled and nodded back.
"So?" he said, encouraging. "Talk ta me." Fraser took a deep breath. Wiping the tears from his cheek, he took another.
"I lied," he confessed, in a low, broken voice. "I lied. Me. All ... All these years I have prided ... myself on telling the truth, regardless of the cost. It has cost me friends and promotions. It's almost gotten me killed. But I insisted on telling the truth, because it was the right thing to do. But tonight ... holding you ... I ... I suddenly realized, I've been lying to myself. For years."
"About what?" Ray asked, gently.
"I told myself that I wasn't lonely. That I was sufficient unto myself. That I was meant to be alone and that, in the long run, I would be better off that way. At peace. But I was wrong. I was so wrong." Tears were falling again.
"Shhhh." Ray pulled the Mountie into his arms, so that Fraser was lying half on his lap. "It's okay, Ben. It's okay." He held the Mountie, repeating those words over and over, rubbing his back, trying to soothe by touch and sound.
"How can it be all right? I lied! If I can't tell myself the truth, how can you believe another word I have to say?"
"Yer not lookin' at this the right way."
"What could possibly be the right way to look at something like this?" Fraser twisted his head up and looked Ray in the face. "How ... how can there be anything right about it?"
"Okay, look. Remember how you lied to protect Vecchio that one time? After we found the body in the wall?" Fraser nodded, looking confused. "Ya broke down and did it `cause you had to ... ta help him survive undercover. There was a greater ... a greater ... good, that was ... fed ... no ... that's not right ... served! Served by the lie. This is kinda the same thing, Frase. Only, you were lyin' ta protect yerself. `Cause that was the only way you could survive the loneliness. Only now yer not alone an' ya don't have ta protect yourself that way anymore. So, now you can look back and see the lie. But it's okay. It didn't hurt anybody. It only protected you until you could find someone. And now you've got me. And it's okay." He kissed the dark hair. "It's okay, Ben. I promise," he said in a low voice, directly in the Mountie's ear. Fraser lay quietly for a few minutes, thinking that over. Then he pushed himself back to a sitting position so that he could look into Ray's face. The blond looked at him steadily and finally, Fraser offered up a weak smile.
"You're pretty smart, aren't you?"
"Nah. Yer the smart one ... the pretty one, too, come ta think of it," Ray said chuckling.
"Don't sell yourself short, Ray. I told you early on that I thought you were attractive. I didn't lie about that. And I think you're very intelligent." Ray shrugged, non-commitally. "I mean it," Fraser said, seriously. "And I will convince you."
"You can try."
"I intend to." Ray smiled and leaned forward, kissing him gently on the lips. He rested his head on the Mountie's shoulder.
"So ... now that ya don't have to protect yerself anymore ... what else you been lyin' to yerself about?"
"There's more to this than just the alone thing, Benton buddy. You were freakin' out long before I left. I think it was something about Muldoon. Tell me. If I can understand what's buggin' you, maybe I can help." The Mountie was quiet again. Ray waited, patiently and was finally rewarded.
"It was Muldoon," Fraser admitted. "And my mother. You and Maggie were right. But I couldn't ... didn't want to admit, he could affect me that way. After I saw him again, I started having dreams about her, my mother ... dying ... the moment of her death. I would see her drop over and over again. Only I wasn't there, so how could I dream it? I blamed you and Maggie for those visions. Again, I guess I was lying to protect myself from admitting that this man who had already cost me so ... so very much." He choked a bit on that, and Ray reached up, gently stroking his cheek. Fraser swallowed hard and continued. "... could have this ... effect on me. I thought ... I thought I could ... well, previously I have simply lost myself in my work. It has helped me through a number of difficult times. I tried to focus on my duty. But it ... it just wasn't enough anymore." Ray nodded.
"I ... I heard what Muldoon said about yer Mom ... in the arcade. That would have been enough to give anyone nightmares."
"He said she dropped like a sack of potatoes," Fraser whispered.
"Yeah. It's kind of a vivid image. I think, maybe you were tryin' so hard to forget it, that anytime anyone mentioned yer Mom, that's what popped up in yer mind. Sort of haunting you. But it's like my memories of my Dad beatin' me. They're there, in me. I can't get rid of `em, but when I tried ta ignore `em ... well, when they came out it was worse than if I'd just let `em be. Muldoon's rotten, Ben. Not someone you would ever want to think about. But sometimes ya gotta think about stuff like that. `Cause if you don't ... it just kind o' sits in yer brain, rotting it instead. Sort of like when you don't take care of a cut and it just sits and infects and gets to be a whole lot more painful than if you'd just cleaned the damn thing in the first place." Fraser nodded.
"She was a beautiful woman," he said softly.
"Yer Mom?" Fraser nodded. "Tell me about her," Ray encouraged.
"I don't remember enough. I know I thought she was the most beautiful person in the world. She always knew how to make me feel better about everything. Even my Father's long absences. She used to tell me the most wonderful stories. She made them up, and they were utter nonsense, but I loved them. Begged for them. She loved nature. She taught me to look for animal tracks and to appreciate the changes in weather. Told me about the stars. Sang to me."
"She sounds like she was a great Mom. I'm sorry I never got to meet her." Fraser blinked back the new tears in his eyes and smiled at Ray.
"She would have liked you. She was always telling me to relax, not to take everything so seriously. Even as a small child, I had that tendency. You ... you let me relax."
"I'm glad." Ray leaned his head against Fraser's shoulder. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Fraser was thinking, remembering and Ray was content to let him do so in silence. The blond shivered after a few minutes, in spite of his best intentions.
"We should get back in bed."
"I'm good," Ray protested.
"Yes. You are," Fraser agreed. "Very." He turned his head and kissed Ray's forehead. The blond smiled. Pushing himself to a standing position, he extended a hand to help Fraser rise. He used his thumbs to wipe away the remaining tears on the Mountie's cheeks and then pulled him in for a gentle, warm kiss. Fraser wrapped his arms around his partner and held him close.
"I missed you," he whispered. "So much."
"Me, too Benton buddy. Me too."
Fraser opened his eyes. The room was dark, but slowly growing lighter. He'd slept later than usual. The Mountie felt ... he wasn't sure how he felt. He was spooned up around Ray, who was still sound asleep. Diefenbaker was contentedly sleeping by the remains of the fire. All seemed fine. So what was wrong? He thought about it for awhile and then finally realized. Nothing. Nothing was wrong. This was how he was supposed to feel. Content. Maybe even ... happy. He smiled and nuzzled the back of Ray's neck. The blond had brought him happiness. The last thing he had ever expected to find in Chicago. //But then, you always find things in the last place you look.//
"Ray?" he whispered.
"Hngh?" was his barely audible answer.
"Are you awake?"
"No," with a barely perceptible move that buried the blond head deeper in the pillow.
"Understood." Fraser kissed the back of Ray's neck. Then licked it. That earned him a strange sound. Almost like a purr. He licked again, moving his head so that he could flick his tongue around and up to Ray's earlobe.
"Still asleep," the blond mumbled.
"Right you are," Fraser agreed and then resumed his explorations. He pushed slightly back and began moving down, lingering gently over the new scar on the blond's back. Ray was making more encouraging noises, so Fraser continued. He had reached the bottom of the scar and was heading for Ray's tailbone, when the blond rolled over and faced him.
"Hey," in a still sleepy tone.
"Yeah, that too." Ray pulled him up so he could kiss the Mountie on the lips. They lay facing each other for a moment, both suddenly self-conscious. Fraser could help but be aware of his own erection, jutting out between them. Especially when it touched ... both men suddenly froze.
"That's a new feeling," Ray admitted after a moment.
"Yeah. Yeah. Good." He moved closer, pulling the Mountie up against him. They lay there, pressed together head to toe, getting used to the idea. Fraser could feel Ray's penis becoming harder, twitching slightly against his own groin. He kissed the blond again, slowly and gently, then pulled away and began licking his way down Ray's neck, down his chest, stopping to explore the tan nipples, flicking his tongue against the small, already hardened nubs and then gently sucking. Ray moaned and arched against him. Finding satisfaction in that, Fraser continued his journey. He reached his partner's belly button and dove his tongue into it briefly, twirling it there for a moment and then continued down. Down the line of soft hair and then a detour; down one thigh and then up the other. And then stopped, contemplating what lay in front of him. Well, stood, actually. Ray's penis looked much like Ray. Long and slender, but sturdy. The tip glistened. Above, the blond had stopped moving, seemingly paralyzed. What they had done the night before hadn't been nearly as ... intimate ... as this was. It seemed a huge leap forward, but finally Fraser dared to reach out with his tongue and lap up the moisture. Ray, who had been growing tense under his hands, gasped and jerked. The Mountie smiled and licked again, from base to tip. Ray tasted ... good. Very good.
"Oh, yeah. Jeez. That's ... Oh!" as Fraser stopped licking and took Ray into his mouth, first tentatively, and then more firmly. He let his tongue roam around Ray's penis, getting acquainted with the taste and feel of it. Ray's hands were alternately patting and holding Fraser's hair. Emboldened, the Mountie tried sucking. Ray arched his groin up off the bed immediately with a loud groan and Fraser had to move back quickly. Reaching up, he placed an arm firmly across Ray's hips, holding him down and continued his explorations. Ray made encouraging noises above, spurring the Mountie on to greater efforts. He swirled his tongue around Ray's penis, scraped it very gently with his teeth and sucked harder. The smell and taste of his partner was intoxicating and encouraged him further. //I'm drunk on Ray!// He allowed himself to take more liberties with his other hand, moving it to fondle Ray's balls, rolling them in his hand and then reaching up and pressing that particular spot right below them. The blond bucked again and gasped, his hands first patting at Fraser's head, then trying to pull it up.
"Frase .. Ben .. back .. I can't ... OH!" and his body stiffened and jerked and suddenly he was coming; shudder after shudder wracking his body. Fraser closed his eyes and drank and swallowed each pulse, gently backing off the intensity as Ray softened in his mouth, finally letting the drained member slip out with a final lick. He kissed Ray's inner thigh and then moved up the bed again.
Ray's eyes were closed and his skin was flushed. Fraser ran his hand across Ray's stomach and then his chest, taking advantage of the moment to study Ray's body again . He admired the slender, yet muscular build inch by inch. After a moment, he became aware that Ray's skin was becoming more flushed. He looked up. The blond's eyes were open and focused and his face was beet red. Fraser smiled and moved up to kiss him gently on the lips.
"You are beautiful," he whispered.
"Gonna have ta loan you my glasses."
"I thought we discussed this once. You don't get to argue with what I see."
"I'm not arguin' ... I'm just figuring there's a logical explanation for your error." Ray reached his own hand up, running it over the Mountie's chest. "Yer the one that's built like a Greek God."
"You're muscular as well, Ray. Just on a more slender frame. One I quite like."
"Yes." Ray looked at him searchingly and Fraser gazed steadily back at him. Finally Ray offered up a smile. Pulling the Mountie close, he kissed him, thrusting his tongue deep into Fraser's mouth. Tasting himself in Fraser. The Mountie felt a sudden clench in his own groin at that thought.
"My turn," Ray whispered a few minutes later. "You want the same?" Fraser was too dazed by the kissing to form an answer. "Yeah, that'll work," Ray chuckled. "`Course I'm not the champion licker of things you are, but I can think of worse things ta start practicing on." He kissed Fraser's mouth again and then moved down his body. Fraser watched the blond head as it trailed down his chest to his stomach and then even lower. Ray stopped kissing for a moment and glanced back up. He smiled at the expression on his Mountie's face. Fraser loved that smile. Would do anything, he thought, to spend the rest of his life with that smile. //I let him go! Pushed him away!// He grew suddenly tense.
"Easy," Ray said, reaching up a hand, to rub his chest. "Don't go thinking too much, now." And then, as if to discourage just that, he lowered his head and engulfed Fraser's penis with his mouth. The Mountie fought the instinctive arch of his groin, but Ray was moving with him, taking it in stride. He surrounded Fraser's cock with one of his hands, pumping the base in time to his sucking. Fraser couldn't decide what was more erotic. The feeling of being in Ray's mouth, or watching Ray's head bob up and down. And then, much too quickly, he could feel the release coming and he was helpless to do anything but close his eyes and arch back, letting himself go.
The next two weeks passed in a blur. Ray looked back on them later and found he could remember few actual details. But what he did remember, invariably, made him smile. They had contacted Frobisher and he was pulling together part of the equipment for their adventure. "Dogs, tack and tallow," as he was fond of reciting. Fraser and Ray would travel to his location and begin their adventure from there. Meanwhile, they cleaned up the cabin, purchased other supplies and made the necessary arrangements to be gone for a long time. And every night they made love. They explored each other's bodies with that thoroughness that belongs to new lovers. Learned each other's hot spots and in Ray's case, a few ticklish spots. Spent as much time lying naked together as they could, especially after Fraser pointed out that such occasions would be rare on their adventure.
"What? Who's gonna see us? We gonna offend some caribou or something?" Fraser smiled at that. He found himself smiling a lot these days.
"No, Ray. However, frostbite is a danger, and since I am quite fond of your body just as it is, I really don't want to see you losing any parts."
"Oh. No. Don't think I'd like that much either."
"I thought not."
"Which part do you like the best?"
"Which part would you most hate ta lose?" Ray was grinning at him, a spark of mischief in his eyes.
"This one," Fraser said immediately, laying his head on the blond's chest, over his heart.
"No chance o' that. You already own it," Ray told him in a soft voice, stroking the Mountie's dark hair. It was ridiculous talk, yet Fraser found himself thriving on it. He had never felt this level of intimacy with anyone, not even Victoria and there was something so freeing about it. Lying naked with Ray, no barriers between them at all, mental or physical. Saying anything that came into his head, without worry of how it would be interpreted or if it might later be used against him. Touching Ray simply because he wanted to, with no other motive than just that touch. Often times these days, Fraser found himself standing still, just grinning for seemingly no reason at all. He would suddenly catch himself and then look over to find Ray, watching him; a slight smile on the blond's face.
Several nights before they left town, the trial's verdict came back. Muldoon had been found guilty. The only thing that remained was his sentencing, but Fraser didn't feel the need to remain for that. He was certain Muldoon would receive life and Ray assured him that the U.S. Government would be waiting to extradite him should he ever achieve his freedom from the Canadian Penal System.
"You okay with this?" Ray asked that night. They'd finished dinner and moved over to lie on a blanket in front of the fireplace.
"What?" Fraser lifted his head from Ray's chest to look at the blond.
"Muldoon? His gettin' life enough?"
"Yes. I mean ... nothing would ever bring my mother back or my childhood as it should have been. But I admit to some satisfaction at the thought of him being caged."
"Not that I could do much about it if it wasn't okay ... but I'd understand. Me, I'm just sorry I didn't kick him in the head when I had a chance."
"Yes, well, you were hypothermic."
"See, I woulda had the perfect excuse. Coulda gotten away with it and everything."
"Mmm." Fraser was on his side, balanced on his elbow, rubbing Ray's chest. He leaned down and kissed the blond's collarbone, then began licking along its length. Ray tilted his head back, allowing the Mountie better access.
"Thank you, kindly." Fraser lingered there for a minute, tracing the bone with his tongue. Then he moved his head back up and kissed Ray on the mouth, starting light and deepening the intensity. He couldn't get enough of this. The taste. The feel. The heat. Under his mouth, Ray moaned happily. Fraser moved his attentions to Ray's neck, licking the tendon that ran up the side, moving down to where it met his shoulder, first nuzzling then sucking, gently. Ray's fingers tangled in his hair, encouraging him. The Mountie worked his way down, spending time laving each of Ray's nipples with his tongue. The blond had a sensitive and responsive body and Fraser enjoyed hearing the noises he made. Feeling him move in response to each touch. Smelling the scent of his arousal. Tasting him, watching him. Indulging all of his senses. Now moving down Ray's stomach, careful not to be too light and set his partner to laughing. That, too, could be fun, but it wasn't what he had in mind tonight. Now the groin, moving around and carefully avoiding Ray's penis. The blond used a number of euphemisms to describe his member, but Fraser hadn't reached that level of comfort yet. Many of the nicknames just seemed so ... ridiculous. Designed to provoke laughter rather than intimacy. Ray was whimpering above him, long fingers tightening and then loosening in his hair. Looking up, Fraser saw that Ray's eyes were squeezed tightly shut as he fought for control. The Mountie smiled. Moving his head, he gently breathed on Ray's penis. It twitched. He breathed on it again. A drop of pre-ejaculate squeezed out of the tip and balanced there. Delicately, Fraser licked it off, barely touching the other man.
"Ya tryin' ta torture me here?" The words were gasped out.
"If you can still talk in complete sentences, I must not be that effective," Fraser said calmly, making sure to breathe on Ray's penis as he talked.
"I'm ... I'm gonna ... kill you. Later."
"As you wish. I had something else in mind." Ray took a deep breath and propped himself up on his elbows, trying to control himself. Fraser smiled at the sight. Ray's skin glowed golden in the firelight and his hair shone brightly. His lean, angular frame, reflected light and shadow in a beautiful display. This was a picture Ben wanted to keep in his mind forever.
"Don't go thinkin' on me, Ben. Not now!" Fraser leaned forward and very lightly kissed Ray's penis. "You are! Yer torturin me!"
"Actually, I was preparing you."
"Preparin' me? For what? Stuffing?" Fraser laughed. Rolling onto his back, he reached under the couch and pulled out something he'd apparently hidden there earlier. Turning back to Ray, he held out his hand, still closed over the object. Ray stared at him strangely and then shrugged. Reaching down, he held out a hand to receive whatever it was the Mountie was holding. Small, light ... a tube. He looked at it and back at Fraser. "Lube?"
"Yes. I ... I was ... hoping ... I want ..." Ray was rolling the tube in his hand, thoughtfully. "Ray, would you ... please ... make love to me?" The blond looked at him sharply.
"You sure?" he asked, his tone doubtful. Fraser noticed that his erection had wilted some.
"Yes. I am. Sure. I want ... I want to be that close to you. I ... I want you ... inside ... me." Ray drew in a sharp breath at that.
"I ... uh ... I don't ... don't want to hurt you."
"Yeah, I will. I ... well, I kinda read some on this ... and uh ... well, it ... it hurts."
"But people do it and derive great pleasure from it, so it can't all be painful. You just have ... have to prepare me first."
"With my fingers."
"Yes," Fraser said, shivering at the thought of those long, slender, gentle fingers going inside of him. "We've done some of that ... this would just be ... more. Please," he added, moving up and laying partly on top of the blond. "Please," he whispered into Ray's ear.
"You'll tell me ... if I'm hurtin' you?"
"Yes, Ray. I will." Ray nodded, but he still looked dubious. Fraser kissed him again, harder, reaching down with his hand to stroke the blond's penis again. Ray groaned and grabbed the Mountie's arm, moving it away.
"Keep that up and I'll have nothin' left. Okay ... okay. I can ... we can do this. Uh ... I guess you should be lying down, not me. Back or front?"
"I want to watch you," Fraser whispered.
"Okay." They switched positions, Fraser lying down on his back with his knees up and Ray moving to kneel between his legs. The blond reached down and gently stroked Fraser's penis with his forefinger. It lifted at his touch and he admired the view for a moment, before bending down to kiss and lick it. The Mountie sighed, happily and Ray took him into his mouth, sucking gently. While he did that, he let his free hand explore below, firmly rolling Fraser's balls and then reaching down to stroke the perineum. The Mountie made satisfactory noises, so Ray continued, sucking harder.
"Mmhmm," the blond mumbled around Fraser's penis, causing the Canadian to groan. Reaching one finger further down, Ray gently stroked it across the small, puckered hole. Fraser sighed happily. Encouraged, Ray brought the hand up to his mouth, wetting his fingers and then putting them back down and stroking across the hole, back and forth, with more pressure. Ben relaxed his knees, letting them fall outward, toward the floor. //Okay, so far this is a success// Ray thought. He fumbled with the cap to the tube and squeezed some of its contents across his fingers. Slick. He had to take a deep breath to control himself at the feel. Suddenly the enormity and the excitement of what he was about to do hit him. His penis shuddered, stirring heavily between his legs and he fought to think of another image. Any other image. //Anything! Please!//
"Ray? Ray? Ray? Ray?" Mom. Yeah. That killed it. Thinking about your mom during sex. That had to be some kind of strike against him that God would pay him for later, but it worked. He was back in control. Revolted, but under control
"Yeah, I'm ... I'm still here, Ben. Just ... I'm ... uh ... here." He moved his newly slicked fingers down, caressing over Fraser's balls and down further, again searching and ... finding.
"Oh! Ray ..." The blond froze, one finger partway in.
"No ... no!"
"Okay." Ray went back to work, easing that finger further in, stretching, exploring, not neglecting to stroke and kiss Fraser's cock from time to time. After a couple of minutes the one finger felt kind of lonely, so he added another. Fraser sighed and shifted, but didn't seem bothered by it, so Ray kept going. Stretch and explore. Find the spot ... twist the fingers. Fraser jerked. The blond pulled back.
"No! Good. Good," Fraser babbled, moving his body down, following the fingers. Reassured, Ray grinned and repeated the stroke. And again. "Oh God, Ray! Please ... you in ... please ... in!" //Okay, babbling Mountie. This is good.// Ray carefully worked in a third finger. This one was a little harder to work in, but he continued to gently work it back and forth until Fraser bucked against him, pushing down hard on all three fingers.
"Now, Ray. Now! Please!"
"Okay, I got ya." Ray took a deep breath and then slowly drew his fingers out. He drizzled a bit more of the lube on his hands and then stroked his penis back up to fullness. Pulling a towel off the couch, he rolled it and placed it under Fraser's ass, raising it up a bit. Then, leaning forward, he pressed his cock against that small hole. He took another deep breath and began to ease in. Fraser's face looked slightly strained as he fought to relax. Ray hesitated.
"No ... keep going ... please?" the Mountie whispered. Ray pushed again, harder, but still slowly. Suddenly his cockhead popped past the tight ring of muscle. Both men groaned. Ray waited a minute, holding himself up on his arms, thinking thoughts of snow, Victoria, Muldoon ...
"Okay," Fraser said as he reached up and grabbing Ray's arms, pulling him forward. Ray felt himself sliding into the depths of a warm and impossibly tight space. It welcomed him, surrounded him ... felt so damned good. He could feel the soft sacs of Fraser's balls, nestled against his groin, causing a new erotic sensation. Reaching down with one hand, he felt where they were joined with a sense of wonder. Then he reached up and pulled one of Fraser's hands down to feel that same place ... that same connection.
"Yes," Fraser whispered. "Yes." He was relaxing more now. Ray moved his hand up to stroke Fraser's penis, which had distinctly flagged during the last few minutes. The Mountie groaned happily. Ray concentrated on that, trying again to distract himself from the near sensory overload.
"Ray?" Fraser gasped after a minute or two.
"Yeah?" Ray answered, having a little difficulty with breath control himself.
"Perhaps you could ... move?"
"Move? Right. Yeah." He pushed himself back up on his arms, and began, carefully, to stroke, in and out, searching Fraser's face for any sign of pain. The Mountie had his head back and the only expression on his face was that of pleasure. Ray adjusted his postion slightly and then again, stroking, looking for the right angle.
"Ray! Yes!" //Bingo!// Ray concentrated on hitting that spot over and over again. He carefully balanced himself on one arm, as he wrapped his other hand around Fraser's leaking cock, trying to stroke it with the same rhythm as he was pushing into him with. After a moment he had to let go, concentrating on maintaining his balance and lasting longer than Fraser. It didn't seem to make a difference to the Mountie.
"Oh, God, Ray. Yes! Yes! Yes! Ray!" The blond fought to hold on, but it felt so damn good. So tight. So ... hot. In and out. Fraser suddenly shuddered under him and began spurting out his release and Ray just let go, feeling his cock jerking over and over into Fraser, coming harder than he could ever remember.
He came back to himself several minutes later, still collapsed on top of Fraser. The Mountie's arms were around him, gently rubbing his back. He could feel Fraser kissing the top of his hair. He found the energy to lift his head and looked into the Mountie's eyes. Fraser smiled at him.
"I love you," he whispered.
"And I you. That ... uh ... that was good?"
"Yes," Fraser said in a tone that left no doubt.
"So ... my turn next?"
"As you wish," Fraser smiled.
"I wish. I definitely wish." He kissed the Mountie ... his Mountie and then carefully pulled free. Both men winced at the feeling. Ray wasn't sure whether he was wincing more at the momentary discomfort or the loss of connection. He lay back down, full length against the Mountie. Small shivers still ran through his groin as he thought about what they had just done. Aftershocks of his orgasm. The thought of having Fraser inside him also produced a shiver.
"Are you cold?" the Mountie asked, his voice sounding drowsy.
"No. Just ... thinking. Good stuff. Us."
"That is good stuff," Fraser agreed and Ray could hear the smile in his partner's voice. Resting his head down against Fraser's chest, enjoying listening to the beat of his heart, Ray let it lull him into a doze. He was vaguely aware of Fraser pulling a blanket off the couch and arranging it over both of them and then he was out.
On their last night in a real bed, resting up after a long and vigorous bout of lovemaking, Ray lay happily, holding Fraser in his arms. This was good. This was beyond any good he had ever known, he decided. Suddenly he became aware of a strange feeling at his ankles. He looked up.
"Frase, what is yer wolf doin' ta my leg?" The Mountie raised himself and looked down toward the bottom of the bed. Dief was rubbing his jaw against Ray's leg. The Mountie smiled and lay back down, comfortably settling again.
"He's marking you, Ray, depositing his scent on you. It's his way of letting other wolves know that you are part of his pack. I daresay he wants to establish his territory before we meet our team."
"Oh." The blond thought about that for a moment. "Frase?"
"What we been doin' the last couple o' weeks ... Isn't that a kind o' marking too?" Fraser laughed.
"Yes, I suppose it is."
"So I belong to you and Dief now?"
"Yes. And we belong to you." The blond smiled.
"I like that," he said. He squirmed around to face Fraser. Blue eyes looked into blue eyes.
"Didn't you once say that wolves mated for life?"
"Yes, Ray." A thoughtful silence.
"I think ..."
"Good." Ray sighed contentedly and wriggled closer, resting his head on Fraser's chest. The Mountie held him close. "I like listening to your heart," Ray confided.
"Your heart, Ray. It belongs to you." The blond pushed back and looked up.
"I promise ta take good care of it," he said softly.
"Thank you, kindly."
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