by Aristide and Mairead Triste
Disclaimer: Just poaching.
Author's Notes: My tremendous thanks to Pretty Pretty Pares for giving me a heaping helping of beta, along with big side dishes of patience and encouragement.
Story Notes: This story is dedicated to all the writers I envy and admire; the ones who make me want so desperately to be better, and whose stories I take refuge in to assuage the pain of my continual failure. To: Julad, Te, Eliade, Bone, Pares, Punk, Spike, Crysothemis, Aukestrel, Cesperanza, Resonant, Torch, Basingstoke, Shalott, Kat Allison, Nonie Rider, and Pearl O, just to name a few. If y'all weren't on the planet, I'd be even grumpier and surlier than I already am. Also: this is for Inigo, Beloved, who deserved better.
By Aristide and Mairead Triste
"There's a storm on the way," Fraser said, "but I won't be long. Diefenbaker and I will be back in two shakes of a lamb's tail. With dinner, if our luck holds out."
"Two shakes of a lamb's tail," Ray mumbled to himself, digging in the canvas bag for tent pegs. "Who the hell says that? Who sits around with a friggin' stopwatch and stares at lamb's tails? Probably someone Canadian, that's who." He found the last peg and stood up, yelling at Fraser's back: "If you see a wild pizza, shoot it!"
The wind had started to rise, and Fraser's voice floated back to him, half-audible. "...endangered species up here, Ray."
"Ha. That's not even funny." But Fraser was only a speck in the distance by that time, so he said it to the rest of the dogs. They didn't say anything back.
For Ray, it all happened very fast. He took one wild and unsuccessful look around in an attempt to get his bearings, then stepped into a pile of snow that gave way under him with a sickening and silent lurch. There was a long, lolloping slide from utter whiteness to utter blackness, crashing into and through and over, falling until he had to wonder if maybe he'd found the edge of the planet and sailed right on over it, falling until he slammed to a stop with a sharp flash of pain in his leg and a crack to his head that made him see colors on the insides of his eyelids.
"Jeez," that was dumb, he meant to say, but he was wedged in tight, too tight to talk, flat on his back in the total darkness with a big, icy weight pressing down on his chest. Stuck like a cork in a bottle. A frozen bottle.
Oh yeah, that was dumb all right. Probably dumb enough to kill him. Ray sucked in what air he could get, closed his eyes against the dark, and tried to remember what exactly he'd thought was so wonderful about this whole adventure thing.
Some time later, Ray realized that he had a problem with cold, dark, and alone. The cold he could handle: he'd been cold since he faceplanted into a snowfield with Fraser. And cold and dark made up a big chunk of every day out here, but that was cold and dark with a fire and a tent and some dogs and Fraser in it, which was sometimes annoying and sometimes peaceful and often kinda cool.
But this, this cold and dark and alone and half-crushed and no noise except for his own gasps for air and an occasional dim shriek that he knew was the storm somewhere up there, up where the world was and where Fraser was and where he couldn't get to--this sucked.
"This sucks, Fraser," he whispered, but there was no answer except for that far-off howl, which sounded like it was laughing at him. "Yeah, you suck too," he managed, and closed his eyes again.
The thing was, he'd been doing so good--better, anyways, enough to not feel so much like a big piece of whiny luggage that Fraser was hauling across the ice with him. True, he didn't do much during the day, because he'd tried driving the dogs but mostly that led to a lot of puzzled doggy looks and sarcastic whuffs from Dief, and not a lot in the way of actual forward movement. But whenever they stopped for the day he made up for it, or tried to. He lashed down the supplies and pitched the tent while Fraser did... all the stuff he did, and sooner or later Fraser would show up in the tent and there'd be food (Ray supposed it technically counted as food, since he put it in his mouth and swallowed it), and maybe some dumb stories or speculation about the weather or how far they'd make it the next day, and then sleep, his back pressed up against Fraser's, the warmest he ever got.
It was good, he was good, doing that acclimating thing that was what he thought of as his real job, and it was so stupid that that's what he'd been thinking about when he set up the tent, that he was doing a pretty good job of his real job, when all of a sudden the wind kicked up into a howl and the snow started piling on in sheets, and when a square canvas tarp flapped by him he realized he'd kind of forgotten to do the lashing-down-of-supplies part of his job, and now their stuff--the stuff they needed, the stuff that kept them alive--was blowing away.
"Fraser!" he yelled, but that was dumb too. He didn't know how many lamb's tails it had been, but for now he was on his own. At first that was a good thing, because it gave him a chance to get everything back where it belonged and strapped down tight without Fraser ever having to know what a dumbass he'd been, but then it turned out to be not so good, because Ray ran off into the wind and grabbed what items he could get hold of, and all the time the snow was coming down faster and harder, and the first time he fell he lost his grip on everything he'd managed to find so far, and the second time he fell he wound up here, in the cold, in the dark, and alone, which really was the suckiest thing that ever sucked.
"S.O.S.," Ray managed, but he couldn't remember the rest of the words. He had no idea how long he'd been stuck here, but it was long enough for almost all of him to go numb. For the parts of him that hurt, that was a pretty good deal, but the rest of him wasn't exactly jumping for joy. Or jumping at all. Or moving, much.
"Fuck," he tried instead, but his half-breathed whisper sounded gray and lost--and whoa, that was weird, that something *sounded* gray, but it really did. Which meant it had probably been a longer time than he'd thought.
Ray pushed, his gloved hands slipping off everything he touched. He kept pushing, but he had limited air and that made it hard, too hard, and the dark around him was starting to seriously creep him out, swirls at the edges of his vision that could be anything at all.
He decided then and there that if he was gonna lay here and freeze to death and have hallucinations, they were at least gonna be good ones.
The cold and snow was outside, a hard winter storm blizzarding away out there, but inside it was warm, almost hot, and Ray sat on his couch with a hockey game on the tube and a box of pizza on the coffee table, his toasty feet shoved under Dief's sleeping belly and Fraser's shoulder braced against his, good to lean on.
"I'm glad you found me," Ray said. He thought it would sound weird and lame, but it didn't.
Fraser's shoulder nudged him a little, a soft jostle that rocked him just a bit in his warm, comfortable skin. "Of course, Ray. You needn't have worried--"
"I wasn't worried, Fraser," Ray said, jostling Fraser back, "just cold. I couldn't even sing."
"You can sing now, Ray, if you like."
"Nope. Hockey's on. We're having pizza. And later I'm gonna build a fort out of pillows."
"Hm. Has it occurred to you that there are certain structural difficulties--"
"Shut up, Fraser, or I won't let you in the fort."
Ray slouched down into the couch cushions, and leaned his head on Fraser's arm. "Pizza."
"Certainly, Ray." That wasn't what he meant, but Fraser was right there with it anyway, holding out a big, hot, dripping slice. "Here you are."
And Ray was so happy to be safe and warm and eating real food and not freezing to death alone in the dark that he only hummed happily when Fraser fed it to him, one blissful bite at a time.
Ray opened one eye. "Stella's not here."
"It's my hallucination, right? I get to write the script. But Stella's not here. Weird."
"Perhaps she was busy, Ray."
"She's always busy, Fraser. Doesn't mean she can't be here with me, since I'm dying and all."
"You are not dying, Ray."
"No. I won't have it. There's simply too much--"
"Hey, maybe I found the hand." He lifted his head. It had gotten dark in here. When had that happened? Who won the hockey game?
"I--I'm lost, I, I dunno where I am. Maybe I'm buried two feet away from the Erebus and the Error--"
"That thing. Maybe I'm there."
"You're not lost, Ray."
The certainty in Fraser's voice made Ray open his eyes all the way. Yeah, dark. "Where are we?"
"Inside the Inukshuk."
Ray squinted. "The big pile of rocks?"
There was just enough light for him to see Fraser shrug. "No rocks, Ray. I had to build one out of pillows."
"Oh. Good idea." He closed his eyes again. He was sleepy. So sleepy.
"Rest," Fraser said, close to his ear, but where? Ray couldn't feel him anywhere. He couldn't feel anything.
He was okay with that.
"Oh, God. Oh my God, Ray--"
Ray didn't listen. He couldn't--his ears were too numb. And he didn't want to listen to that anyway--Fraser sounded horrible, hoarse and panicked, and Fraser never panicked, and that meant something was wrong, really wrong, and whatever it was, he didn't want to know about it.
He heard the wind as he drifted away, screaming like fury. It sounded bigger than the whole world.
The next time Ray opened his eyes, his eyelids hurt. That wasn't exactly an improvement, but since he wasn't numb anymore, maybe it was. The fact that it wasn't pitch-black when he opened them definitely was.
"Ow," he said experimentally, and his lips were coated with something greasy and goopy but he could feel them cracking and stinging anyway, and ow. "Ow."
"Ray!" Fraser was there, bending over him, and Fraser looked *terrible*--drawn and haggard and stubbly, like he hadn't shaved in a week, with big dark circles under his eyes.
"The Don Johnson look really isn't cool anymore, Fraser," he said, and took a deep breath just because he could. Right away he wished he hadn't, because it made him cough and that made him realize that he hurt, everywhere, a lot. "I'm, uh, yeah. Ow. What happened?"
"You're all right, Ray," Fraser told him, and then Ray had to wonder if this was just a more painful type of hallucination, because there was a ceiling up there above Fraser's head, not a tarp or a tent but actual wood beams, and he himself appeared to be in an actual bed. A big one.
"You're all right," Fraser repeated, firmly, like it was somehow important that he convince Ray of it. "You have some frost-nip, and your knee was dislocated--"
"My knee--" he remembered, and moved it, and ow, gross, wobbly and stretched-feeling and sore.
"Careful, Ray. I put it back in, but it will take some time to heal fully. It seemed best to fix it while you were unconscious," he explained, as if Ray was going to be pissed at him for sparing him that particular experience.
"Yeah. I get that." Ray blinked. His eyelids seemed to be goopy too, but it still hurt. Ow. "So I guess you found me after all, huh?"
Fraser pulled away from him a little, and Ray couldn't see his expression. "I... Yes, Ray. I mean, obviously, I did."
"Good. That's good. So except for the freezerburn--"
"Frost-nip. Or ice burns, if you prefer."
"That thing that happens to meat when it's too cold and not wrapped up enough, whatever; except for that and the wobbly knee, and the fact that I'm covered in slime--"
"Oh, that would be the salve. I made it myself, from lichen and elkhorn, in a base of sea-cucumber--"
"Yeah, lichen slime with cucumbers, that makes it a lot less gross, thanks. So other than that--"
"You're going to be fine, Ray." Fraser said it as if Ray had said he wasn't.
"Great. Good. Okay."
"You should eat something, however. Give me a moment--I didn't... that is, I wasn't sure when you'd wake up." Fraser wandered off, and he saw that wow, yeah, indoors, they were indoors in a really big room, obviously a cabin. There was a wood-burning stove, a butcher block table, bookshelves that were stuffed full, wide windows made up of those small square panes of glass in wood frames, framed photographs (a river, a moose, and one of a whole lot of snow) hung on the log walls, a desk, a rocking chair--and of course the bed, which Ray had already noticed.
He watched Fraser work at the woodstove, moving like it was already familiar to him, like he belonged here. "You, uh, you brought me to your cabin?"
Fraser glanced at him. "No, Ray. I'm afraid I never actually got around to rebuilding my own cabin. But I had to get you indoors, so--" it was hard to hear Fraser now that his back was turned, so Ray tilted his head a little. Ow. "--a, a matter of some urgency, so Diefenbaker helped me find this place. We are presuming on the hospitality--or trespassing on the property, if you prefer--of Dr. Martha Washington, apparently a Physics professor of some renown, and her husband, Jorge--" he pronounced it 'hor-hay', with a slight roll of the 'r'--"who, I believe, is a naturalist of some kind."
"What, you mean he runs around naked all the time?"
"Well, not that I know of, Ray. No, what I mean is that he appears to be a student of the natural world: animals, plants, the environment--although an uncredited one."
Ray sniffed. "Martha and Jorge Washington."
"Physics and tree-hugging."
"I presume so, yes."
"Huh." Ray looked around the room again, and then back at Fraser. "How long?"
"How long was I out? How long have we been here?"
Fraser bent his head over the small pot he was stirring, then straightened. "It's been... today is the fifth day, actually."
"Fifth--I was out for *five days*? From frostbite?"
"Frost-nip, Ray." Fraser came towards him with a steaming mug in his hand, watching it carefully and very much not looking at Ray at all. "Drink this, it'll help to rehydrate--"
"Five. Days." Ray didn't take the mug. "Frost-nip, frostbite, freezerburn--whatever, Fraser; you cannot tell me that that plus a bum knee knocked me out for--"
"It took me two days to get us here," Fraser said quietly, holding out the mug, and something in his voice made Ray take it right away. Fraser sat down in a wood folding chair that was set up next to the bed, and ran a hand over his hair. "You had... you were suffering from a severe case of hypothermia as well, Ray. That's why you were unconscious." Fraser looked at him then, finally, a hard, determined look that Ray hadn't seen in a long time. "But you're fine, you'll be just fine. Now drink your broth."
Ray suddenly wanted to put the mug down so he could lift up the blankets and take a look at himself, to see what was going on under his longjohns, except maybe he didn't want to look. "I didn't freeze anything off, did I? 'Cause I need... everything. All my component parts."
Fraser winced, but looked like he was trying not to. "Not at all. Your... component parts are all intact. You're fine. Now, sip that."
Ray sipped. Chicken broth, scalding hot and salty and just the tiniest bit greasy and really really good. All at once his mouth flooded with saliva, and it was all he could do not to chug the whole thing at once, which would probably boil the skin off his mouth. "It's good. Thanks," he mumbled, and sipped some more.
"Slowly, Ray," Fraser said, then poured a glass of water from a pitcher on the nightstand and held it out to him. "This, too. Sip slowly." When Ray took the water, feeling ridiculously like a double-fisted drinker, Fraser got to his feet. "I need to see to the dogs, Ray, excuse me--"
"The dogs--Dief--he's... everyone's okay? Where are they?"
Fraser turned as he tugged on his heavy coat. "They're all fine. They're staying in the mud room for now. It's more comfortable for them there than it would be outside, at least while the storm lasts."
Ray glanced at the windows, but there was nothing out there but a dark gray sky, above a field of lighter gray that was undoubtedly snow. "Uh, I think the storm's over, Fraser."
Fraser blinked, looked out the windows, and then looked back at him. "This is just a lull. The weather has been... quite severe, actually."
"Oh." Ray sipped, water then broth. "Good thing you found this place, then."
"Yes," Fraser said curtly, and left the room, yips and whines of welcome drifting in on a wave of icy air until he pulled the door shut.
Ray waited a whole three seconds before he put both mug and glass down on the nightstand, took a deep breath, and peeked under the covers.
Frost-nip was a serious pain in the ass. It was almost like a bad sunburn, only without the cool parts like a memory of dozing off in the hot sunshine, or the eventual tan. Ray's skin was red and sore in about a hundred places, blistered in about a dozen, and seriously itchy everywhere.
"Itchy itchy itchy," Ray said just to get his point across, digging his sore fingers into his equally sore shoulder.
"You shouldn't scratch, Ray," Fraser said mildly as he came through the door, and Ray might have told him right where he could stick that particular piece of advice except that the next moment the whole bed shook under the weight of a fast-moving wolf, and then Ray had wolf spit all over his sore ear (which at least made it stop itching for a second), and happy whines and huffs against his neck, and warm fur soft against his sensitive palms.
"Hey, Furface, it's--okay, yeah, it's good to see you too, Dief, now lay off the ear thing, okay? Jeez."
Dief left his ear alone, but whined and head-butted him gently, black-lined amber eyes wide, staring anxiously at him from beneath the furry tufts of his eyebrows. "Hey, hey, it's okay--I'm good. The Mountie says so." He ruffled the loose fur on Dief's neck. "Wow, Fraser; I think he was really worried about me, he's--hey. I must've been--"
He stopped when he looked up, seeing Fraser's stricken face. "I must've been in pretty bad shape," he finished lamely, and then he let go of Dief and wrestled his aching body up, propping himself on his elbows. "Okay. C'mon, Fraser, spill it--I was bad, right? The, uh, hypoglycemia--"
"Hypothermia," Fraser said, so quietly Ray almost didn't hear him.
"--was bad. Okay. I get that. How bad was it?"
Fraser blinked and said nothing, and Ray was about to start yelling when he noticed that Fraser was even paler than he'd been before, the hollows under his eyes the deep purple of shadowed snow, a heavy, haunted look. "Well, technically, Ray, you were dead."
"Oh." Ray's knuckles stung, and he looked down to see his hands fisted tight into the blankets. He made himself let go. "Yeah, that's, uh. That's pretty bad. That's pretty much the ultimate in badness, I guess." He took a breath. "I'm sorry, Fraser."
Fraser's gaze fixed on him, his brows lowering the way they did when he was pissed off. "Don't apologize to me, Ray," he said sharply, and that was different, way different from his usual no-apologies-necessary thing, that was something else entirely.
"Okay," Ray said. He waited, but Fraser didn't say anything more, just stared at him. Ray fidgeted, scratched, and then, because he had to say something: "I'm okay, Fraser. Not dead." He wiggled his shoulders. "Fuck. There's no way I'd be this itchy if I was dead."
Fraser stared out the window. "No, Ray, I'd imagine not. Although I understand that the afterlife is not exactly free of irritations."
Ray didn't know what to say to that, other than telling Fraser he was a freak, but the guy seemed a little sensitive just now, so he let it go.
Ray made his first trip to the outhouse (outhouse! 'Oh, no, Ray, I assure you, this is a very luxurious cabin, with every amenity'--yeah, except for actual plumbing and electricity) about an hour later, hobbling along with the help of Jorge's walking stick, which was smooth and sturdy and had the look of something that Jorge probably made himself. Ray felt weird about it for the first time, about barging into these people's cabin, sleeping in their bed, eating their food and using their things, but Fraser told hm it was some kind of unwritten rule of survival up here in emergency situations: you did what you had to, and then took responsibility for it. He showed Ray a letter he'd written to the absent owners to explain their situation, and said that he'd send it to Martha's university along with 'full compensation' once they reached somewhere where there were things like money and post offices. So that helped a little, but it still seemed weird to him.
It was also the first time Ray realized the extent to which Fraser had been taking care of him, because he doubted that Fraser had dragged his unconscious body out to the damn outhouse a couple times a day, which meant... well, he really didn't want to think about what that meant, because it was a) gross, and b) embarrassing, and on top of that, c) he just wasn't ever going to be eager to start off a conversation with 'so hey, what exactly did you do with my body while I was dead and/or unconscious?'.
His knee hurt, although Fraser wrapped it tightly before he let Ray try to walk on it. And even though the outhouse was only thirty yards from the front door, Fraser harassed him until he put on his snow pants, heavy boots, hat and parka before he went out.
"You need to maintain your core temperature, Ray. It's vital to your recovery--"
"Yeah, I know that, Fraser. I just, uh, I can't believe I gotta go through all this just to take a leak."
"Well, if you prefer, I could--"
"No. No way, Fraser. Do not finish that sentence. I'll just--I'm going. Michelin man, bound for the outhouse. Here I go."
He went, and when he came back, shuffling slowly down the deep trough that Fraser had shoveled through the snow, he knew without even looking up that Fraser would be waiting at the door for him, using his Mountie mind-powers to keep Ray from either falling down or maybe spontaneously freezing himself into a copsicle right there in the snow. "I can feel you worrying, Fraser. Cut it out. The only thing I was in danger of was pissing my longjohns, and I took care of that. I'm good."
He looked up just in time to see Fraser ducking back into the cabin, and grinned. He thumped along back to the front door, through the piles of sleepy dogs lying around in the mud room, and on into the cabin. "So," he said, leaning Jorge's stick against the wall so that he could unzip his parka. "What d'you do for fun around here, Fraser?"
The real answer to that question was a big, fat 'not much', unless you were Fraser and into reading any one of about a thousand books and articles on physics, which Ray was not. They played chess for a while, until Ray got tired of losing, then poker, until Ray ran out of air. Then Fraser tried to teach him a weird card game played with a funky-looking deck he'd found in the desk. Ray was a little wary (everything was in French), but willing (it was all about driving, Fraser said, and going as fast as you could, which he was pretty sure Fraser would suck at), but he found that it kind of took the thrill out of driving fast when there was no sound effects or steering or any actual going anywhere.
"This game sucks, Fraser," he said the third time Fraser hit him with a flat tire.
"I'm sorry you don't care for it, Ray." His face was all prim, the way it got when he had to work at being polite. "Perhaps you could tell me what you'd like to do instead?"
Ray scratched his stomach, winced, and made himself stop. "Sure. Let's play this game I just made up--it's called 'scratch that itch'. Got any sandpaper?"
Fraser actually cracked a smile at that. "Maybe a bath would help."
Ray's fingers froze in the act of clawing at his chest, then fell away. "There's a bath? Like, in a tub? Not just, uh, you know, a sponge and a bucket of snow?"
Fraser put down his cards and got to his feet. "While that certainly sounds invigorating, I don't think I'd recommend it at this point in your recovery." He moved over to the corner of the room near the woodburning stove, to an alcove Ray hadn't noticed before, not much more than a closet-sized dip in the wall. Fraser hauled out a huge copper basin, not big enough to stretch out in, but not much smaller (although it was deeper) than an actual tub. Fraser brushed his hands off against his jeans. "It'll take some time for me to heat enough water, but yes, Ray, you can have a bath, and if you reapply the salve afterwards, that should reduce the itching, I believe."
Ray put down his cards. "I love you, Fraser," he said solemnly.
Fraser's mouth twitched. "I take it that means yes?"
"Hell yeah. I am all over that. Where do I sign?"
"Oh, well, Ray, it's just a bath. It doesn't require any official notarization."
Ray hated baths. He was a shower kind of guy, an in-and-out as fast as possible, do what he had to do and then move on to working on his hair guy. He'd always been that way.
But. Ray *loved* this bath. He really, really loved this bath, because Fraser had sprinkled in some kind of powder (he admitted to baking soda as a key ingredient, but after a pause he said the others weren't important), and the minute Ray's skin hit the water, the itching stopped. The soreness didn't, and he had to be careful with his knee, but still, he was up to his neck in warm, non-itchy water, and nobody cared about his hair up here, and he was good.
Ray heard Fraser clear his throat. Fraser had strung up a blanket across the front of the alcove ('for modesty', according to Fraser, although how much modesty Ray could have left after Fraser had been taking care of him was something he just wasn't gonna get into), and below the edge of it he could see the toes of Fraser's boots. "I thought I'd make spaghetti for dinner, Ray. Does that sound all right?"
Ray decided then and there that all adventures should come with occasional warm baths and spaghetti dinners, because there was just so much more reason to really appreciate them. "Sounds good. I think I'll, uh, just hang out here for a while, okay?"
"Of course. Let me know if the water gets too cool--I have another pot coming to a boil."
By the time Ray got out of the tub, he could have joined a freakshow as The Amazing Prune-Man. He dried off carefully, slathered on a fresh layer of Fraser's stinky salve, and got into a clean pair of longjohns that Fraser had left out for him--clean, which meant that Fraser had, what, scrubbed them out by hand? Jeez. "You know, Fraser," he said as he hobbled out of the alcove, "you're a great cop, but if you ever decided to give it up and start a career as a housewife you'd probably get some kinda medal."
Fraser raised an eyebrow, but didn't miss a beat stirring sauce. Dief sat next to his feet, all attentive and ready to help out with any accidental spills. "I don't believe there's an order of merit for domestic labor, Ray; although undoubtedly there should be." He paused, stirring and looking thoughtful, then turned back to Ray. "Also, I think that the popular ideation of this as 'women's work' is not only a fallacy, but a serious disservice to those who strive to be accomplished and content in their chosen field based on their abilities and inclinations, rather than blind obedience to the construct of their particular gender."
Ray grinned. He couldn't help it. "Okay, wow. So who told you that? Turnbull?"
"My Grandmother, actually."
"Smart lady, huh?"
"Well, yes she was, Ray. Very smart. Also quite stubborn, strong, independent, opinionated, forthright, active, pragmatic, and possessed of a nearly terrifying amount of integrity."
"Uh-huh. So your Grandpa was..."
"Very quiet. Perhaps a bit overshadowed, but honestly, he never seemed to mind."
"Well, yeah. Who would?"
Fraser eyed him. "Sarcasm, Ray?"
Ray eyed him back. "Hah. You forget who I was married to, Fraser?"
"Ah. I see."
The oil lamps were lit, and the world outside the windows an inky black by the time they finished the spaghetti. Ray had two helpings, and would have had a third if Fraser hadn't reminded him that his body was going to have to adjust to solid food again. Fraser had gotten up and collected the dishes when suddenly there was a sound like a low, slow-rising shriek, a muffled volley of barks from the dogs, a growl from Dief, and a soft, barely-heard rattle from the pile of plates and utensils in Fraser's hands. Then the whole cabin creaked, loudly.
"That's, uh, that would be--"
"The storm. Yes, Ray." Fraser's face was pale beneath his stubble, cold-looking even in the warm light from the stove and the lamps.
"Okay. We... do we need to do anything?"
"No. Yes. That is, I need to do the dishes. That's all." He turned away.
Ray almost offered to help, but it seemed like Fraser maybe needed a few minutes to himself, so he didn't. He limped over to the windows instead, and sat on the low wooden bench that ran under it. Dief came too, and leaned his warm head on Ray's knee. Ray put his hand in Dief's ruff, and looked out into the storm.
At first it seemed that there wasn't much to look at, just darkness with whipping curtains of snow cutting randomly through it. He leaned his forehead against one of the small, icy panes of glass and then it caught him, little by little, drifting veils of white that made the wind visible, and the snow on the ground drifting also, getting scooped out here and built up there, shifting, moving, creeping, taking over. Ray watched it for a long time. He was warm, but covered in goosebumps.
It was *huge* out there; the storm, the world, everything, absolutely huge. Cold. Lifeless. And they, he and Fraser and Dief and the dogs, they were so small in comparison, like stray sparks from a fire, just trying to burn. It seemed like the wildest kind of chance that they were here at all, alive, like some kind of friggin' miracle--
Fraser's hand touched his shoulder. He jumped a little, his fingers gripping Dief's ruff. Fraser's eyes looked ridiculously blue after the colorless world outside. "You should go to bed, Ray. You need rest."
Ordinarily he'd remind Fraser that he wasn't, oh, eight years old, and didn't need to be sent to bed, but just then all of his goosebumps suddenly joined together into one big, all-encompassing shiver, and he decided yeah, bed, bed would be good. "Right. Bed."
He was nearly drowsing, the covers pulled up to his chin and the storm outside seeming much further away, when he heard a skittering noise and looked up to see Fraser kicking his bedroll open on the floor near the stove.
"What--Fraser, what are you doing?"
"I'm going to bed, Ray."
"On the floor?"
"You've been sleeping on the floor since we got here?"
Fraser paused at that, blinking. "Well, no."
Ray rubbed his goopy eyes. Gently. "Okay. So where've you been sleeping?"
"Actually, I... in the chair," he nodded to the narrow chair next to the bed.
Ray looked at the chair, looked back at Fraser, and the pieces clicked together inside his head. "You haven't been sleeping."
"That's nonsense, Ray. I've had sufficient--"
"Sufficient my ass, Fraser. You've been skipping sleep to watch me be unconscious, because you're a freak. Now come to bed and sack out already, okay? You're starting to look like Lon Chaney, or maybe Kate Moss. Someone gross." When Fraser didn't say anything, Ray sat up. "C'mon, Fraser--it's a big bed, lots of room. We can be unconscious together. Maybe they'll make it a new Canadian sport."
Fraser looked down at his bedroll. "I assure you, Ray, I'll be perfectly comfortable here--"
"Fraser, if you do not get in this bed I swear I will sit up all night singing every ABBA song I know. I've been out for seven days total, I'm good to go for a long time--"
"Oh, all right, Ray. You don't need to resort to threats."
"Wouldn't if you weren't such a jackass," Ray mumbled, but Fraser was moving around the room putting out the lamps, and didn't answer him. Fraser brought the last lamp with him and set it on the nightstand. Ray slid over to make room for him, shivering as he moved out of the nice warm spot he'd made.
He thought Fraser would either lay stiff on his back or face the other way entirely, the way he did in the tent, but Fraser didn't. He curled up on his side facing Ray, one red thermal-covered arm tucked under his head and his other hand resting on the blanket between them. He really did look like death warmed over, and no wonder, because he had to be exhausted. Starting tomorrow Ray was going to do something about that, something more than bitching about a stupid card game or wallowing in the tub--
The wind spiraled up into a howl outside, and everything creaked again. Fraser's hand curled into the blankets, and Ray realized that he'd been so absorbed in staring at Fraser that he hadn't even noticed that Fraser was staring at him. Not at his face, but lower down.
Ray squinted down at himself. "What, I spilled spaghetti sauce on myself or something?"
Fraser glanced up at his face then, looking a little guilty, and a lot tired. "No, Ray. Sorry. Force of habit, I suppose."
He thought maybe Fraser wasn't going to answer him, but eventually he did. "Your pulse. It's visible. Here--" he reached out and touched the hollow between Ray's collarbones, right above the first snap on his longjohns, "and here," he touched the spot just under Ray's jaw, then pulled his hand back, tucking it along with his whole arm under the covers.
"You sat there for five days watching my pulse?"
Fraser blinked and looked annoyed. "Well, it's not like that's the only thing I did, Ray--"
Ray reached over, through the cool spot and into the warm spot until he found Fraser's hand, then pulled it up to his neck, pressing Fraser's fingers to the place just under his jaw. "There. Can you sleep like this?"
"Like... Ray, I--"
"Shut up, Fraser. Unless you decide to strangle me in my sleep, which I doubt since you seem kinda obsessed with me having a pulse right now, I got no problem with this. No problem. Now go to sleep."
He glared at Fraser until Fraser's eyes finally drifted shut, then closed his own eyes and listened to the wind and the creaking and the soft crackle of the fire burning down in the stove. Listened to Fraser's quiet breathing getting deeper, slower, a rhythm. He could feel his own heartbeat clearly, another rhythm, and the cabin creaked and the bed rocked when Ray rocked a little, settling, but Fraser's fingertips stayed where they were, touching lightly and at rest, and the last thing he remembered thinking was: oh.
The storm lasted four more days. Ray healed, peeled, took a lot of baths, and ransacked the cabin. The most interesting finds were Jorge's journal--which Ray didn't read; a slim paperback of Victorian-era porn, which he did read, and snickered at; and a small Ziploc baggie half-full of what he really didn't think was oregano, along with some rolling papers. He also found a few fiction novels on the bookshelves, hidden among all the physics books. He guessed they must belong to Jorge, because he was sensing a kind of wacky eco-theme to pretty much all of them. He started with one called The Monkey Wrench Gang, figuring it would be a mob story, but it wasn't, and reading it bummed him out and made him sleepy at the same time, so he gave up on it. The next one he tried was called Zodiac (yeah, he thought, maybe about the killer, but no, again, wrong). But he made it all the way through that one, because it was funny, and because even though the main character was an asshole, he was the kind of asshole Ray could relate to, plus there was violence and grossness. But after he finished it he really felt like he'd had enough reading to last him a while, so he started looking around for something else to do.
He didn't find much. He took over the cooking, and got a little creative with it, but that tapped out after he invented a kind of soup that not even Fraser would eat, although of course he tried and was really polite about hating it. He came up with five different ways to play solitaire, all of which were boring as shit. He laid on the bed and tried to remember the theme music to Bewitched, but all he could come up with was I Dream of Jeannie, and after about six hours he decided it really didn't matter. He tried not to go stir-crazy, he tried not to bug Fraser too much. He wasn't exactly wildly successful at either of those things.
Every night, in the warmth of their shared bed, Fraser would reach out to him, would put just the tips of his fingers somewhere--neck, wrist, chest, the inside of his elbow, somewhere--and all of Ray's crazy restlessness would just drift away. He dreamed of moving: running, climbing up or down, jumping off things, sometimes dancing, but his body stayed still, stayed where Fraser needed him to be.
The first morning when he woke up to no wind and clear skies and actual sunshine sparkling on the snow in a blinding way that made him really glad he wasn't hung over, Ray got up and went out right away, the dogs and Dief tearing it up all around him, yipping and snorting and rolling around in the snow with each other. It was good, like Christmas was when you were a kid, beautiful, amazing. And worth the storm, once you got to see what was on the other side of it.
He turned to see Fraser standing in the doorway, his coat and boots on over his longjohns, his hair ever-so-slightly mussed, the way it was in the mornings. Fraser was staring out at the snow, but he didn't look quite as excited about it as Ray was.
"So... look at all this, huh? Sun's out, no clouds, wind's gone. Dogs're having happy spasms."
"I noticed that."
"Uh. Good. Okay. So--today? We clean up, pack up, sort out the supplies and haul ass outta here?"
Fraser looked at him then, frowning slightly. "I think not, Ray," he said calmly, then disappeared back into the cabin and closed the door.
The argument that followed was bad enough that Ray spent the rest of the day not talking to Fraser. It seemed only fair, since Fraser refused to talk to him about anything other than no, they couldn't leave yet, along with a bunch of really lame reasons that didn't make sense. But not a single word about whatever the hell was wrong with him, whatever it was that made him act like he'd get abducted by aliens if he went any further from the cabin than the outhouse, or that Ray would if Fraser didn't check up on him every five minutes.
Ray grabbed his snowshoes and made a few trips around the rough triangle formed by the cabin, the outhouse, and the small supply shed out back (mostly to make it clear that Fraser was wrong wrong wrong about his knee not being healed enough yet), but after three times around his knee was definitely feeling extra-wobbly and sore, so he stopped before he had to start limping. He picked a thick branch out of the enormous pile of wood and kindling stacked against the side of the cabin, and threw it for Dief and the dogs to chase until they flopped down onto the snow next to him, panting and looking all kinds of happy.
"Glad some of us are," Ray grumbled, then got his snow-bucket and started hauling in snow to boil for yet another bath.
Ray had a bath, ate some crackers dipped in canned sloppy-joe (with yet another wave of gratitude to the absent Martha and Jorge for not being vegetarians), put down some food for the dogs (one of the few of their own supplies which hadn't blown away), boiled more snow and scrubbed out his own damn longjohns by hand, along with the clothes he'd worn today since they were soaked with sweat, then flopped onto the bed and looked around the room for something to do other than throw one of his boots at Fraser's head.
Fraser, who was calmly camped out in the rocking chair near the stove, reading a physics journal with absorbed attention, same as he had been all day.
Ray didn't want to talk to him. He wouldn't mind yelling at him, but he was pretty sure if he did that Fraser would yell back sooner or later, and then would come the really loud yelling, followed by the punching and then the horrible, horrible guilt. Never again, he'd promised himself after that first time, and he'd meant it. So he didn't talk to Fraser, didn't do anything at all except lie there hating the dumb adventure, along with the dumb cabin and all the dumb things in it, including the dumb, not-talking, lame-book-reading Mountie.
"Come on, Ray--you've got to get under the covers. It's quite cold."
It was. There was icy moonlight coming in through the window, but other than that the room was dark, cold and dark, and Ray had a terrible crick in his neck from falling asleep in the wrong position. Ray's teeth chattered as he let Fraser help him under the covers, and he forgot all about how he wasn't talking to Fraser anymore while he huddled deep into the soft mattress and his eyes drifted shut, until Fraser slid in next to him, paused for a second, then sighed and reached out, his fingers slipping around Ray's wrist.
Ray opened his eyes. He saw the ceiling beams, lined black and blue in the cold light, seeming somehow far above him. He pulled his wrist away from Fraser's hand. Fraser made a noise, some soft noise, and reached for him again.
Ray pulled back. "No. No, Fraser--this is nuts, you're acting nutso, and I don't know what to do about it--"
"Except you won't let me do anything about it, but if you're mad at me for not remembering to tie the stuff down, or for going off into the storm then tell me, tell me that--"
"Just tell me you don't wanna be on an adventure with me no more and I'll... I'll deal--"
"But you gotta talk to me about it, because there's nobody else here, there's nobody, just you and me and some dogs and about a gazillion pounds of snow--"
Ray lost the rest of whatever he'd been about to say when Fraser rolled on top of him. Heavy. Jesus, Fraser was heavy. Heavy and hot, with hot hands that closed in on either side of Ray's face and held him there, held him tight.
"It took me almost two hours to get your heart beating regularly again," Fraser said in his ear, his voice cracked and hoarse and terrible. "It had been too long, it took me too long to find you, and you were gray with frost and blue with hypoxia, and I couldn't stop. There was no point in starting, but I couldn't stop." Fraser's voice caught, then went on. "You stopped. You started and stopped, your heart, your breath, it came and went. You came and went. The wind..." Fraser shivered, and Ray felt it everywhere. "Ten minutes of searching for shelter, and then an hour of keeping you going, making you go again. The wind kept taking you away. You stopped, but the wind never did, and you were so cold, Ray, so cold when you were dead--"
Ray's hands moved on their own, moved to the back of Fraser's head and settled there, and when Fraser's forehead pressed into the curve of his neck he honestly couldn't tell whether it had been him or Fraser who made it happen. But he knew what Fraser needed so he turned his head to the side, felt his heartbeat so strongly it shook his whole body, and oh God he was terrified, his mouth dry and his palms sweaty. But that only made him hold harder to Fraser, clutching Fraser as Fraser held on to him. His thermals popped open at the chest and Fraser was there, hot wet face pressed against his skin, gasping like he was drowning while Ray touched his hair, cupped his neck, held his shoulders and pulled him in and in and in.
When Ray realized he was hard he almost passed out, the whole world going gray and distant with the shock of that, but Fraser's soft, pained moan against his chest brought everything back all at once, jumping into his body like electricity. Fraser's hands came to his face again, Fraser's voice breaking in his ear. "Breathe."
"Breathe, Ray. Please. God."
Ray breathed. It brought sensation burning up to the surface of his skin, and suddenly he couldn't get enough air. He took in as much as he could and when he let go of it Fraser was there, hot mouth on his mouth, drinking it from him. Ray gave it, gave everything, felt Fraser's hardness against his own and rubbed up against it, breathing in and out and in and out until Fraser sounded like he was almost sobbing, and when Fraser's fingertips found that spot on his neck Ray twisted up his spine and came so hard it wrenched a groan from the pit of his stomach, a sound he heard again a second later from Fraser, Fraser coming hot into the soft cotton between them, Fraser rocking, rocking, hanging on like he'd never let go.
He thought he wasn't going to be able to sleep, not after... that, whatever that was. His brain was going a hundred miles an hour, he felt numb and not-numb by turns, hot and cold, melted and frozen, while his head was full of Fraser-Fraser-Fraser, everything that was Fraser and everything Fraser was, or everything that Ray knew he was, which turned out to be missing some pretty big chunks. But then he flashed on Fraser telling him about how it was up here, about survival, about how you did what you had to and then took responsibility for it, and then some big, messy tangled knot in his head untied itself, and before he knew it he drifted off.
The following week turned into home improvement week, and Ray was so glad to have something to do that he didn't even care that it wasn't his home. It was cool, actually, to think that they could leave the place in better shape than they'd found it. Fraser came across some shingles and a ladder in the shed, so they spent a couple days reshingling, and once they got the snow off the roof it was clear that it really needed to be done.
Ray's knee ached by the end of each day, but it was a pretty good ache, an I-actually-accomplished-something-today ache, so that was okay. After the roof was done they replaced the weather stripping around the windows, sanded down a few of the floorboards that had gotten splintery, replaced some floorboards in the mud room that had warped, planed and re-hung the doors, and cleaned the flue on the stove.
They didn't talk about what had happened, and Ray was surprised at how easy that was. He actually forgot about it most of the time, but it snuck up on him at the weirdest moments--watching Fraser drive a nail, listening to one of Fraser's whack-job Inuit stories or reshingling anecdotes, handing Fraser some tea after dinner--it would come over him all at once, what they'd done, and he'd have to look somewhere else for a second, to take a breath, to rub his arms hard until his goosebumps went away.
Of course, at bedtime it got much harder not to think about. Fraser didn't reach out to him any more, didn't seem to need to; he slept with his back to Ray and Ray turned so that his back was to Fraser, and it was just like the tent, except for how it wasn't the same at all.
But for the most part, Ray was okay, at least while home improvement week was going strong. The trouble started when they ran out of work to do, when Fraser said that they'd done all they could without 'major structural alterations', which the owners might not appreciate. Ray thought about pushing for it anyway, because 'major structural alterations' meant stuff to do and lots of it, but in the end he didn't.
So his days went back to running around with Dief and the dogs, taking baths, and trying to invent a way to make pizza on a woodburning stove (a project which stalled out at the we-have-no-cheese part, which he really couldn't get past). That, and watching Fraser. A whole lot of watching Fraser. Maybe too much.
And yeah, Fraser watched him too, but every time Ray caught him doing it, it looked just like it had before: like a side-effect of Fraser's weird outsideophobia, like he had to make sure Ray was still around and not doing anything death-defying like going out without a hat.
The way he watched Fraser was different. He watched Fraser sew on buttons. He watched Fraser haul wood. He watched Fraser shovel snow. He watched Fraser read stupid physics books, eat his dinner, boil snow, pet Dief, scrub out his clothes, make the bed, shave his face, squint up at the sky with one licked finger held aloft, and Ray would fall in, fall right into it, like Fraser was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen, like Fraser was some big mystery, and Ray supposed he couldn't really fault himself for it, because apparently Fraser was.
The watching thing was bad enough, but there was also the part of it where he needed to get closer, and if he didn't pay attention then before he knew it he'd be right there, right next to Fraser, wondering shamefully if one of these days he was just gonna wind up in Fraser's lap. Since this adventure of theirs didn't really need any more dumb things to happen to it, Ray figured he'd better not.
He started spending more and more time outside, which made it a little better--Fraser didn't come outside unless he was working on something, shoveling, or headed for the outhouse. Ray ran with the dogs until he was worn out, then threw sticks for them until they were. He built a snowman, something he hadn't done since he was a kid. It was fun, but after a day the poor guy looked lonely out there all by himself, so Ray built another snowman right next to him. That was better, but the day after that he realized that what he had was basically two snowmen stranded together on a non-adventure, and wow was that disturbing, so he built a dozen snow people for them to hang out with. Then it occurred to him that he was kind of turning into a really huge freak, so he disassembled them one at a time and hauled them indoors to boil for baths.
Still, being outside helped. He was doing good, he was getting through the days without doing anything too dumb, which was all he really wanted (if you didn't count getting the hell out of here, which he didn't because he worked really hard not to think about that). Things were okay until one afternoon when the sun disappeared behind the clouds that had rolled in, and the temperature dropped fast, really freaking fast, the wind on his face numbing his cheeks and then Fraser was there, leaning out of the cabin doorway into the sudden gloom.
"Ray, you need to... we should get the dogs in. There's a storm coming."
Fraser's voice sounded calm enough, but Ray thought he knew better by now. They got the dogs in and set up for the night, then Fraser made stew, and after dinner Ray washed up. By the time all that was done the wind had cranked up in a big way, and Ray had to stop staring at Fraser because Fraser looked pinched and pale and miserable, and Ray maybe wanted to take that look off Fraser's face even more than he wanted to be somewhere else.
It didn't help when they turned out the lamps and went to bed. Fraser twitched every time the walls creaked. Finally Ray turned over and reached out, reached right over Fraser's shoulder and found his hand (cold and damp, gave him the chills to touch it), which he tugged on until Fraser turned over, and then wrapped it around his own wrist. He heard Fraser breathe in deep, and two seconds later Fraser's hand was hot, hot and shaking just a little. Ray kept his own hand over Fraser's, just holding on.
"It's okay, Fraser," he said. Oh God, what did that mean? What did he just say okay to? He didn't know, and that was somehow scarier than anything else.
Fraser didn't say anything he could hear, but he was whispering something, way too soft to catch. When Ray got himself up on one elbow and leaned close enough to get it, it was the same thing over and over, barely audible even with his ear right above Fraser's mouth. "I'm so sorry, Ray. I never should have left you, I took too long to find you, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry I failed you, so sorry, Ray--" and Ray couldn't take it anymore.
"Fraser. Fraser. Fraser--"
"It's just... that thing, that thing you said, about how up here you, you know, uh, you do what you gotta do, to survive. For survival."
Fraser made some kind of low, muffled noise, and let go of his wrist. "Oh. Ray--"
"This isn't that, Fraser," tumbled out of his mouth, and he terrified himself all over again when he realized that was true. "This is not that thing, okay? This isn't about survival. I got no idea what the hell it is about, but it's not. That."
When Fraser kissed him it hurt, it was so gentle and so pained, needy and sorry all at once. Ray had to kiss him back, had to, had to try to take that hurt away with his mouth, wipe it out, make it not be. Which was how he ended up on top of Fraser, with his hands tangled in Fraser's hair and Fraser's thigh moving up along his hip, holding him there, because Fraser wanted him there. For whatever reasons, Fraser wanted him there.
That particular fact kept him going, even though he didn't know what the hell he was doing and his breathing was out of control and his hands wouldn't stop shaking. He undid the buttons on Fraser's longjohns slowly, came up onto his knees to undo his own, and then looked down at Fraser, cracked open and naked and a guy, definitely a guy, what with the big hard-on and smooth chest and everything. Ray felt something low down in his stomach shift, and there was no way to tell what it was, but it was something huge, raw and scary, and it made him feel even more naked than he was.
"Ray," Fraser said, and Ray knew Fraser was going to tell him not to, that he didn't have to, that it was all okay, but that would be that thing where Fraser said he never lied and yet he did, he lied all the time, if he thought it was for the right reasons.
"I'm doing this," Ray said, and then he was. He had Fraser's dick in his hand, slippery foreskin and all, and he might as well have grabbed his own dick, because damned if it didn't turn him on something fierce just to touch Fraser there, to feel Fraser's hardness and wetness right there for him, because of him. It pushed him, more than pushed him, it was like a big fucking shove right between the shoulderblades, and without even thinking about it he went down, curled down and got his mouth around Fraser once and then pulled off, barely hearing Fraser's shocked gasp.
"Ray, oh, no--"
"Shut up. This is gonna be slow. You okay with that?"
Fraser's cock twitched hard in his hand, and for a second Ray thought his plans for slow were going to fly right out the window, but Fraser just shivered all over, then went still and started panting. Ray figured that was a yes.
He took it slow. He had to, because he still didn't know what he was doing, but he knew it was awkward and strange and freakishly hot, taking that part of Fraser into his mouth, sucking gently, easing back, licking, and then diving in again. He didn't care when his jaw started to ache, or when he had to keep swallowing so he didn't drool all over the place, because his own dick was so hard it hurt, and he could feel some small part of the back of his brain crumbling away, the part that kept him from just grabbing the nearest flat surface and shoving his dick against it until he came.
Things filtered to him in bits and pieces, like his awareness just wasn't big enough to take it all in at once. Fraser tasted good, salty and earthy and like nothing else Ray could compare it to. Ray blissed out on that for a while, rolling his tongue around to catch everything he could, sliding his mouth up and down, breathing and tasting. Fraser was so still under him, and the noises he made were low and choked-off, like he was trying not to, and that was its own kind of push, so Ray kept his hand moving on Fraser's dick while he slid down and licked lower, sucking gently while he worked Fraser hard. Only for a few seconds, but it was enough, because when he moved his mouth back from Fraser's balls to his cock Fraser shivered, jerked a little, and then started moaning like he couldn't stop. Ray kept going, and kept going, and backed off every time he thought it might be too much because when he said slow he meant it, and he had no clue why he wanted that, but he did. He kept going until Fraser was rolling under him, his whole body in motion, lifting and falling, his voice gone hoarse and desperate.
It was the sounds Fraser made that did him in, in the end. The part of his brain that had been crumbling finally gave way, and he couldn't wait, couldn't even hurry up and finish what he started because Fraser sounded like he was out of his mind up there, in and out of Ray's mouth and heaving for air between groans, sounds that vibrated all through him, and he lost it in the moment between one suck and the next.
Ray let Fraser slide out of his mouth and hauled himself up to his knees, straddling Fraser's waist, then grabbed his own dick with one hand and pushed Fraser's shoulder into the bed with the other. He rubbed the tip of his cock against Fraser's chest right between his tight nipples and came like a fucking rocket, shooting all over Fraser's creamy skin, and one second later there was a hot streak up his back, and then another and another and okay, that was Fraser, that was Fraser coming all over him without even being touched.
"Fuck." He didn't know what else to say. He was still shivering, sliding around in the mess he'd made on Fraser's chest because it felt way, way too good to stop. Fraser was staring right at him, even in the dark he could see that, open-mouthed and shiny with sweat and looking completely messy and totally shocked and kind of amazed, and there was this freaky moment of... something, some kind of connection there, Ray felt it as clearly as he could feel Fraser's hot, hard body under him. He didn't know what it was or what it meant, but he knew that he liked it, liked it a lot, and that made no difference to the fact that it also scared the hell out of him.
The next morning, Ray was eating a bowl of oatmeal when Fraser came in the door after finishing his morning chores. The storm was still whooping it up out there, blowing so hard that Ray wanted to go out and holler at the wind that it better not mess up the new shingles. Fraser shed his outer layer, got himself some oatmeal, then sat down across from Ray and started to eat without saying anything other than good morning. Politely. Ray grunted in acknowledgement, because if Fraser wasn't going to bring up the fact that last night they came all over each other and then tangled up into one exhausted bundle and made out until they fell asleep, well, neither was he.
Ray finished his oatmeal slowly--after all, there was nothing to hurry up for. He was stuck indoors with Fraser and nothing to do and nothing to talk about, and Fraser would probably spend the day camped out in the rocking chair with his nose buried in another dumb book, totally not caring that Ray just might go berserk and murder all of them with a pickaxe and then wander off into the snow to freeze. His last words would probably be 'don't forget your hat, Ray'.
Which was when Ray decided that the... thing, that thing they did but didn't talk about, was now going to be the thing they didn't do and didn't talk about. If Fraser wanted to stay stuck in this fucking cabin until Spring rolled around, and if Ray was going to be stuck here along with him without anything to do, fine. He had lots of time. He'd spend it not messing around with Fraser.
He looked up at Fraser then, sitting there calmly eating oatmeal like there was nothing at all wrong, nothing at all to get worked up about, and suddenly wanted to yell at him. He didn't, mostly because he really didn't think he could handle hearing 'okay, no more blow jobs for you, pal, you're cut off',' come out of his own mouth.
"Everything all right, Ray?"
Ray suddenly noticed that Fraser's eyebrows were weirdly perfect and totally distracting, and dropped his spoon into his bowl. He was done. "Oh yeah, Fraser. Everything's just fucking peachy. I gotta go boil more snow."
He had fully intended to go to bed mad. That was his plan: go to bed mad. Given the stuff that had been floating through his head all day, about Fraser and the stuff he wasn't doing with Fraser, and the stuff he hadn't done with Fraser but maybe could do if he was doing stuff with Fraser which he wasn't, he thought it was a good plan.
But this particular wave of the storm was a real jeezer, the cabin creaking almost constantly and it was actually loud in here, a never-ending shriek that set even Ray's nerves on edge, and Fraser had that hollow, haunted look again by the time they went to bed. Ray settled in on his back, clenched his hands into fists and crossed his arms, just in case he got any ideas.
"Yes?" Very soft.
Ray blinked into the dark. "Tell me a story."
There was a pause. "You want me to tell you a story?"
"That's what I said, Fraser. Tell me a story. Tell me one of your stories about some weird monster who eats lichen-coated princesses and wears an ugly bow-tie, or a dumb cabin antidote--'cause I know you got one. Or a dozen. C'mon."
The wind battered against the windows, and for a minute Ray thought Fraser just couldn't answer, but then he heard him turn over. "Well, you know, Ray," he said, low and slow but building up steam as he went along, "now that you mention it, there was this one time when my father pursued a man who was suspected of trafficking in illegal beaver pelts up to a cabin near Aklavik..."
Fraser's words were almost too quiet to hear over the wind at first, but by the time he got to the part about his dad being trapped in a septic tank with the whack-job beaver killer and a rabid wolverine, he sounded almost normal. Ray slowly uncurled his fists, but kept his hands tucked into his armpits anyway. He was cold.
By the third day of the storm, Ray found himself fantasizing about digging into the baggie of not-oregano and getting himself seriously wasted. He'd done everything he could come up with to fill the time, most of it twice, but it got harder and harder to keep himself from thinking dangerous thoughts about pickaxes and eyebrows and nipples. So here he was, lying on the bed with the theme song to Bewitched stuck in a permanent loop in his brain, thinking hey, if he got totally baked maybe he could teach it to Fraser and they could dance around and sing it together. Which was possibly the weirdest thought he'd ever had. Which, these days, was saying something.
He wondered what Fraser would be like stoned. Probably his stories would make a lot more sense. Ray lifted his head. "Hey, Fraser--wanna get high with me?"
Fraser looked up from his book, frowning, then leaned forward in the rocking chair and actually closed the book's cover. "Surely you're not serious, Ray."
Ray sighed, and flopped back down. "Didn't think so. Nevermind."
He didn't hear Fraser move, but the next thing he knew Fraser was there, settling next to him on the bed. "Ray, I--"
Ray covered his eyes with one hand. "Fraser, don't... I was kidding, okay? Do not get all concerned on me. I don't need an invocation--"
"Perhaps you mean 'intervention', Ray--"
"Or one of those either. I'm not an idiot, Fraser. I'm just bored."
He heard Fraser sigh. "Ray, I know that this... that the confinement has been difficult for you, and I am sorry for that. But I had thought, that is, I had hoped that perhaps your inner resources would serve to--"
Ray took his hand away from his eyes, sat up, and leaned right into Fraser's worried face. "Inner resources? My *inner resources*? You have got to be kidding me, Fraser."
"Of course not, Ray. You have--"
He suddenly thought he knew exactly what it felt like to be a pot of snow when it went from an icy white lump to a steaming boil. "Here's what I got, Fraser, here it is: my inner resources think I should suck you off again, and then maybe try fucking you up the ass. I never done that before, but my inner resources are all 'hey, you should try it, Fraser probably has lube he made himself out of blubber and bear gonads, go for it'. That's what I got for inner resources. So what do you think about that, huh?"
Fraser's face was bright red, his eyes fixed firmly downwards, and it occurred to Ray that maybe he would've caused Fraser slightly less pain if he'd actually gone with the pickaxe option. He sighed, and got ready to try to fill in the hole he and his stupid mouth had just dug themselves into, when Fraser cleared his throat, then looked back up at him. "I think... I think it sounds delightful, Ray. Your inner resources are obviously inspired."
"Bears are an endangered species," Fraser said later, as he handed Ray a small jar. "And to the best of my knowledge, their gonads aren't particularly slippery. But I think this will serve."
Ray took the jar, almost dropped it, then squeezed too tight and shot it three feet straight up. Fraser caught it and handed it to him again. "Yeah. Okay. Thanks."
"You're most welcome, Ray," Fraser said, stripping out of his pants.
As it turned out, Fraser didn't want a blowjob. "I think I've waited long enough," he'd said, which put Ray's head into a whole different place, a way more horny and more nervous place, which was really not the greatest place to be when you were about to do... stuff.
Fraser went on, still blushing, still ditching his clothes with no hesitation at all. Ray didn't think Fraser was really any less nervous than he was, but it looked to him like Fraser knew what he wanted and meant to get it, nervous or not. That didn't help him much.
He was still stuck in a stuttering groove of horny-nervous-horny-nervous-God-don't-drop-the-lube when Fraser walked over to him, entirely naked. He'd never seen Fraser entirely naked, because up here long underwear were what you wore as skin. True, he'd seen a lot of Fraser last time, but that had been in the dark, and now it wasn't, and besides, this was all of him, even his smooth, naked feet. On his way back up from staring at Fraser's feet Ray noticed that the blush showed up pretty much everywhere, and the bottom dropped out of his stomach like he'd just thrown himself off a mountain.
"I'm kinda freaking out here, Fraser," he said, and then wanted to smack himself upside the head. That wasn't supposed to be out loud.
But Fraser didn't seem to have a problem with it. "Oh, so am I, Ray," he said, taking the jar away from Ray with one hand and reaching up to his face with the other, fingertips brushing lightly over his stubble, making him shiver. Fraser's eyes were really, really blue. "I think that's to be expected when you're on an adventure."
Ray was flat on his back on the bed with Fraser straddling him, with Fraser completely and totally blowing his mind by working himself down onto Ray's hard cock with what seemed like equal amounts determination and enjoyment, when it clicked for him: that connection, that weird, zingy moment that had happened between them last time, at the end. Because here it was again, only now he was pretty sure he knew what it was.
It was something he looked for, hoped for, when he hooked up with somebody, only he almost never got it. It was... rightness, but that wasn't the word he wanted, only as close as he could get. It was like a voice in his head, saying 'yeah, this is good, this is totally working, go nuts, go for it, you're both on the same page here'. He'd had it with Stella; not at first, certainly, but as they learned each other, and it had come so gradually that he hadn't really been able to separate it from everything else that he and Stella were together, and he knew, somehow, that it was a big part of what had kept him hooked for so long, that kind of rightness.
He'd felt it one other time, with a one-night-stand, and it was so fucking great to find out that it wasn't an only-with-Stella thing that he'd gone a little crazy, actually took off to Mexico with her, only it turned out that she had that kind of rightness all the time, with lots and lots of people including poncho dealers, not just him. And since then he'd tried for it, looked for it, but never found it, and now, wham, here it was, here Fraser was, of all places, of all people.
"You're amazing," Ray said out loud, and then bit his lip. So fucking lame.
"I'm... uh, Ray--" Fraser said, and slid down one more inch, the last inch, and then threw his head back and came all over both of them.
"Oh fuck," Ray said, a little breathlessly. "Yeah. Go nuts, Fraser--" that was all he could manage, because he could feel Fraser coming like nothing he'd ever felt before, squeeze and relax, over and over, so clearly, so fast, so good, and he couldn't help pushing up a little, more-more-more riding him like Fraser was riding him, and Fraser didn't seem to need much in the way of downtime, because he swiveled when Ray lifted and then they were off, moving against and with each other, going for it, and he couldn't really be surprised at how well he and Fraser worked together, but he could be really fucking happy about it.
"Can... you think you can do that again?" Ray panted.
"It's... oh. It's a distinct possibility. Kiss me." Fraser answered, and bent down, sweaty and flushed and sleepy-eyed, hot as fuck.
"Oh yeah," Ray said, and did, slow, sloppy, wet kisses that were great until Fraser sucked on his tongue, because that sent shocks rolling through him from his mouth to his cock and back again, which was too much, because he wanted to stay right where he was, with the so-so-so good thing and not yet with the gonna-come-in-five-seconds thing. So he hooked his arm around Fraser's neck and took over, his free hand rubbing Fraser's jaw and working him open, getting in deeper everywhere.
Fraser took it, opened for him, rode him hard and started gasping, then moaning into his mouth, and Ray's brain went streaking off in search of something that would slow him down, make it last, tried to zoom in on hockey or taxes or paperwork or the fact that he once ate moose hock without knowing it until afterwards, but it was no good, there was no getting away from Fraser, because Fraser was so hot he could probably melt all the snow in the fucking Yukon Territories, groaning like that, feeling good, getting off, Fraser, God, Fraser.
"Fraser--" he let go of Fraser's jaw and slid his hand down, and almost lost it when he grabbed Fraser's dick and it was hard again and Fraser made this unbelievable noise and sped up, rocking into his hand and onto his cock, back and forth, like it didn't matter that Ray was about to stroke out from sheer goodness.
"Fraser, I'm gonna come now," he heard himself say from a long way off, sounding like he'd been drugged.
"Not yet, Ray," Fraser told him, gasped out to him between moans, and Ray's toes curled.
"You can't--I can't just--*fuck*, Fraser--"
"I have... faith in you," Fraser said right in his ear, then sat up and put his hand over Ray's, squeezed tight and sped up, using Ray's hand to jerk himself off with, and Ray had to close his eyes because he thought he just might drown Fraser in come if he watched that for one more second.
And now even his hand felt good, slippery and wet and warm with Fraser's grip around him, going faster and holding tighter and God, he loved Fraser's dick, loved it, and he loved Fraser's hands and his lips and his skin and his tight, pretty nipples and his perfect eyebrows and his tight, amazing ass which he could not, could not, could not get enough of, even though it was probably going to be the death of him if he didn't get off in it sometime soon.
He had to do something--anything, he'd do anything--so he did the first thing he thought of and used his free hand to haul Fraser back down, his fingers tangled at the base of Fraser's neck where his hair had grown out to softness, and got his mouth right up to Fraser's ear. "You're gonna do me next, Fraser," he murmured, "soon as you can, you're gonna do me, fuck me, really, really hard--"
Fraser went tight everywhere, all over, jerking like someone had hit him with live current, then made some loud and unbelievably porny noises and came right in his hand--thank--God--finally. Right after that Fraser went boneless and kind of limp, but that just made it easier for Ray to move him, squeeze his hips and get him right where it was good, where it was best, heaving himself up from the bed to drive into him once, twice, and then he made his own prizewinning and godawful noise and came so hard his spine buckled, with Fraser moaning softly in his ear the whole time.
Fraser didn't bother to shift off of him, just collapsed where he was, but Ray was glad for his weight just then, for his solidness, for his reality, even though it wasn't doing much for his ability to breathe. He petted Fraser's sweaty back, the dent of his spine and the swell of his ass, and felt the kind of fuzzy, dizzy, chest-squeezing happiness he hadn't felt in years. Years and years, if he was honest with himself, and right now, he couldn't think of a single reason not to be.
When they finally got out of bed to care for the dogs and find some much-needed food, Ray noticed that Fraser was walking a little funny. He felt really bad at first, but then he started snickering so he figured he couldn't be that messed up about it. Fraser didn't seem to find it as funny as Ray did; so he dragged Ray back to the bed and did some things with his tongue and fingers and finally his cock, fucking him for what felt like an hour without letting him come until the end, because Fraser, Ray was beginning to understand, had a very weird sense of humor and might actually be kind of evil.
Dief and the rest of the dogs didn't seem too impressed by the whole thing, but Ray opened a bunch of cans of stew to mix in with their food, and eventually everyone forgave him.
Suddenly, his days were full, and there was so much to do. For instance there was sucking Fraser off in his sleep, and he had to get up good and early to do that, not to mention the practical difficulties presented by giving a stealth blowjob. It took him several tries, but he finally got it timed just so. Fraser woke up about three sucks away from coming, and when Ray pulled back Fraser grabbed him, flipped him and practically fucked him through the mattress. Success.
There were things to experiment with, like how slowly he could ride Fraser's cock before the guy got desperate enough to be pushy (a long, long time as it turned out, and Ray's knees would never be the same but oh it was so worth it).
Like finding out whether or not Fraser would let Ray tie him to the bed using his longjohns (yes), and whether or not that turned him on (yes). But that particular experiment led to a lecture on the scientific method, which Ray nearly drowsed through until he got what Fraser was aiming at. So they tried it the other way around, which turned Ray's crank so fucking hard he thought he might have to buy a new one when he got back to civilization.
Sometimes Ray would stare at Fraser, awake or asleep, moving or still, tidy and buttoned-down or sweaty and sticky with his hair all over the place and his cheeks bright pink, and then all of a sudden he'd realize he was due to make dinner, or see to the dogs, and he'd shake his head and wonder where the hell the time had gone.
Ray had always been considerate in bed. After all, that was what he had to offer: he wasn't especially handsome or smart or ambitious, but he could be generous, he could be gentle or play-rough or tender, he could make it good. And he would have bet his pension that, although Fraser didn't exactly have to make up for any lack in the handsome or smart department, he had been the same--a guy like that, how could he not be?
But together, when you'd think you'd have two guys working overtime to outdo each other in the consideration department, well, it wasn't like that at all. It was like they canceled each other out, wiped out all the available consideration until all they had left was the sluttiness. It kind of bent his brain a little to think 'Fraser' and 'slut' in the same sentence, but when he was up on his knees straddling Fraser's face, with Fraser's hot, slick tongue doing absolutely disgusting and wonderful things to his asshole while he jerked himself off and watched Fraser do the same thing stretched out below him, when Fraser gripped Ray's thigh with his free hand to pull him harder onto his tongue, then grunted when Ray came and spurted all over both of them right afterwards, Ray had to admit that his first thought was: wow, I think we're a couple of sluts.
It wasn't until he had flopped forwards and was licking Fraser's come off his belly while Fraser sucked his cock in a half-sleepy, half-hopeful way that he got around to his second thought, which was: wow, I think I'm in love.
That bent his brain a little too, but he was kind of getting used to that.
When the storm finally ended, Ray went back to spending a chunk of time outside every day. Fraser didn't join him, and Ray didn't push. He did, however, eventually tell Fraser that not everybody in the world thought physics books were all that plus a bag of chips.
"Perhaps you could start keeping a journal."
"Oh yeah, that'd be the bomb. 'Dear Diary, today I had cream of wheat for breakfast, and after that I had hot gay man-sex with Fraser'."
Fraser blinked. "It was just a suggestion."
"Uh-huh. So was mine. And I do not mean I want more cream of wheat."
"...Hot gay man-sex, Ray?" He could always tell, now, when Fraser was trying not to laugh.
"Hey, I call 'em as I see 'em, Fraser."
"Yes. Your forthrightness is an admirable quality."
"Forthrightness. Right. So c'mon over here and fuck me some more."
"More material for the journal?"
"You gotta keep on top of these things, Fraser. Can't let stuff slide."
"Mmm. I see."
When the next storm came, Ray was ready for it, or as ready as he could be, anyway. He took care of the dogs early, had a bath, made soup and got Fraser to eat some of it, then left the dishes where they were, took Fraser by the arm and pulled him over the bed to give him something else to think about.
Fraser had been quiet all day, pale and withdrawn, and all of a sudden Ray felt crazy all over again, because there was nothing he could do except... what he'd already been doing a hell of a lot of. And obviously, that wasn't enough.
He got Fraser and himself stripped down to longjohns and under the covers, but Fraser was still cold to the touch, muscles tense everywhere he put his hands. Ray kissed him for a long time before he started to relax, and whenever he did the wind would batter against the windows, and just like that Fraser would go rigid again. Ray was patient, making out with him as slow and sweet as he could, warming Fraser's cold lips with his own and holding on.
He was kissing his way gradually down the cool skin of Fraser's neck when there was a roar from outside, not a shriek but a *roar*, and Fraser sat up so fast he smacked Ray's nose a good one with his shoulder and didn't even seem to notice.
"Ray," Fraser said, his voice tight, his eyes fixed on the windows.
"What is it? What's up with--"
"Come on," Fraser said, and then he was up and out of the bed, headed for the door, not even stopping for his coat. Ray followed, not getting any of it until Fraser pulled him outside, into an icy downpour of what was definitely not snow.
"It's raining!" he yelled through chattering teeth, and Fraser put both arms around him and just stood there, soaking wet, his dripping face turned up to the sky.
Despite the wind, Ray could hear a low hiss from everywhere, drifts and dunes of snow running, melting, dissolving. He buried his face in the hollow of Fraser's neck and shivered. "Hey, Fraser, maybe we should go inside before we drown in snowmelt."
"Oh, the danger of drowning is infinitesimal, Ray," Fraser said. "There'll be plenty of snow left for the dogs to run on tomorrow, if this blows over tonight, which I think it will."
Ray pulled back, staring at Fraser's waterlogged, thoughtful expression, his wet, matted eyelashes. "Tomorrow?"
Fraser tilted his head. "Yes, Ray. I think we've been here long enough. Don't you?"
Ray shivered violently, and burrowed back into Fraser's arms. "Oh, I dunno, Fraser. I was just starting to feel at home."
There was a clearing, which meant there were trees around it, which was good--Ray had spent enough time above the tree-line to appreciate them when they were there. Not that he was about to go around hugging them or anything, but still. "This is the place?"
"This is it, Ray," Fraser said, gazing around at the clearing like it was the most interesting thing ever. "Diefenbaker and I came across it on our last patrol, and he seemed to like it, so I made some inquiries." Sure enough, Dief was already running the perimeter, woofing happily at various birds he scared up from the trees, his tail waving jauntily in the air.
"Yeah, you should always consult your wolf before you pick a spot to build your cabin."
Fraser frowned slightly. "It certainly makes it easier, Ray. Setting up a permanent residence in a location he didn't approve of, well, I'm sure he wouldn't hesitate to make his displeasure known."
Dief woofed. Ray grinned. "'Course not." He looked around again. Clearing, trees, a tiny lake just over the hill, plus a stream that flowed out of it. "We can dig a well here?"
"And get a generator? You promised me a generator."
"So I did, Ray. Yes. We'll have a generator." His tone only faintly implied that the entire idea was beyond silly.
Ray nodded. "Okay. Good. I like it."
Fraser's cheeks went a little pink. "I'm... that's wonderful, Ray."
Ray shaded his eyes, looking out into the trees. "How long's it gonna take, anyways? To build it?"
Fraser thumbed his eyebrow. "Well, we'll want to be thorough--there's no call for shoddy workmanship when you're building to last. But we've got the rest of the spring, then summer, and by early fall we should be--barring unforeseen difficulties and setbacks, of course--we should be in business."
"Building to last," Ray echoed. "Yeah. That'd be good." He hooked Fraser around the neck and reeled him in. "So, what you're telling me is that we'll probably finish the damn thing just in time to get snowbound in it?"
Fraser's hands on his back were warm, so warm and steady. "I can't... well, frankly, Ray, I have to admit that it's possible."
Ray leaned in, and kissed the smooth skin under Fraser's ear. "Oh, good. I can't wait."
Author's endnote: I'm an extremely shoddy researcher, which would be why I write fiction rather than, say, anything I can't duck around just by making it up. So while I did do some digging into hypothermia and frostbite, I wasn't exactly exhaustive with the obsessive checking of sources, etc., so if there are glaring errors here, they're all mine. I was quite surprised to find that several sources appeared to agree that people who've frozen to death can be revived safely after spending quite a while being technically dead, and since there was sometimes brain-damage and sometimes not, I decided to go with 'not', because all I needed here was a close enough shave to give poor Fraser a big ol' wiggins.
On frost-nip vs. frostbite: apparently the severity of the damage depends on a) cold, b) exposure, c) wetness/moisture, and d) wind. Which is good, because that means I didn't have to deal with amputations and gangrene, which would have made for a much different story altogether.
I did try to work all this into the story itself, but it's damned hard to get Fraser to dispense with the expository information when he's overwrought. Pretty much any other time, though, he's your guy, although I understand it's somewhat wearying.
End Haven by Aristide and Mairead Triste
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