by Rhi Marzano
Author's website: http://theburrow.net/ds/
Disclaimer: Characters don't belong to me. Not like you thought they did.
Author's Notes: Thanks to my sister, who prodded me along every step of the way.
Story Notes: Post CoTW.
Fridge, fridge, fridge. Can't have brownies without milk, it's a crime. The baked goods police would arrest me here and now- "Mr. Kowalski, you're under arrest for consumption of fudge in the absence of lactose. You have the right to remain silent," blah blah blah, then I'd get be sentenced to two to three weeks of steady asparagus diet.
I do have milk, which is a fucking miracle. Bite of the brownie, chug of the milk- I'm choking, choking, choking except maybe it's not the brownie, maybe it's the milk because it's smelling pretty rancid and those might be chunks. I spit it down the sink. Okay, that's why we're supposed to use glasses and not drink from the carton.
Fraser- well, he probably sniffs it first. Like smart people do.
I am not smart, which is why I'm even thinking about him right now. I rinse out the sour milk and toss the carton at the trash can. Off the rim, on the floor. I don't feel like going to pick it up, though. Off to bed I am, because, remember, I'm tired- fucking tired.
"Shit," I say, because I catch the turtle making faces at me, as much as a turtle can make a face. Mostly it still looks like a turtle, except I can kind of tell it's thinking, Hey, you freak, could you possibly remember to feed me before you collapse?
So I do feed the turtle, and he stops doing the face thing, and then I clomp down to the room. Pull off the boots, and the jeans, too tired to bother with anything else. I flop on the bed, close the eyes, wait for the night to come by and steal the week away.
Except it doesn't. From the corner of my eye- my nearly closed eye, thank you very much- I see a red blink blink blink, steadily flashing and driving me crazy. I close my eyes tighter, but I can still see it blinking in my mind. Blink blink blink blink blink until finally it's, "alright, alright, alright already!" I storm down the hallway, glaring at the answering machine and the turtle alternately. The machine for the blinking thing, and the turtle because I'm still pissed at it for that look it gave me earlier. I punch the blinking button and listen to the tape whirr.
"Hi, Ray, it's Tina, guess you're nabbing Chinese tonight or something. Listen, do you want to do something this weekend? Call me."
Tina is this girl I see off and on. It's not serious, not at all. I think I just go out with her so that my social contact is not exclusive to the turtle. But I don't exactly feel like a ray of sunshine, I'm tired- and in no mood to play her games. Maybe tomorrow I might be more- anema- amena- willing to play the bullshit dating cards, but not tonight. I delete the message without a second thought.
"Ah, Ray, this is Corporal Benton Fraser-" like he can't just say, "It's Fraser" or even if he felt weird referring to himself with his last name, "It's Ben." Like I wouldn't even know it's him in the first place.
"-I suppose you're out getting dinner. Call me if you have the time. It's not important." Pause. "I suppose I was just lonely." Embarrassed cough. "Quite sorry to have missed you."
And like that, it ends. I haven't seen him much since the Muldoon thing- he's up in Canada, I'm down in Chicago, and I miss him like hell and try not to think about why.
I save the message, like I always do. It's pathetic really, I'm sure I've got a whole tiny answering machine tape of his dumb, identical messages. But on those days when I'm pissed at my worthless partner, or Stella and Vecchio, or the world in general, his voice reminds me of when life didn't suck.
"I should call him," I say to the turtle, who doesn't respond because, let's face it, he's not exactly a- whatsit- "stimulating conversationalist."
But I don't.
There is absolutely nothing on t.v. "What happened to Saturday morning cartoons?" I say out loud, downing more of my coffee. The turtle, as usual, doesn't say anything. I change the channels rapidly, let it rest on CNN for a bit, but then get depressed and change it to the Weather Channel.
The Weather Channel, for reasons that escape me, always has pregnant weathergirls. You've got to feel sorry for them, waddling across the screen and trying to point at Washington. "It's going to be rainy in the Pacific Northwest for the next few days," she says, like that's news. The map changes and she wobbles backwards a bit. "High temperatures will continue in the Midwest until Tuesday, when an Arctic front will come from Canada and cool things off."
Jesus. It's like the world's against me. I switch it off and go refill the mug.
The phone rings. One, two, three, four times, and then my recorded voice says, "I'm not home," sounding snarky. Not like it doesn't sound snarky all the time.
It beeps. "Ah, this is Corporal Benton Fraser-"
I snatch the phone up. Goddamn formal introductions- "Jesus, Fraser. It's ten in the morning. I could be sleeping."
"Well, Ray, if my analysis of your timbre is correct, you weren't sleeping and you've had at least two cups of coffee."
One and a half, I'm about to correct, but then I look down at my mug and see that it's empty again. How does he do that? Did he lick the phone or something?
I straighten and shoot a look downwards. No thinking about Fraser and licking this early in the morning.
I shake the thought off and attempt to continue the conversation. "Yeah, well, could have ruined my beauty sleep is all."
"Ah." Those damn ahs. "Dreadfully sorry to have potentially interrupted your dreams." He's humoring me now. I can almost hear that smirk.
I sigh, run my hands through my hair. "They were crap dreams anyway. Avon and tacos and naked. Don't ask."
"I'm not altogether certain I want to know, Ray."
I tell him a story about my retarded partner, how he almost fucked something up this week. Looking back on it, it's funny- or at least Fraser thinks it's funny. Comedy of fucking errors, I guess it gets funnier as I get less pissed.
Fraser tells me an Inuit story involving a badger and some cactus, but I'm pretty sure those Northwest Areas don't have either so he's just pulling it out of his ass. He's trying to make some point, but I've only had two cups of coffee. Interpreting symbolism is a little much to ask.
So after, I don't know, a half an hour of beating around the bush, he finally says what he called about. "I'm thought I'd come down in two weeks for a small visit. I must admit the territories are not the same without you."
See, if you didn't know anything about Fraser, you would think that was a compliment right there. And it is, kind of, but at the same time, it's a jab at the fact that I abandoned our adventure.
I left, and he doesn't understand why. He's hurt and disappointed because he thinks I didn't want to try to hack it up there. Well, that's not it at all, but it's easier than telling him the real reason.
There's nowhere to hide in the fucking middle of nowhere, not without getting lost and freezing to death, or falling in a chasm and freezing to death, or dropping your pack and then freezing to death. Lots of death and frozen scenarios there. Everything was going great until, despite us both wearing five hundred layers, I start imagining him in zero layers, which then lent itself to imagining us both in zero layers, doing the kinds of things that naked people do.
This is not a good revelation in the middle of nowhere.
So what do I do? I freak. I freak, because I am a freak, and how the hell else am I supposed to react when I've suddenly got a boner for my buddy? I freak, and run home to Chicago, where I try to pretend everything is normal, except it is most definitely not.
"I miss you, Ray."
God- fucking- how does he always know the one thing that launches the guilt trip?
"Was that hard to say?" I snap it off.
"Not at all," he says, calm and easy, and how can he be so confident all the time?
"I miss you, too," I say, but kind of mutter it.
He makes a pleased noise, like an at least you admitted it sound. "Two weeks, then?"
"Have a pleasant day."
The dial tone replaces his voice, and I'm standing in the kitchen still holding the phone. I probably look like an idiot. With a sigh, I hang it up and pour myself some more coffee.
I fire up the GTO. I know I haven't had nearly enough sleep, but shifting gears and passing cars gets me wired. The traffic is pretty light, which is unusual; parking's a bitch, which is not. I go down a few blocks, manage to nab a spot by that one store with the chess tables in front.
It's noon, and it's fucking hot. Indian summer, they call it, not sure why. I slam the door, turn the lock, and hop onto the sidewalk.
This Mountie appears out of nowhere, I swear, and I nearly run into him.
"Sorry," I mumble, although I don't feel sorry and I don't sound sorry.
He's old. Not like two hundred, more like fifty or sixty. He's wearing his red serge, which I don't know why, as it's 85 degrees if it's a day.
He's got this surprised look on his face. Either he recognizes me or he just wet himself. As I'm not really that frightening a character, I think I must have met him up in Canada. Met a lot of Mounties then, and I guess he does look kind of familiar.
"Really should watch where you're going," he says, frowning.
"Whatever." I'm certain I've seen him before now. Does he work with Fraser? Can't remember.
"Have you seen Benton lately?" he asks, in that casual way that's really not casual at all.
"Two weeks he's coming," I reply.
"I'm sorry to have missed him." He says 'sorry' with a long 'o', like soda- and sounds just like the way Fraser said it on my machine last night. The old Mountie rearranges the pieces on the chessboard, then flashes a goofy smile. "Care for a game?"
"Yeah, sure." If Kowalski weren't Polish for blacksmith, I bet it'd be "can't-back-down-from-anything-that-sounds-remotely-like-a-challenge." That's more words than letters, I know, but that's pretty standard in Polish.
He's already sitting in front of the black, so I plop down on the white side. Benton, not "Corporal Fraser." He knows him well, then. I'm trying to remember a grand introduction Fraser probably gave me, and it's not coming.
"Smoke before fire," he says pointedly, and I realize I'm supposed to go.
Standard opening gambit; I lead out with my king's pawn.
Chess is about patterns. You can make it as complicated as you like; you can play by knowing as little as how to move the pieces, or you can memorize sequences and strategies.
I can do the strategy thing. I can plot out every possible way to the checkmate, and win every time. But it's not any fun that way. It's cold and calculated, and that doesn't sound like a goddamned game to me.
Playing by instinct just feels better. I place my hand on the board, and it just feels right to move a piece in a particular direction. There are times when I lose lots of games, but everyone's instinct is off sometimes.
Today ain't one of those days.
Five moves in, and I've already captured a bishop and two pawns.
"You suck," I inform him.
His jaw drops. "I'll have you know I was the second best player in the West Yukon Chess group." He moves his rook, which I also neatly capture. "Of course," he continues, furrowing his brow, "there were only five of us, and I'm not really certain you can count Corporal McLasiter. Half in the bag most of the time, kept on saying 'king me' instead of 'check.'"
By now the board is a white ocean with a few black specks floating around. It kind of looks like birdshit.
He moves, I move. The whole time, I'm feeling, I don't know, not quite real. "Check," I repeat, then survey the positions. "Make that mate."
"Humph." He tips his hat up, tries to move his king around, then tips it over with a sigh. "That was quick."
I check my watch. "Fifteen minutes," which is a lie, as I have no idea when we started. "Not so bad. I should be going. Nice seeing you-"
"Bob," he interjects. "Call me Bob."
Huh. Bob. Still not ringing bells. I give a half wave and turn to walk to the store. Detergent and what? Not toothpaste... toliet paper, that's it.
"Tell Benton that Caroline worries after him," he calls after me.
I turn my head to say something, but he's already gone.
That was just... weird.
"Here's some coffee," Barclay says, setting it down on the desk. "And Tina called. She says to call her back on her cell."
"Christ, Junior." I pick up the coffee and sniff it. Three creams and two packets of sugar- drinkable. "Are you my secretary or my partner?"
"Depends on what you feel like letting me do today," he says, and folds his arms like he's a sullen twelve-year-old. "And could you stop calling me 'Junior'? I keep telling you I'm not that much younger than you."
"You act like it," I mutter.
"Kowalski!" Welsh bellows, then like he remembers I have a partner, adds, "...Barclay."
Into the room, and I've got Mr. Chris Foster quaking in his Nikes and confessing in under two minutes.
Aftewards, Barclay looks pissed.
"Hey, Junior- how does lunch sound?" He doesn't respond, so I add, "My treat."
"Yeah, okay," he says.
He's silent on the car ride, and once we get there, he doesn't do much talking either.
A waiter comes up to us and starts babbling in Chinese. Mandarin, I can hear Frase correcting.
"Sorry, English only," I say.
I order immediately- I've been here enough to know what's good- and Barclay gets some sissy shit- lo mein, egg roll. Boy has no sense of adventure.
After the waiter leaves, I decide to get to the root of the problem and ask him what particular stick is up his ass.
"You didn't even give me a chance," he says, hurt.
My ass. "I gave you a fucking hour."
"I could have had it out of him in just a few minutes more," he insists.
"Yeah, well, I was hungry, and I wanted it done."
The soup arrives, pretty much killing the conversation. I wasn't lying about the hunger, so I don't take this lack of chatter with any disappointment.
"Look, I'm sorry I'm not Saint Fraser, okay?" he bursts out- totally out of nowhere. "I've never leapt from a building, I can't smell a dog and tell you his life history, and I don't know how to speak Mandarin!"
"My name is David!" he shouts.
Everyone's staring at us.
"Okay, David-" I say slowly. I give my best shot at lightening the mood. "Can I call you Dave? Or Dave-o?"
I don't even get half a smile from that. He glares at me and resumes eating his soup as if he didn't just yell loud enough for the three surrounding blocks to hear.
I sigh, push the bowl away a few inches. "Dave, fact is, Fraser is amazing, fuckin' amazing. And no, you'll never be half the cop he is- but for chrissakes, neither will I."
He fiddles with his spoon. "You could cut me some slack now and again."
"Look me in the eye and tell me you were in your groove this morning."
He looks at me and sighs. "I hate it when you're right."
"You'll get better," I say, which I guess is true. I mean, how can he get any worse?
So why don't I want her?
"I'm fine, Tina."
"You're not eating, though," she says, nose all crinkled up. "There's got to be something wrong."
She's right- my plate is hardly different than when the waiter brought it out. I swirl the pasta around my fork and shove it in. "Just been really tired lately."
This night can end in one of three ways: One, I take her back to my place and we have sex; two, she invites me back to her place and we have sex; three, I tell her I'm really exhuasted and I'll see her home, but I have a serious engagement with the Sandman.
I'm leaning towards Sandman.
"It's like when I'm with you, I'm not even with you- you're off somewhere else. Like no one can reach you."
I lean across the table and kiss her. Just enough, just a little. For a moment I can almost forget how screwed up my life is. Like I'm normal, and she's normal, and we're a normal couple kissing over dinner.
But as they say, almost is not quite.
"If anyone could help, Tina," I say softly, drawing back, "it would be you."
Oh, Jesus Christ. Christ in a fucking flannel blanket.
"Fraser!" I call.
He smiles and heads towards me. He's wearing jeans and flannel shirt, and oh, god. That crooked smile misplaces some of my blood.
"Hello, Ray," he says, warm as pants straight from the dryer.
Note to self: Don't think about Fraser and pants together.
"You're not wearing the, uh, serge."
He blinks. "I'm hardly serving in an official capacity. I'm just here for a visit, after all."
I can barely breathe, and my pants are getting tighter by the second. "It's good to see you," I say, and give him a half-hug, nothing to reveal an embarrassing erection. Or at least that's what I set out to do-- Fraser wraps his arms around me fiercely and tugs me close.
"I've missed you, Ray."
I can't help but grin.
Dief is with Maggie, so he says. I tell him he can stay at my place, to which he mumbles something about only if it's not inconvenient. Fucking awkward, possibly, but not inconvenient. I don't tell him that. The awkwardness will probably be entirely on my own part.
Instead of heading back to the apartment straight away, we go for a walk. Don't ask me. Maybe Fraser craves the shitty Chicago air.
He wants air, I'm fine with that. But I want food.
He turns up his nose only a little when I eat a chili dog in one bite. The minimal facial displacement does not mean that he does not bitch to me about my unhealthy diet, though. "Honestly, I am perplexed by your ability to sustain yourself," he says, but almost laughing. Like he enjoys bitching at me.
It's like old times.
We walk along, not really fast. We're not going anywhere in particular. Just walking.
A pair of hands clap over my eyes. "Guess who," I hear in my ear.
"Tina?" I move the hands down and turn around. She beams and plants a kiss on my lips. She slips her tongue in like she wants to make out right out here on the street, right in front of Fr-
I push her away and wave an arm. "Fraser, this is Tina. Tina, this is Fraser."
"Great to finally meet you," she enthuses, pumping his hand.
"Delighted," he says. His lips are smiling but his eyes aren't. His eyes are more like thousands of shuriken, and he's throwing each blade at me.
"You free tonight?" she asks me.
"Frase just got in," I say quickly. "Maybe some other time?"
"Sure." She pulls on that smile instantly, to cover up the fact that she's hurt. I feel bad, but I'm stocking up on my Fraser time. Who knows when I'll see him next.
I break my eyes off the screen. "What?"
"You and Tina. How long have you been dating."
I shrug. Hell if I can remember. "Uh, I don't know. Few weeks? Maybe six or seven."
"I ask," he says with a sip of his cider, "because you haven't mentioned anything about her."
"It's not serious."
Fraser raises an eyebrow. "Six or seven weeks isn't serious?"
"We just go out to dinner," I protest.
He gives me a look.
"...and have sex," I add, looking away.
The little red light saves me. The Hawks score- shorthanded, even, which is nice. Really nice, considering Shanahan's already got a hat trick. It draws us back into the game, and I hope that the Tina discussion is over.
Too much to hope for, obviously, because it's the first thing Frase brings up during the commercial break.
"She looks like Stella."
I nearly drop my beer. "What?"
"They're about the same height. Their hair is the same color- and length. Her outfit appeared to be something straight out of Stella's closet. Even their eyes are similar."
"No way are their eyes the same," I snap. "The hair, the height, the clothes I'll give you. But Tina's got Princess of Wales eyes, which is nothing like Stell-"
Nothing like Stella's eyes now, but exactly like Stella's eyes then. Stella before the ambition turned her into someone I didn't even recognize.
In fact, Tina was pretty much a 35-year-old replica of 20-year-old Stella.
"Well, fuck." I slouch and cross my arms. "I go looking for a distraction and wind up reliving the past."
Fraser frowns. "Are you- that is. Are you still in love with Stella?"
"No. No, no, no, no, no. And another no for good measure. Stella and I are over, finished, doneski." I get up to snag another beer from the fridge. Fraser's head swivels and his eyes follow me. I'm not getting out of this, I can tell.
"That really doesn't answer my question, Ray."
I sigh and snap off the cap. "I'll always love her, yeah. She was my life for the better part of two decades. But I'm not in love with her anymore."
"If that's so," he says, "it raises an important question: why are you dating a woman who could be her twin?"
I guess because I'm working on my third beer, my tongue's a little loose. Not an excuse, really. But something of an explanation.
"Because it's comfortable!" I explode. "Because I don't know how to do anything else! I know it's not right, I know she and I don't really have a future, okay? But pretending we might is a fucking lot easier than reconciling the fact that I'm just one big, raging hard-on for my best friend!"
Fuck, fuck, I want to kill myself. "I'm sorry, Frase, I'm sorry- I just- I don't know what the fuck I'm saying. Just- ignore me, okay?"
Fraser gets up from the couch and slowly crosses the room.
I'm miserable, and still babbling. "You don't have to leave. I mean, we're still friends, and I still want to spend time with you. In a totally platonic way. I'll take cold showers three times a day if it bothers you. Or. Fuck. Um."
"Ray, I've no intention of leaving."
He shakes his head. "Is this why you came back to Chicago?"
I nod, slowly.
"I wish you'd just have told me," he says, sounding annoyed.
What the hell does he have to be annoyed about?
Fraser takes a few steps towards me, and I step back. He takes a few more steps, and I step back. Finally my ass connects with the counter and he's closing in on me, and it hits me:
Fraser's going to kiss me.
He puts his hands around the base of my skull and pulls me near, his mouth hot on mine. This is Fraser, this is Fraser is all I can think, and I can't help feel that it isn't real at all. That maybe I passed out on the couch during the game and now I'm dreaming. My arms clutch around his waist.
You can't dream tongue like this.
Wet and tangling and all over my teeth, sweeping through every inch of my mouth. I keep tasting apple cider- sweet and tangy, reminding me of being a kid, except then I remember Fraser's tongue is in my mouth, and that definitely destroys any illusion of childhood.
And then his hands shift, sliding down my sides and fumbling with my pants. He's still kissing me, but I break apart. "Uh, Frase," I say nervously. "Do you know what you're doing?"
He blushes. "Honestly? No. But it can't be too difficult, can it?"
"Can I make a suggestion?"
Thankfully Fraser understands the merits of a large, fluffy bed, so we make our way there. It takes a while, probably because we can't keep our hands, lips, anything off each other. We stumble quite a bit, making us both look drunk when really I'm just a little buzzed, and he's not at all. I'm glad he's wearing the flannel and jeans now, because I doubt I'd ever get the serge off. I peel off his clothes, he peels off mine, and somehow we don't manage to knock arms that much. When we're both naked, we stop.
"Ray," he breathes as I let out a, "Damn."
I can't move. I'm not sure why, but maybe it's because his skin and his muscles and- well, his cock. Actually seeing them is much hotter than fevered imaginings in the middle of nowhere. I'm paralysed, but thank god Fraser isn't suffering from this ailment. He pushes me back onto the bed and kisses me, hungrily.
I've barely got my arms up around him when he starts trailing down my body, pausing briefly to lick my nipples and belly button, but his final destination ain't a mystery to either of us. He strokes my cock first with his left hand, three long sweeps that just about kill me because it's Fraser and it's real. Then he puts his mouth on me, and-
"Oh, god, Fraser."
He swirls his tongue around and takes more of me in, slowly. How is he not choking I think but then he does something else with the suction and I can't really think anymore. I moan, and I'm going to come soon-
Fraser pushes himself up and returns to capture my mouth. I can taste something on his lips, and it's weird and I realize it's me. He rubs his cock against mine, over and over again, until we're both panting and gasping and coming all over the place.
"Will you come back to Canada with me?" he whispers in my ear, arms lazily draped over my chest.
I brush his lips briefly and smile. "Yeah."
We fall asleep, naked and messy and sated.
Jackpot! A pound of bacon and a carton of eggs. This, I can work with. I turn on the morning news while the bacon sizzles. As I start the eggs, Fraser wanders out- fully clothed, to my disappointment.
"Good morning," he says, grinning sheepishly.
"Mornin'. How do you want your eggs- over easy?"
I glance over at the TV, where a television anchor named Bob is describing a house fire. His hair is so awful that it makes me touch mine to check to see if it's okay. "Oh," I say. "I ran into Bob a few weeks back. He said to tell you... what was it. Oh, yeah. 'Caroline worries after you.'"
Fraser's eyes go wide. "Bob?"
"Old Mountie guy," I say, flipping some bacon. "He recognized me. And then I kicked his ass at chess."
"I suppose that's his method of approval," he muses. Fuck, but he's gorgeous when he's pensive.
I scoop my eggs onto a plate. "I'll pretend that makes sense until you have time to explain it to me later."
"I don't have time now?" he questions.
"No, no, you do not. Because you are going to call the station and tell them I am miserably ill. Then we are going to have some breakfast. And then we are going back to bed."
The corners of his mouth twitch upwards. "Well," he says, "I can hardly object to that."
End artless by Rhi Marzano: firstname.lastname@example.org
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