The Longest Distance
Disclaimer: Not mine. Not a single one of them.
Author's Notes: Thank you to nos4a2no9 for the beta, and secretlybronte for americanisms. A due South crossover with the Callum Keith Rennie movie, Last Night.
Story Notes: Although our heroes do not die in this story, this is an apocalypse fic, so be warned.
Time is the longest distance between two places.
Tennessee Williams.** ** **
Ray drives all night, the strange flat light of the sunless sky making him feel itchy and tense. He glances in the mirror from time to time, but the horizon behind him is as bright as the one in front; an anchorless, unending expanse of yellow-tinged brilliance. It makes him shiver.
He's missed the night almost as much as he's missed Fraser. It's been weeks since the sky has been dark enough to let Ray sleep naturally, obeying his million-odd years of evolutionary programming. These days he sleeps when exhaustion overtakes him, not when the clock or the sky tells him to. And waking is always followed by the numbing remembrance of the countdown.
He lights up another cigarette; it's not like they're going to kill him.
The radio is playing something country that seems to be all he can find around here. He doesn't listen to the words, it's just background noise to take his mind off how quiet everything else is. He's just grateful that whoever cued up the tracks to keep playing had the decency to take the commercials out. It might be the end of the world, and nothing sucks harder than country, but there's no fucking excuse for commercials.
Fraser was recalled to Canada right after the exact time and date were announced. Ray thought that was pretty fucking rich, seeing as they hadn't wanted him for the last five years, but Fraser toughed it out, like always, and trotted back like a good little Mountie.
Ray tries not to feel bitter about that, but it still hurts that Fraser just dropped him and this... thing they sorta had going.
Not that they had a thing thing.
Just a... thing.
It was a casual thing, a no-big-deal thing. It was really just two guys who wanted to have someone to turn to when it got too lonely. It was someone to hang with, someone who didn't need impressing, someone who knew what another guy needed without having to ask.
Ray wasn't about the stupid these days, so he knew he was kidding himself about Fraser's place in his life. Fraser wasn't just a friend with benefits. He wasn't just a willing body at the end of a hard day. If he was going to be completely honest (and, again, it's wasn't like it was going to kill him), Ray'd known at the time how he felt about Fraser, but he'd been too damn chickenshit to admit it.
Because, at the time, making himself vulnerable to another person - even to Fraser - was something that he wasn't going to do without a pretty fucking good reason. And then one had come along, but by the time he'd found the words, the world he'd known had gone completely insane.
At first the military had been able to keep order. Called back from overseas, they'd applied lessons learned in war zones to their own people. But it hadn't taken long for the cracks to show, and as the futility of their assignment had dawned, many had just deserted. Others had gone power-crazy, using intimidation and force to get what they wanted, turning into the very maniacs that they'd been fighting far from home.
It had all pretty much turned to shit after that.
Chicago itself had become one big, scary party. As the infrastructure of the country began to collapse, people took to the streets, stealing what they needed to make it through the last days. Some stuff had become scarce, but on the whole people had found ways to get by. On top of that, it seemed like every smack-head and wino in the state had gotten themselves downtown to party hearty until time was called. Most of the time it was good-natured, but when there were no more consequences, some people'd just totally lost it.
Ray had still gone in to work every day, like being there made a difference. There was no judicial system, no rule of law anymore. For every call that he'd taken and every situation he'd successfully resolved, a thousand others had gone unanswered. Mostly he'd coped by thinking it was better to do something than just stand by and watch it all go to hell. He knew it was what Fraser would have done, if he'd still been around; what Fraser was doing, for Queen and country, up there in Canada. And it turned out that a lot of the time, when people actually had gotten through, all they'd really wanted was for someone to listen.
Ray knew Welsh was going to be there to the bitter end. Jack Huey too, probably. They were good cops, good men. Ray had overheard them on calls sometimes, talking calmly and gently, their faces pinched, explaining that there were no cops to send, even if they could have gotten across town.
Dewey had hooked up with some woman he'd known from way back and they'd decided to go down to South America, to see some of the world before it was, literally, too late.
Frannie had holed up with her family. Whether they'd stopped bickering for the last days or not, Ray didn't know, but he was willing to bet not. He'd popped by to see them once or twice, just to make sure they were okay and that they had what they needed. Frannie'd answered the door and seemed all right, but she'd had a pasted-on smile and wanted to chat about anything but the obvious.
His mom and dad had taken off again, heading southwest with no real destination in mind. They hadn't asked what he'd be doing with the rest of his life and thankfully they hadn't asked him to go with them, although his mom had looked tempted for a few seconds. Ray'd managed to keep a smile on his face, and had breathed a really guilty sigh of relief when they'd finally gone.
The Vecchios had gone so far as to ask him down to Florida for the last week. Ray bet the Style Pig had had to swallow hard around that one. He'd almost gone just to piss him off, but it had seemed too easy.
This wasn't the time for easy.
So Ray'd found himself with a choice: join the party on the street and maybe find someone to hook up with so he didn't have to be alone; go into the 2-7 every day until the end and listen to the lost ones crying for something he couldn't give them; or take a chance and find his own peace.
Right now he's in North Dakota somewhere, in his dad's old pick-up, which he hates, listening to music he can't stand, driving steadily northeast.
He has two days, four hours and forty-two minutes.
Fraser sometimes wonders, late at night when he's trying to sleep, if he could have changed where life has led him. Of course his father, had he been here, would have told him that life is what he makes it and other unhelpful clichs, but Fraser's not completely blind; he knows his choices and their unorthodoxy have led him here.
It isn't that he's unhappy, per se. It's just that he's not... happy. He has his country back, finally, after years of exile. He has his duty. He even has friends, although not here, as he's only been here for five weeks; it's difficult to create meaningful bonds with people when they're preparing for the end of the world. But in Chicago he had friends; people who knew him by name, people who respected him, people who...
He'd had Ray.
In a way. For a while.
Fraser lifts his eyes to where the wolf lays in the open doorway, watching the street, his tongue lolling as he dozes in the shade.
He has Diefenbaker, his most constant friend: a foul-mouthed, deaf, sugar-addicted half-wolf.
He should feel fulfilled.
He does feel fulfilled.
Just not... happy.
Fraser chides himself for being self-absorbed and turns back to his keyboard and the criminal damage report he's working on, the one he knows that no one will ever see, the one he's taking his time over, because he knows his next task is to document three suicides.
He picks up the phone and dials Ray's cell number, but, like every day this week, all he gets is a busy signal.
The clock says it's 3:22 pm and Fraser unwillingly makes the instant calculation in his head.
He'd better get on with his reports.
** ** **
Ray keeps his eyes on the road. It's not easy with the drama unfolding around him. He tries to stick to the highways - they're mostly nice and quiet. He's learned that it's the towns he's you have to avoid if you can. And that you should never get involved.
He got involved earlier. He's reminded of it every time he yawns or screws up his eyes; it makes the bruising and swelling sting like a bitch. There'd been a couple of cars blocking the road just outside Swift Current, their drivers laying into each other right there on the highway. The smaller guy had seemed to be getting the snot beaten out of him, covered in blood and cursing.
Ray'd stopped and, after taking a couple of unlucky punches, dragged them off each other. By the time he'd stopped panting, the little guy already had half of Ray's precious gasoline out of the back of the truck.
Ray had yelled at the sneaky bastard and grabbed him by the back of his jacket. He hadn't seen the knife.
The guy had been hopped up on something; small or not, he was fucking wild. It had taken two warning shots and a bullet to the thigh to get him to stop slashing at Ray, but by that time, Ray already had a couple of slices across his ribs for his trouble. Lucky for him, they were shallow - the guy hadn't been coordinated enough to do much damage. But Ray was damned if he was gonna let that fuckwit get his gas. He'd traded the Goat for those cans. He needed them.
By the time Ray'd been able to check on the other driver, he'd already bled to death. The whacked-out bastard was limping back towards the piled-up cars. Ray let him go, loaded up his cans and cleaned up as best he could, pulling a fresh sweatshirt over the makeshift bandages.
He hasn't really stopped since, once to catch a couple of hours' sleep locked in the truck, out of sight of the highway, and once to fill up the pick-up.
Someone, probably Fraser, once told him that you had to push on through pain and hardship, or something like that. Keep going: that was the thing.
Fraser had a lot of useless fucking advice like that.
Ray dials one-handed. He hasn't been able to get through to Fraser's detachment for a week, but he keeps trying.
His cell tells him there's only thirty-six hours left.
He presses a little harder on the gas pedal.
** ** **
Fraser stands and waves until the Gregg family's SUV finally disappears from view. The smiles and chatter of the children still resound in Fraser's head. They were excited to be going on a camping trip, eager to tell Fraser about the contents of their little backpacks and what they would do once they had set up camp; whose job it was to get firewood, whose job to fetch water. Fraser had listened attentively, nodding at the plans they had made, asking questions, and avoiding the terrible pain in the eyes of Hannah and Mike even as they smiled at their young brood.
A lot of the population of High Creek is gone now, gone to be with relatives, lovers or friends elsewhere. Some have gone to the cities, hoping for news, advice or the perceived safety in numbers.
As the only available officer with a grasp of Athabaskan languages, Fraser was posted here immediately on his return, and communication with Fort Nelson since he got here has been sporadic. With most of the citizens of High Creek gone, he knows he should return to the city himself and offer his services to the detachment there, but with only a day and a half to go, and his RCMP SUV stolen in his first week, he also knows he'll be unlikely to make it in time.
He's been telling himself that for several days now.
On his way back, Fraser stops to visit the few who have elected to remain, mostly the elderly or the stubborn, or both. He checks that Mrs. Adams has enough of the canned food he brought her, and that Mr. McLeod is keeping his front door locked to strangers. The town is remote enough that looting has been minimal, but it's better to be cautious.
All his visits are short. None of the people he's sworn to protect ask him to stay or offer him a drink. Fraser thinks it's probably wise that their caution extends to him as well.
He's not hungry when he finally walks through the door of the local library. He had been told that the house of the previous law-enforcement officer would be available for him, but when he'd gone there it had still been full of the other man's belongings, making Fraser feel uncomfortable and intrusive. Instead he'd set up his bedroll in the small room in the Civic Centre set aside for the community library; in some ways the presence of the books and the remembered scent of dry pages is reassuring.
In some ways.
Even though it's only a little after ten, Fraser falls onto his bed after checking for messages and removing his uniform. Dief turns around three times and curls up on his blanket in the children's corner. He falls asleep in seconds.
Surrounded by books, Fraser lays awake and imagines what he would say if he could make it back to Chicago and Ray in the twenty-six hours left.
** ** **
Ray's never been to this part of Canada before: further north, and further east, but not here. The Rockies are to his left, enduring and massive, giving him something to hang onto after the drive across the plains. They keep pace with him as he moves north, letting him know he's on the right road.
His route has been a mishmash of quickest and least populated. He could have saved some time by going through Saskatchewan, but the road blocks and looting in Regina had made him double back a ways and carry on west. It seemed that underneath all that polite, Canadians could be just as bad as their neighbours to the south.
He's switched off the radio. The stations around here all seem to be counting down the top 500 most depressing songs and Ray doesn't need to measure his progress by how many times he hears Alanis Morissette.
The first time he sees Fort Nelson on a road sign, he can't help but smile. Okay, so the distance between him and there still has too many numbers, and the kilometres/miles thing is killing him, but Ray knows that High Creek is only a few hours hard driving from Fort Nelson.
He's been trying to think of what to say to Fraser ever since Medicine Hat. They used to talk all the time before they started fooling around, and even after, they still talked at work and at dinner, but never, ever about touchy-feely stuff. Ray hadn't known how to start a conversation in bed with Fraser, really; either they were sleeping or fucking, which only needed the most basic of vocabulary: more, now, harder.
Ray had regrets in his life, but this was the one that had kept him awake night after too-bright night. Fraser was his best friend in the world; they knew things about each other that no one else even imagined. But the silences or the awkward attempts at conversation when they'd wake, tangled together, covered in dried come and stinking of sex and each other, made Ray cringe even now.
Fraser had never been the smoothest guy when it came to anything resembling intimacy, which Ray knew. So he just hadn't trusted himself not to say something stupid and unwelcome in the heat of the moment, like, 'Stay with me," 'Never leave me," or, 'I love you," scaring away the only good thing that had happened to him in years.
It had been easier to take what was offered, keep his mouth shut, and count himself lucky.
But that's all changed. Now there's a pretty fucking finite deadline. Either he says the things or they go unsaid forever.
And maybe these are things that Fraser should hear.
Fraser's had a pretty poor hand dealt him when it comes to love: a mother who died too soon, a father who Fraser knew better after he died, and one lover (that Ray knows of) who almost succeeded in destroying everything Fraser was, everything he'd ever worked for, and almost got him killed in the process.
Ray thought the Stella fallout and the fight with his parents was bad, but those were walks in the park compared to Fraser's life. He figured that was why Fraser was comfortable with sex but never voiced a feeling or a desire if he could help it. And that was why biting, licking and sucking were okay, but kissing wasn't. Why falling asleep wrapped around each other was fine, but sharing breakfast was a no-no. Sex was only natural, but love was too high a price to pay for it.
So although Fraser's maybe been put off the idea of love forever, it still can't hurt to know that someone cares about him.
Really cares about him.
Thought he was worth driving clean across the damn country for.
That can't be a bad thing, right?
So now Ray just has to find a way to say, "I love you" that won't make Fraser run, screaming, for the Rockies.
But that's okay - he has the rest of his life to think of one.
About nineteen hours.
** ** **
Fraser sleeps fitfully, dreams of inadequacy keeping him from restfulness. He dreams that he's forgotten something, something critical, but no matter how he tries, he can't recall it. He wakes, again and again, gripped in a kind of panic that no amount of rationality can completely dispel.
In the limbo between sleeping and waking he is visited by memories, sharp, vivid recollections of things he hasn't thought of in years.
A picnic he'd shared with his mother that last summer and the dress she'd worn - a pretty, flowered cotton print that probably only came out once a year.
The first night Diefenbaker had stayed with him, young, gangly and skinny, and how good it felt to know that someone else was sharing his room.
The first time he'd ever worn his dress uniform and how certain he'd been that he would never get used to the stiffness of it.
The crisp autumn day of his grandmother's funeral, and the way the leaves had fallen onto the coffin, the colours so much more fitting than those of the flowers.
The way Ray had smiled that first day, surprised and shy, when he'd invited him to dinner.
By the time the clock has reached an hour suitable for rising, Fraser's throat aches with unshed tears, and his body feels slow and heavy as he moves to the bathroom to wash and put on his uniform one last time.
** ** **
Ray's afraid to sleep, relying on soda and candy to keep him awake. He lost precious time when the highway was blocked by overturned, burned-out gas trucks, their blackened shells like obscene skeletons spread to the sky. He'd tried to go around, wasting more time, before retracing his route and following an old logging road. Suddenly the hated pick-up had earned his grudging respect: the Goat would never have gotten him this far.
He still has time. He could stop and sleep, but he's never been that great with the waking up thing, and the thought of sleeping through time that he could be with Fraser, or even through the main event itself, is too horrible to risk.
Fatigue and uncontrolled blood-sugar is making him punchy. The traffic has thinned from light to practically nothing, so that's one upside. Ray doesn't know if it's the end of the world thing, or if it's normal this far from civilisation.
His map tells him he can't avoid Fort Nelson, that there is only one road, but the town's quiet when he gets there. He puts his foot down all the same, not looking left or right, until he's through the built-up area and back out into the Canadian landscape.
The Rockies are straight ahead when he takes the west fork on 97; they'd been moving slowly away ever since Prophet River, but now Ray is gaining on them again.
He's so blitzed, driving automatically, that his heart thuds unevenly when the "Welcome to High Creek" sign passes him on his right.
** ** **
The sound of an engine is not, in itself, unusual. But the fact that it is practically idling, moving at a crawl, is enough to make Fraser wary. It could be someone in need of help, or it could be trouble. He unclips his holster, keeping his hand on the reassuring heft of his pistol as he moves to the door of the detachment. He hears the engine cut out right outside the building and he pauses. Dief lifts his head and scrambles to his feet, wagging his tail and vocalizing happily, but his reaction makes no sense.
Settling his hat on his head, Fraser tells Dief to stay, then steps out into the unholy yellow light and time stops dead.
** ** **
Ray wishes he hadn't eaten all that crap - wishes he had stopped earlier to get some sleep - wishes he could catch his breath.
The RCMP building is not pretty, no log cabin with the Maple Leaf flying. It's purpose-built, drab and depressing. It seems to share floor space with the local council office and the library, judging from the signs. But there's Fraser, standing outside in his brown uniform and stupid hat, looking about as stunned as Ray feels. His hand is on his pistol and he's frozen. It's almost like he's totally shut down.
Ray has no idea if that's good or bad.
No idea why he's here.
Why is he here?
Dief trots around, jumping up and licking his hands, and Ray uses the distraction of greeting the wolf to force down the panic squirming in his guts.
He pulls himself together with some effort, manages a smile, and walks around the front of the truck, coming to stand a couple of yards from his former partner.
"You... I can't... Ray?"
"Ray, what are you doing here?"
And there's something about the way Fraser is looking at him - like he's not totally certain if Ray's real or not - so Ray ignores the uncomfortable words and watches Fraser instead. Because Fraser's words might be cold, but his body language isn't. He can't seem to drag his eyes from Ray's face. His hand - the one that was on his gun - is reaching for Ray, and Ray's pretty certain that Fraser doesn't even know he's doing it. Carefully Ray moves forward so he's close enough for Fraser to touch.
Ray has thought up a lot of answers to Fraser's question over the last 800 miles, but now that he's here, face to face with the guy he drove across the continent for, he cannot think of a single fucking one of them.
Fraser's hand makes contact with his sleeve, tentatively at first, then gripping his forearm hard through the fabric as if steadying himself, as if he's adrift and Ray is the only solid point in a sea of uncertainty.
Ray remembers what he wanted to say.
I should have fought. I should have asked you to stay. I should have told you how I felt from the beginning. I can't imagine anywhere else I'd rather be today. I can't imagine not being with you when time ends. If we had forever, I still wouldn't have the words to tell you all the things I need to. I should have come sooner. I should never have let you go. I've wasted so much time.
Fraser is watching him with an intensity that makes Ray's mouth dry. He looks like he has things to say too - maybe the same kinds of things that Ray is trying to get out - maybe important things - maybe things that no one else will ever know, but that doesn't matter as long as they do.
Ray opens his mouth to speak, but he doesn't know where to start. If he began now and talked for the nine hours left, he'd never find the perfect way to say this. So he leans forward, slowly, deliberately, and puts his mouth on Fraser's.
** ** **
The kiss is so unexpected, so tender, that Fraser is quite lost.
He doesn't remember a kiss like this, not ever. He has no frame of reference to know whether the sudden liquid feeling of his muscles or the deep sense of peace that fills him are normal responses. The kisses he has known have been friendly and without intent, or dark, hungry and possessive; this kiss is none of those things.
Ray's arm comes around him, holding him gently, without force, and Fraser realises that Ray is uncertain of his welcome. As intimate as they'd been with each other, this had been the unspoken taboo. This was what had kept their interactions purely practical, the lack of this emotional connection arcing from his lips to Ray's. Their hands had been purposeful and efficient, their releases unsavored and uncelebrated.
And all that time he could have had this instead. He'd let fear of rejection, fear of failure, the memory of something he'd thought was love keep him from experiencing this.
So much time wasted.
Fraser swallows the unconscious sound of anguish that rises in his throat but Ray hesitates and begins to draw back, apparently mistaking Fraser's pain for disapproval.
Fraser pushes off his hat with his free hand, then grabs Ray's jacket and pulls him in harder, opening his mouth under Ray's, chasing his lips. In a characteristic leap, Ray is with him again, his hand on his jaw, tipping his head and fitting their mouths together in a way so perfectly natural and right that Fraser wonders how he has lived without it.
** ** **
Their thing is still there. Not even the end of time can mess with it. Ray is so relieved he feels kind of weak for a minute. It's that almost instantaneous accord that made them the crime-fighting duo to beat. Fraser changes direction - Ray reacts. Ray has to do something unexpected - Fraser compensates. It was just always there, from day one. They clicked. On a case. In the bullpen. Walking down the street. In bed. If Ray stopped to think about it, it weirded him out, so he'd always just accepted that was how it went when you met your perfect partner.
Ray wishes he'd known that when he was younger.
Fraser's kisses are as good as Ray guessed they would be; then again, Ray's spent a lot of time thinking about how talented Fraser's mouth is in other areas and how that would translate when it was moving against his own. Fraser's hands are hot, holding, clinging to him, urgent and asking. And Ray can understand that, Ray knows that. But that's not why he came. He has to let Fraser know that this is something else too, something even more important than having someone to hold. He has to explain that it's Fraser he has to be holding.
With regret, he tastes Fraser once more before pulling back, holding him away when his mouth tries to follow. The look of desperation and betrayal that rips across Fraser's normally impassive face breaks Ray's heart and has his tongue leaping all over itself to say it, to tell him, to give him a reason.
"I'm not here because I have nowhere else to go, Fraser. This is not about that," he says too fast.
Fraser's gaze tracks from Ray's lips to his eyes and back. He looks dazed, but he nods.
"I'm here because this is where I want to be. Where I have to be. Get it?"
"Understood, Ray," Fraser says with a small flicker of a smile, moving closer again.
"No... no, you don't. Because you're a freak and I'm... I'm stupid. Okay? Look..." Ray points two fingers at the Mountie and dredges his memory for some of those words, those important, truthful words that popped into his head when Fraser touched him. Ray steps back again, creating a space between them where he can put these thoughts out in the daylight where Fraser can see them.
"You always choose duty. Always. It's never about you and what you want. Jeezus, Fraser, you came all the way up here to look after a couple of thousand people you've never even met. I think what you need, buddy, is another choice. I'm here so you can choose, but there's stuff you need to know first, so you can... you know... have all the facts when you... choose."
Ray has to take a breath, knowing that he sounds like the sugar-soaked, spacey, exhausted whack job that he is. He sighs and drops his face into his hands, gathering his strength. Then, taking a calming breath, he tries again.
"I didn't tell you things. Important things. When we were... Okay... things. Like, for example, when we were... it was good, but I wasn't just there for the jollies, yeah? It was a package deal thing for me. I... you... You're... Okay, look, I... I really like you, Ben."
Fraser blinks and his eyes go wide at his name, which makes something cold twist in Ray's belly.
"Yeah, and that's one of the things I should have said. Ben. 'S not so hard, is it? 'S not like I couldn't have learned to call you by your fucking name. And there's other stuff, like asking you to stay the night or moving you into my place and getting you a key and making you breakfast and... Fuck!"
He takes another deep breath. "I'm not making any sense, am I?" he asks, closing his eyes and tipping his head up to the wide, yellow sky.
But when he looks back to Fraser... Ben... he's kind of shocked to see him looking thoughtful, not confused or scared.
"I understand," Fraser says quietly.
"Yes, Ray. You're only a poet on the inside."
Ray pauses, his train of thought well and truly derailed. He remembers that? That stupid posturing he did at the beginning when he was trying to impress the Mountie without appearing like he was trying to... you know... impress the Mountie?
The smile is back on F... Ben's face, spreading as he watches Ray. He's edging closer again, pulling Ray toward him. Ray realises, with a warmth that spreads through him like the sunrise he'll never see again, that Ben never let go of his sleeve.
And this is kind of massive, and the most important speech Ray's made since 1981. And Ray can't quite believe that it's Ben who's impatient for it to be over so they can get to the good part.
But sure enough, Ben moves fast and takes his mouth in a long, gentle kiss. And Ray wants to just let go and live there forever, but it's important, damn it, that Ben knows. He has to be certain.
When Ben's mouth trails down to his jaw, working toward his ear, Ray uses the opportunity to speak.
"You're kind of easy to fall for, Ben. And I have. If it hadn't been for the sun thing, I would have gotten there, I swear. I would have told you," he whispers over Ben's shoulder.
** ** **
Fraser knows Ray is speaking. He's even listening, in an admittedly unfocussed way. The grate of Ray's voice sounds heartfelt: he means every single one of these words; but the vibration of Ray's throat is delicious against his lips, and the flutter of Ray's pulse is distracting in the most delightful way. He chases the taste of it all the way to the collar of Ray's sweatshirt.
Then he catches Ray's mouth again, tasting sweetness and fatigue. Slowly he steps backwards, pulling Ray with him, but Ray resists. He's still panting, still trying to speak. He doesn't realise that Fraser already knows, that he knew the second he saw Ray's shy, tired smile as he stepped out of the truck.
Someone once told Fraser that a friend is someone who won't stop until he finds you and brings you home.
What Ray doesn't know is that he's just brought home with him.
Fraser puts his hands on either side of Ray's face, forcing him to look him in the eye. He can see the swelling and bruising around the left lower orbit and zygomatic arch; it looks recent and he knows there's a story there to be told.
Ray falls quiet finally, a silent desperation on his face and in his hitching breath.
"I'm such a fool," Fraser tells him, softly, deliberately, as if he were speaking to Dief. "I could have died never knowing this kind of happiness. If you hadn't come, I would have spent my last hours in this godforsaken place, never having had the courage to do what you've just done, one last failure to add to my list."
Ray tries to protest, but Fraser stops his lips with a thumb, brushing across the tacky warmth.
"You... you've saved me, Ray."
Now they understand each other.
Ray blinks slowly and his smile grows, sliding across his face, deepening lines around his mouth and eyes that describe every care he's ever had. Ben loves every single one of those lines.
He reverses their positions. Keeping his grip on Ray's jacket, he begins to walk them into the detachment. Grinning, Ray leans in and kisses him, wet and dirty, setting up a new slew of sensations in Fraser and momentarily robbing him of locomotive power.
Ray's mouth is something he has often dreamt of, letting himself have in fantasy what he denied himself in reality. If he had known how very eloquent Ray's kisses could be, he would never have been able to resist the temptation to sample them.
When Ray pulls back with a smug smile, Fraser takes a second to compose himself. "You're not moving," he says in something close to a growl.
"That's because you're not pushing hard enough," Ray replies with mock seriousness.
Ben pushes Ray all the way into the building and in through the door of the library, which he kicks closed behind him.
Ray winces when he bumps him into the bookshelf beside his bedroll, and shifts his shoulders to relieve pressure on his side. Narrowing his eyes, Fraser slides the jacket off Ray's shoulders and pulls up the hem of his sweatshirt, revealing further bruising and some improvised bandages, spotted with blood.
Fraser lifts his gaze to Ray's face, where he's already waiting with an excuse.
"It looks worse than it is." Ray behaves like he's expecting a fight, but Fraser just helps him pull the shirt over his head and goes to his pack for some salve, placing it beside his bed.
Ray endures Fraser's attention to his wounds with good grace, hissing only when the bandage is removed. He lets Fraser lead him into the staff bathroom, strip them both and wash him down beneath the warm shower, carefully rubbing away the bloodstains and the dirt. Ben's hands linger, soaping more thoroughly than is necessary, leaving no patch of Ray untouched, unstroked, unpetted.
He washes Ray's hands and his unusual, expressive fingers, the elegant shoulders that narrow to his waist, his sharp, angular hips. He washes Ray's penis, which leaps in Ben's hand and makes them both smile, then his muscular buttocks and his lightly furred legs. He takes his time.
Ray is oddly submissive, his eyes narrow and sleepy, watching him with a curious half-smile on his face. Of course, the shower stall isn't designed for two grown men and Fraser can't move as freely as he'd like, but Ray's tired face, at odds with his perky, erect penis, makes Fraser's hands tremble as he skims them over Ray's wet skin.
Back in the library, Fraser is gentle as he applies the ointment, rubbing his fingers over the spareness of Ray's chest. He knows Ray is amused by the futile gesture: there is little point in administering to a wound that will not exist tomorrow. He does it just the same.
When he looks up, Ray's eyes are gentle and dark, still sleepy, but with a knowing twinkle nonetheless. Fraser moves to the window and pulls down the blind, filtering the unending brilliant sunlight into something more intimate.
Ray's arms are ready for him when he steps back, and Ben moves eagerly into them with an overwhelming feeling of coming home.
** ** **
Ben's shower seems to have tapped an energy reserve in Ray, and although he's still funky and uncoordinated, he's also hornier than he can ever remember being. It's been a bad six weeks since they were together, and Ray can't hide his impatience as Ben struggles to lose their towels. Not even the stinky salve can distract him from the clean, masculine scent of Ben's skin. He kisses every newly dried piece of Mountie that he can reach.
Ben's ointment seems to be doing its magic, or it might be the almost hypnotic state of tired that Ray has reached. Either way, he's feeling no pain at all, just a welcome ache in his groin as they finally come together, naked.
The thrill of feeling Ben against him again almost brings tears to his eyes. His smooth skin, the coarse hairs of his thighs, the solid, warmth of muscled shoulders, the broadness of him - Ray doesn't think he could ever have enough of it. Ben's hands are gentle, but that's not what Ray wants. He needs to feel Ben's strength, needs to know that he is wanted just as much as he wants.
He forces him back a step, stumbling a little. Ben lifts an eyebrow in question.
"C'mon, Ben. I'm not gonna break," Ray says, slurring slightly.
Ben watches him calmly, letting his eyes slide all the way down Ray's body, as if seeking the truth of Ray's words. There is hunger in that gaze, but not the same hunger that used to make his skin prickle when he saw it in Chicago.
"As you say," Ben agrees when he has looked enough, then neatly turns Ray and pushes him down onto the bedroll.
Ray doesn't get time to draw a surprised breath before Ben is on him, hot and heavy and demanding.
Ray is so hard for him he worries that one touch will finish him. But Ben's palm is confident and knowing, and he grabs Ray's balls and squeezes them, not hard enough to hurt, but enough to back Ray away from the edge.
Ben's mouth is everywhere but where Ray needs it: the underside of his arm, the bottom of his ribs, the inside of his thigh. In his exhaustion, Ray rolls with whatever Ben wants, satisfied to be satisfying him. He knows Ben will take care of him, he just needs to be patient and let Ben take him there.
Not that Ray's ever been good with waiting.
And Ben seems to be focused, making Ray's blood thrum and his breathing falter. He uses his mouth and hands to great effect, and is soon narrowing Ray's existence down to the few inches of skin that he's using his tongue to open up.
Ben has never done that before, and Ray wonders what other stuff he's been thinking about but not acting on. Ray wonders if he should protest, or reciprocate or say something but it feels so good, unexpectedly good, he doesn't think he's capable of speech anyway.
Ray feels Ben draw back, the loss of his warmth almost painful, and hears him rifle through his pack. He's too tired to open his eyes, but his guess is proved right when he hears the plastic pop of a bottle and the slick sounds of lube and skin.
With help, Ray rolls onto his side, drawing up his leg when Ben slides up behind him. Ray can feel the gentleness of Ben's hands where he holds him open as he lines himself up, and he wonders whether it's impatience or something else that is making Ben tremble.
** ** **
Sex with Ray has always been an intense experience. Fraser remembers - very well - their first time together, how physical Ray had been and how pleasantly surprised he'd been by his ability to adapt. They hadn't really discussed their sexual histories, except in the vaguest and most practical of terms, but Fraser had got the impression that Ray wasn't completely comfortable with the idea of a male lover. This theory had been reinforced by Ray's easy acceptance of their unspoken arrangement.
And yet Ray had been an enthusiastic and natural partner; what he'd lacked in experience he'd made up for with a desire to please and an uncanny knack of discovering exactly what Fraser had needed - their duet in operation even in that most unlikely of settings.
Sometimes, when he'd allowed himself the indulgence, Ben had imagined he'd seen something in Ray's eyes when they woke: a softness, a sparkle of joy that couldn't be attributed to his physical satiation. But he wouldn't let himself look for long. He'd already learned that this was one of the things that you didn't do: you didn't stare at them, you didn't look for evidence of anything but wakefulness. You didn't make that kind of a connection with a... friend.
The intensity of making love to Ray on this endless afternoon is at odds with the mundane surroundings. The books that had given him some measure of comfort only yesterday seem oppressive and disapproving today. The muted sunlight is still too yellow, too brassy for him to fool himself this is anything but a very different kind of day. So Fraser closes his eyes, the better to shut out all but this reality, to experience the feel of the man at his side.
He grasps Ray's thigh, lifting it and easing himself into the warm acceptance of his lover's body. Ray is tight: their six weeks of separation have made his body forget the way they fit together, and Fraser feels ridiculously saddened by that. He listens to Ray's breathing, alert to any sign that he is distressed. He prays that it won't come; he fears that now he has begun, now his body is joined with Ray's, he will not be able to deny himself.
But Ray, as always, is perfect, not only allowing him entrance, but pushing gently back against him, linking them to the fullest extent. He leans his head back against Fraser's, scratching their still damp hair together.
"I love you," he murmurs.
Ben tilts his head and settles his mouth against the back of Ray's neck, where the skin is soft and his hair, longer than he usually wears it, is softer still. He can't reply. To affix the word "too" to the end of such a declaration would be to cheapen it. He must wait and make the words his own.
Biting down on Ray's neck, Fraser begins to circle his hips, slowly and deeply, the drag of his skin inside Ray's a delicious, hypnotic friction.
Ray moves against him, with him, meeting his rhythm in a perfect counterpoint, not trying to rush him, just signaling his pleasure.
Fraser works his arm beneath Ray's waist, clutching at his belly, and Ray's hand finds his, twining their fingers together and humming when he squeezes.
To have Ray so quiet in his arms is a new pleasure. Usually Ray was so eager to reciprocate or vary their couplings that Fraser had been forced to keep up with him. Not that that had been a hardship; he'd enjoyed the physicality and contained aggression of their trysts.
But this unhurried pace is exactly what Fraser needs. He meant what he said; Ray has saved him. In characteristically daring fashion, with only a short time to spare, Ray has swung in and made things right. But what frightens Ben is that he hadn't realized, until today, that he needed saving.
As he mouths Ray's skin, rocking into him sweetly, so sweetly, he has time to understand what this revelation means.
It's almost too much for Ben to take in: to be free to love, able to express this in any way he sees fit, without censure or fear of rejection. It's been so long since he felt safe - with anyone. For so long he has kept his emotions sublimated by duty and seemliness. The rush of letting that go is heady.
To feel the synergy that comes when sex is accompanied by love is also new. Knowing it now, he would never mistake it again, should he be lucky enough to experience it twice. It's a higher level of meaning: the intimacy is the same on a physical level, but the emotional accord that surrounds their lovemaking is a precious, beautiful gift.
Ben strokes Ray's belly with his thumb, then wriggles his hand lower, feeling for, finding, holding Ray's hot shaft. He squeezes gently in time with the movement of his hips. With another kiss, he lifts his mouth from Ray's neck and whispers, "I love you."
And Ray gasps and comes.
** ** **
Ben knows when he gets too sensitive to be touched, just like Ben knows when to push him. As he eases Ray through, he whispers to him, shushing him and petting him, but never stopping the rock of his hips or the press of his cock inside Ray, possessing him, dragging out the last tremors of his orgasm and filling him with a glowing, heavy warmth that has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with belonging. It's still good, the feelings inside, the sensations outside, nothing is too much, nothing makes him want to pull away, so Ray just drifts.
Ben, controlled as ever, never loses his rhythm, and keeps it all together, with only a sigh to indicate that he's there before Ray feels him swell and pulse into him, long and hard and shuddering.
Ray lies in Ben's sweaty embrace, caught between waking and sleeping, and it's strange because he craves neither now. He's content to stay here in the strange light, on Ben's bedroll in this miniature library, and just exist. He'd focused so hard on getting here he feels almost adrift now. After the stressful, time-critical journey across Canada, it's freaky to suddenly have nowhere else to be. To be where he should be.
Ben slips from him with a small, satisfied hum and kisses his shoulders thoroughly. He too seems happy to linger. Ray's good with that. Ben feels good, smells good and his easy, soft breathing sounds good at his back.
Ray only realizes that he has drifted off when Ben begins to speak softly against his neck, shifting to hold Ray closer.
"Love never turned out to be what I expected," Ben tells him, holding Ray tighter when he tries to roll over to face him. He waits until Ray settles again before he continues. "Whenever I though I understood it, something would happen to make me realize that wasn't it at all. I'm not trying to excuse my behavior, I just want you to understand. There was a man... he was... he..."
Ray stiffens, suddenly awake. "Jesus, did he...?"
"No, no. Nothing like that," Ben murmurs. "I was very much attracted to him and he was interested in me. He seemed... Anyway, I mistook his attention and compliments for love. He was kind enough to explain to me, when he... moved on, that sometimes actions aren't entirely what they appear to be in matters of intimacy, that these things can be... solely physical."
"What was his name?" Ray asks shakily.
Ben seems surprised by the question, but answers after a short hesitation. "Steven... Steve... Husnjak."
"That's one more the sun is gonna save me the effort of tracking down and killing," Ray mutters savagely. He wants to turn, he wants to kiss the words off Ben's mouth, he wants to take away the hurt that he's been carrying these long years.
"Ray," Ben chides softly. "It wasn't entirely his fault. I was inexperienced, pathetically grateful for his attention...."
Ray's heart does a weird, painful stutter, and he struggles against Ben's grasp until Ben releases him and lets Ray turn to wrap his arms around him and kiss him repeatedly.
He smoothes Ben's hair back, where it has tangled into sweaty curls.
Looking directly into Ben's eyes, Ray says, "Sean Cullen. 10th Grade. You only fuck around with boys until you find the right girl. It wasn't your fault, Ben."
Ray kisses Ben's mouth, closes his eyes and relishes how simple it is.
** ** **
Fraser watches him for a few moments; watches how relaxed he is when he sleeps, how natural. He can't imagine himself ever looking as unaffected as Ray does now.
Something alerts Ray to his presence and he stirs, reaching for him, and Ben catches his hand. Ray opens his eyes immediately, his concern in startling contrast to the innocence of a few seconds ago.
"I should have let you sleep longer," Fraser says apologetically.
"You shouldn't have let me sleep at all," Ray insists, sitting up and wiping his face with both hands. "How long was I out?"
"Not long, and you're exhausted."
"Time to sleep soon enough." Ray smiles gently, looking over at Fraser. And there's no regret in his expression, only acceptance.
"I made us some food. I'm afraid it's nothing special; I wasn't expecting company," Fraser admits, offering Ray a plate of stew.
But Ray smiles again and takes the dish, eating it with apparent enjoyment, cross-legged on the floor, naked and unashamed. Ben's heart was so full he thought there was no room for more. But now the simple meal shared in companionable silence, is so close to a domesticity he has never had that his heart swells a little more at this last chance to experience it with Ray.
They finish their food, trading looks and the odd smile; then, without a word, they begin to pack up. Ray takes another shower and dresses in fresh clothes. Ben pulls on jeans and an old, favorite sweatshirt, soft from wear and washing. He steps into his hiking boots and tucks the laces in. Life always was too short to tie them.
As the last of his pack is stowed, Ben catches Ray holding the copy of Milton that he'd left out beside his bedroll for that night. Gently he takes it from Ray's fingers and replaces it on the correct shelf, then kisses away the tears that Ray is fighting.
"Come on," he says softly, taking Ray's hand and leading him outside.
** ** **
Dief is sleeping by the truck, and he rouses himself when they step outside. He stretches and pads across to meet them.
"Where are we going?" Ben asks, throwing his pack into the back of the truck.
"I don't care."
Ben smiles, like Ray's said something profound. And maybe he has, he's just too relieved and tired and ecstatic to know it.
Ben lets down the tailgate for Dief and waits. The wolf sits down and looks from Ben to the mountains behind him and back again.
"Ah. I see. Yes, of course," Ben replies quietly, and Ray gets that familiar feeling of missing something.
Dief sticks a cold snout in Ray's hand, then trots over to Ben, who crouches down. Dief puts a large paw on his knee and licks his face. Ben grabs him and holds him close, then pulls his head round to where Dief can see his lips.
"Thank you. I'll see you soon."
Dief barks, pulls his head out of Ben's grasp and prances back, his tail wagging, then he turns and takes off, quickly reaching the tree-line, before pausing. He turns back and barks one more time before disappearing into the forest.
Ben raises a hand, too late for the wolf to see it.
"Ben? What? Is he... are we gonna... ?"
Ben stands slowly, his face surprisingly calm. He closes the tailgate and shakes his head slightly. His smile is sad, but he shrugs and moves around to his side of the truck.
Ray notices Fraser's hat where it fell in the road and goes to pick it up.
"Don't," Ben says quickly and too loud in the quiet of the deserted town. He smiles again, stronger this time. "I don't need it," he says more softly.
Ray nods and, as an afterthought, unclips the watch from his wrist, the badge from his belt and takes out his cell. He puts them all in a pile with the hat at the side of the road. When he looks up Ben is watching him. Without looking away, Ben undoes the strap of his father's watch and throws it onto the little heap of belongings.
Ray climbs into the truck, and waits for Ben to get in and buckle up. He's a man without a plan now that his main objective - his only objective - has been achieved.
"Where to, Ben?" he asks, looking across at his partner.
"I don't care, Ray."
Ray grins and turns the key in the ignition.
They have Fraser's pack, food, water and maybe three quarters of a tank of gas. And an unspecified length of time.
Could be forever.
Could be ten minutes.
It doesn't matter. Either way it's going to be enough.
End The Longest Distance by Berty
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