This was inspired not only by LaT's plea for for the fill in the blank CotW conversation on Serge but by an uncanny email she sent me on the subject in a later discussion. I apologise for the length: in my usual quest for resolution, what started as a three page quickie turned into pages and pages of sappy ends-tying-up.
Standard disclaimers: All characters belong to Alliance and possibly Paul Haggis. If they were mine I'd set them free.
Thanks to Kellie for encouragement and minute by minute beta and endless patience; and to LaT, for the email that got this whole mess started. And of course thanks to the entire No More RayK Apologia Testosterone Brigade for the hand-holding and general silliness they always provide.
NC-17; M/M (duh!); F/K (double duh!); US (Unadulterated Sap)
© 1999 AuKestrel
I gotta know. This isn't the kind of thing you pretend isn't there, that'll go away if you ignore it or if you pretend hard enough. This is my life. Which is kinda funny, really, because I'm not sure now what my life is, haven't been sure since the twenty-fourth floor, since that hotel room. Since I had to ask if I still had a partner.
And got a typical Fraser answer. "If you'll have me."
Well, who the hell else would I have? Who the hell else would I jump on and off a plane for? And who the hell else would carry me up the side of a fucking mountain? Yeah. Who else would have me? Maybe that should have been the second question, the second answer.
And the third question, yeah, okay, this is starting to go somewhere . . . who else do I have? And who else does Fraser have? Okay, besides the incredibly weird Frobisher and the incredibly opportune Delmar.
And what else does Fraser have? He's been kinda remote since he turned the bad guy over to the RCMP. That light in his eyes, the one that kindled that smile on his face in the middle of a goddamn ice field, is still there, but it's tempered now by sadness. Sadness at going back to Chicago? Sadness at losing the Ice Queen? Although, frankly, I never thought Fraser'd had the Ice Queen anyhow; but that was some kiss. If we hadn't spent most of our free time together I might've thought there was a relationship there, one they'd just been really low-key about; but Fraser didn't have time.
And really I don't care, right now, about the Ice Queen. We'd finally gotten a few minutes alone when she had to butt in and waltz him off and kiss him under those big fucking Canadian stars. When Fraser came back, looking more than dazed, he hadn't seemed too inclined to continue the conversation we'd started, which was okay by me, because it seemed to be heading in that "see you in Chicago, maybe, have a nice life, we'll always be friends" direction. So yeah, I was pissed at the Ice Queen but kind of relieved, too. Relieved at the time. But the not knowing . . . the not knowing where I belong, if I belong . . . the not knowing is getting to me. So, yeah. I gotta know. It has to be faced. I've faced divorce. I too have known loss and, on occasion, loneliness. Not for a long time, though. Not since . . . well, not since I gave up my life and took over someone else's.
And I wouldn't trade it. Wouldn't trade this time with the Mountie for anything in the whole world, not even for Stella. I hoped . . . I used to think, anyhow . . . that Fraser wouldn't trade it either. I'd thought that up until the moment I saw the smile on Fraser's face when the door opened and the real Ray Vecchio was standing on the other side.
Vecchio. Yeah, that was my mistake, right there. I could've said no to the assignment. And even after that I could've said no to the Mountie. In what universe? Can anyone say no to Benton Fraser? I've never been able to and the hell of it is that I know Vecchio can't, or couldn't, either, which makes his decision to go undercover in the first place even more confusing to a flatfoot of little brain like me. But anyhow, I could've just been professional, you know, liaised in the daytime, brooded and danced in solitary at night. Instead I said yes. Yes to 'a bite to eat.' Yes to friends. Yes to partners. Yes to pretty much anything he asked of me, eventually, even a fucking suicide mission to a ghost ship. Stupid, yeah. No argument there. That stupidity was only exceeded, on my part, by jumping onto Muldoon's goddamn plane with the Mountie, all on that vague, "If you'll have me."
Yeah, that stupidity got me tossed in thirty feet of snow, ratcheted up the side of a mountain where I know, even if Fraser sounds reassuring, that I almost bought the farm (the snow, ice, and rock farm, Canada style) and would have if he hadn't hauled me up and whaled the both of us down the other side, and then ended up facing down a nuclear sub. In spite of that, I'm still here. Why the hell am I still here? Almost everyone else has taken off already. Muldoon's on his way to jail along with the 62nd Parallel Airborne for escort; Thatcher's long since gone; even Frobisher is making tent-taking-down noises. But Fraser hasn't mentioned leaving. He's not going to. I know that. I mean, he's not leaving. He's in like Flynn with the RCMP now. But soon enough he'll start making tent-taking-down noises in my direction; he's just too damn polite to be premature about it.
And so why am I still here? Wasn't this enough of an adventure? It was. Yeah. Wow. I guess. Trouble was, I was so fucking cold or scared to death or worried about keeping up with Fraser I didn't really have time to enjoy having my life risked in a myriad of wildly bizarre ways, as only Fraser can. And I'm still here because . . . because I'm here . . . because I . . . because every damn time he risks my life, he risks his own, and more, to save me. I'm still here because he's my partner. My friend. I'm still here . . . why? Because I'm stupid. Because I got no life. And I gotta get me one of those, immediately if not sooner.
"You're very quiet tonight," Fraser says, poking the fire. "I'm sorry."
Huh? Wha - ? "Huh? Sorry about what?"
"Stella? Stella who? Assistant State's Attorney Stella? Gee, Fraser, I left my Canadian dictionary in Chicago, stupid, you say, but see, I didn't know I was gonna get dragged up to the Great White - "
"Ray, I assumed that you'd heard about Stella." He's not kidding. Now I'm worried.
"No. What happened? Was she hurt? Jesus, Fraser!"
He leans forward and puts a mittened hand on mine. "Ray, no, of course not. She's fine. It would simply appear that she and Ray, er, Ray Vecchio have a great deal in common. Quite a bit, in fact. I . . . I understand they're engaged."
"Wow. Stella? And Vecchio? Already?" I just stare. I can't do anything else. He gets worried after a minute and puts his other hand over mine.
"I thought you'd heard. I wouldn't have broken it to you in quite that fashion if I'd known "
I can't hold back the laughter for another second, and he watches me for a moment in disbelief before sitting back, an answering smile coming to his lips.
"Evidently my fears were unfounded."
"Been over her for a while, Frase. Vecchio. Gold Coast girl. Oh, God." Almost as funny as me and Stella. The image sets me off again and Fraser watches me indulgently. After I settle a little, we exchange a few comments on Stella's probable reaction to Ma Vecchio, vice versa, and how soon Frannie'll move out, assuming, that is, that Stella agrees to move in.
God, I'm gonna miss this. This talking stuff. This not talking stuff. Gonna miss him. This friendship we got, it's a once in a life time thing, I think. I mean, I could see us being friends for ever, thick and thin, richer and poorer, sickness and health . . . it's kinda funny that it's those words I think of right now, that they're so right for what we've got, that they fit us better than they ever fit me and Stella.
At least, they used to. Or I thought they did. But hey, I'm good at that self delusion thing. I do that good. Because, you know, since Vecchio got back the only hint I've gotten from Fraser about this friendship deal is the "If you'll have me." Although I do kinda remember him, or me, talking about partnerships on the side of that mountain. Or someone else was talking about 'em. I was hallucinating, whatever. And, Fraser, you know, actions speak louder than words, and he did drag me up that mountain, even though I slowed us way the hell down. Still can't help wondering who he'd rather have had on that plane with him, though, because Fraser could've just dragged me up that mountain and back down again because he's a Mountie and not because it was me at all; Vecchio was laid up so I could've been second choice, replacement Ray, as usual.
"Red ships," I say out loud.
Fraser looks up quick at that. "Ah. You remember that?"
"Was that it? Not really. I remember someone talking about partnerships."
"That was . . . you."
"Yeah." I hesitate a minute. "You know, Frase, I'm, uh, sorry about all that."
"About what, Ray?"
"About the mountain. About slowing you down. I don't know how you did it."
A rustle and a thud and he's sitting next to me on top of the groundsheet, kinda unexpected because Fraser's not what you'd call demonstrative. In fact, he's kinda the textbook definition of the opposite. And then he blows my mind completely when he puts an arm around me and fucking squeezes my shoulders.
"I was overjoyed to have you with me, Ray. I will never forget standing on top of that peak with you."
Okay, snow plus cold plus Canada equals demonstrative, communicative Mountie. Where the heck do I sign? Green card? Can I get one? Do I need one? Good time to risk this conversation, then, and enjoy the warmth, the strength, the feel of the arm around my shoulders. Feel connected. Feel hopeful, again. He was overjoyed to be with me. The real me. I mean, the me that's here, not that not-me that's in Chicago with Stella. Stella and Ma Vecchio. No, don't go there. You got Fraser talkin' now, don't start laughin' your fool head off at irrelevant mental images.
"Partnership? You, uh, started to say somethin' about that the other night."
"Ah. Yes. Buck Frobisher and my father. You know " he pauses a minute, swallows, then says, "they had a falling out."
"And this has to do with us how?"
"But they, ah, they made the leap. And they were partners even when they weren't together."
Yeah. There goes the hope. But not the arm, not yet, anyhow. What the hell. Stick my arm around his waist. He tenses a little, glances sidewise at me fast, then relaxes again.
"So you and Vecchio . . ."
He looks at me like I've lost my mind.
"Ray, what does Ray Vecchio have to do with this? Aside from the fact that he is in Chicago and we are here?"
"You know. Partners. Even when you're apart."
"I've always thought the point of partners is being together, Ray, and I know my father felt the same way about Buck Frobisher."
He gives me a little shake.
"I was referring to our partnership, Ray."
"I got that, now." Sigh again. "Gonna miss you, Frase."
"I'm not gonna miss those monosyllables, annoying Mountie."
He chuckles. After a few more minutes, he asks, "Are you warm enough, Ray?"
"I don't think my body remembers warm. Half frozen, yeah, I'm good."
He reaches over and pulls a sleeping bag around both of us. We stare a while into the fire in silence, each of us still with an arm around the other. Feel like crying, almost. Partners. Us. I don't want to leave. I got nothin' to go back to. Even if I did, I wouldn't want to leave, because I want, I think I need, to be where Fraser is. Damn. At least this is a nice good bye, a campfire, Fraser solid against me, finally getting a little warmer under the sleeping bag with the Mountie's body heat working on it. He probably has excess body heat just like he has excess lung capacity. But it's best not to think about that either, about the moment when our partnership crystallised, for me anyhow.
He sighs, this time.
"Somethin' wrong, Fraser?"
"Not at all, Ray. Almost everything is right."
"You been kinda sad since we nailed Muldoon."
"Ah, well, that was simply . . . well, missing my father. It felt . . . it felt . . . I felt as if I were losing him again."
My turn to squeeze. Can't think of anything happy to say so I state the obvious. "You're back in Canada, though."
"Very true, Ray."
"You can stay, now."
Utter silence. Big dumb Mountie, it hasn't filtered through that brain yet that he done good. Very good. Welcomed back to the fold with open arms prodigal son type good. Saved the Northwest Areas, Territories, whatever, good. I knew before he did. Knew he was staying. That makes me feel good for a minute, before I remember the separation part, which makes me feel bad again, so I make more conversation.
"Where do you think you can get assigned?"
"I . . . I'm not quite sure. I haven't . . . it hasn't quite sunk in yet. That I'm home to stay. Yes. Well. There are choices. The Territories aren't always a popular assignment."
"You know what'd be fun, Frase, is if you got assigned somewhere up there near that place you were telling me about. The Franklin place."
"There's not a place, per se, Ray; that's the point. No one's found the Hand "
"I know, I know. But, you know, someplace that'd be a base, so you could check stuff out in yer off time."
"That's rather a deserted area of "
"And this isn't? Aw, come on, Frase, where's your sense of adventure?"
He turns his head and looks at me with just about the funniest expression I've ever seen on his face, a combination of exasperation, pride, and disbelief. "The nuclear submarine wasn't exciting enough?"
"Exciting, yeah, but I was too scared to remember most of it. I told you. Someday I'll have an adventure."
"Ray . . ."
"When is someday?" His arm tightens around me, and I stop thinking that it's a guy who's got me in a clinch, because there's no one around but Dief and Frobisher, and I start thinking instead that it feels damn good. I like bein' held. I like bein' held by Fraser. And I like what I think he's saying.
"Uh, someday. Someday soon? Fraser . . . really?"
"I . . . I will miss you. More than I thought possible."
"Wait a minute, are you askin' me or not?"
"Ray, it is completely and utterly selfish of me to think of such a thing. You have a career, friends, family in Chicago. A whole life. "
"Yeah." And I'll just slow him down. He belongs here. I don't. Say it out loud. "You belong here."
"I . . . I wish you felt that you did."
Whip my head around so fast he doesn't have time to draw back and we're eyeball to eyeball, I can see the lines around his eyes, the crack in the middle of his lower lip from the cold dry air that matches the one on mine, and I can smell him, kerosene, leather, dogs, and plain old Fraser. He stares back. Canadian standoff. I can see him exhale, white fog, from his nose, mingling with mine from my mouth.
"I don't know where I belong any more," I say, quiet, two inches from his mouth, watching my breath mist into his parted lips.
He watches me steadily.
"I don't have a division any more. A job. Hell, a life. I don't know . . . " I have to look down finally, but I look right back up. "I didn't expect this. I expected it, but not like this, not now. The fact of the deal is, Fraser, I didn't think past tomorrow. I was having too much fun."
He quirks a smile at that. Doesn't move his head. "Fun? I don't think you've ever called it that before."
"Yeah, well, cards on the table, Fraser. Bein' yer partner is fun."
"Is that why you're here?"
Those words hang in the air, too warm to be frozen, for a long time. A long scary time. A long enough, scary enough time for me to think about life, here, and life, there. Here, with Fraser. There, without Fraser. Here, with snow and ice. There, with Vecchio and Stella. Not . . . not a whole lotta difference, after all, climate wise.
He's still watching me, and it's pretty hard to read his face. He's steady, unblinking even. He says again, "Is that why you're here, Ray?" And, fast, drops his eyes for a second, twitches that thumb across that eyebrow. That tells me everything I need to know. Gives me the courage to open my mouth.
"I'm here because my life is here. And it pretty much revolves around you. About how I feel about me, when I'm with you. About how I'm someone different when I'm around you. Well, okay, not someone different, I'm still me, I'm just more me, a me I didn't know about, a me I like."
"I . . . like you too."
"All those things you don't have, Ray . . ."
"Would time be one of the things you do have?"
"Sure. How much time?"
"As much as it takes."
"Can you be a little more specific? Is that Canadian for, you know, two days or two months or something?"
"Forever." And I'm losing what little mind I have left because Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is leaning closer to me, his lips parting, his eyes closing and I'm leaning forward too, right in there with him, on the same page as always. Which is why I wanna smack my own smart mouth about three nanoseconds later.
"You about to kiss me, Frase?"
"Ah, yes. Evidently."
He still hasn't moved his head and our lips are almost touching. I can feel the heat from his mouth.
"Because . . . oh dear."
Yeah, that did it. Nice going, Kowalski. He backs off a little, looking faintly embarrassed.
"Oh dear what? Did I say no?"
"Ray, I'm afraid that my motives are not of the pure variety."
See, now I get that. That's Canadian for I wanna jump yer bones. "I'm not exactly pure, so that's a match, there, Frase."
He blushes and snatches his arm away from me. I leave mine around his waist and squeeze again, watching him steadily, the tables turned now.
"That's not what I meant. I simply meant that I realised that . . . that I was possibly trying to influence you through physical means."
"Influence me to what?"
"To stay. To go with me on an adventure."
"Fraser, I already said I would. Jesus. I should, I should do it now. Especially while I'm in shape from chasing you all over Chicago, not to mention Canada. I want to do it now. And if I get an unhinged Mountie in my bedroll, that's an added bonus."
He gulps at that and cracks his neck, fast. That's me, both barrels blazing, maybe he didn't mean to, like, kiss me, maybe he just wanted to, um, kiss me. And then I catch his eyes on my mouth and I watch his tongue curl from one side of his lower lip to the other. Somehow I manage to make my own mouth move.
"God, Fraser. Why didn't you tell me before?"
"Tell you what, Ray?"
"Oh, come on, Fraser. Come on. Don't play dumb, not now. Come on, level with me. This is us, this is you, this is me, this is us. My future, your future. Because, if you mean it, I can do the Hand of Franklin thing. And I can so do the forever thing. And, frankly, Fraser, I am all over the sex thing."
Bright red flush, deep breath, unexpectedly steady voice. "And what about the . . . er . . . love thing, Ray?"
Uh, whoa. Love. He's levelling, all right.
"L love. Yeah. Oh, yeah, Fraser. That's what it is, isn't it?" And suddenly everything falls into place, all the confusion, all the doubt, all the wretched yeah, wretched is the only word for them feelings of fear, separation, loss.
"Yes." Only one word, says so much, sounds so sure.
"Okay, so now are you gonna kiss me?"
"Yes." And matches words to actions. I've been waiting for this. Been waiting for this for days. For weeks. For fucking months, haven't I? Yeah. Years, feels like. Even though his lips are chapped, they're still soft, still tender, and his mouth is so warm, so sweet, I'm lost in it. And cold Canada around us beats all hell outta Lake Michigan around us because I can smell him and taste him and feel him. Feel his heart beat pound, feel his shaky breathing. He was more scared than me. Yeah. This is a huge leap for him, this love thing. This asking thing. But he did ask. And he asked me. Me. New Ray. Ray Kowalski. Fraser's Ray.
"Yes, Ray?" Sounds a little scared, still. Grab his face in my mittened hands and look him in the eye again.
"Oh, God, Ray!" Relief, passion, and heat, oh the heat in that voice, in that mouth as it covers mine again, his tongue less tentative this time, more demanding . . . almost too demanding, Jesus, we're kissing in the middle of ice and snow with fucking mittens on. I love the taste and feel of his mouth but I want more, want to lick his chin, his neck, wherever, without leaving little Ray icicles when I'm done, and I don't plan to be done for a while.
"Wanna take this discussion into the tent?"
"The tent, Ray?"
"The tent with the nice warm snow. I mean, stove."
"Ray, you're babbling."
"Ain't never been kissed by a guy Mountie before. Mmmmyeah."
"Is it . . . satisfactory?" The blush. I was waiting for it. Gonna see a lot more of those tonight, I hope.
"Nah, Frase, you need lots more practice. In the tent."
Holy shit. Forgot all about Frobisher. He's poking his head out of his tent flap. He's gonna freak. Fraser's gonna freak.
"Take it inside, Benton."
This Frobisher guy's definitely growing on me.
"Right you are, sir."
"You need to get an early start tomorrow."
I look at Fraser. "Start for where?"
"Phone. Welsh." It's catching. I shake myself. "How long we gonna be gone?"
"Oh-kay. Yeah. Well, I'll just tell Welsh to, uh, not worry about putting my transfer papers in any time soon, then."
"Or he can simply deposit them in the nearest circular file."
"I've got you now and I will never let you go." He pushes me backwards down onto the sleeping bag, covering me with his body, and my body doesn't know what to do, to protest the cold driving up my back or to thrust up into the heat covering my front.
"Oh, God, Fraser. Damn it! You couldn't decide to do this in Chicago, in a nice warm apartment or even a nice warm car? You gotta wait until it's eighty below and I'm freezing my nuts off in the middle of North Bufu, Canada and we got at least thirty layers in between us?"
He shuts me up with another kiss. Yeah. Good call, Frase. Tent's an even better call. I push at him until he gets the hint and rolls off me, finally, reluctantly. Yeah, there we go, Mountie. Up on yer feet. One foot in front of the other. Tent's nice and warm and not exactly private with the stove going but so what? I bet Buck Frobisher's seen it all and then some.
You always think, in the wilds of Canada and stuff, that it'll take forever to get connected to the States and that you'll have to go through Opie's next-door neighbour's great-aunt at the exchange, so I'm kinda surprised when my calling card not only gets through but Welsh picks up his own phone on the second ring.
"Hey," I say.
"Kowalski!" he bellows. "It's about time! You through fooling around in Canada? Because you left a lot of cases here on Vecchio's desk and all over the floor, for that matter."
"Uh, no. Yeah. I mean . . ."
"When are you coming back?"
"Well, sir, that's why I called. I, uh, I need some time off."
"What? You think just because you save a few walruses and polar bears and catch a few terrorists that you're entitled to some time off? How long have you worked for me, Detective?"
"Uh, almost "
"That was a rhetorical question."
In a more normal voice, he says, "So, what, the Mountie's got another harebrained case to drag you on?"
"In a way. We're going to go look for the Hand of Franklin."
"This Franklin. Is it a homicide?"
"Not as far as we know, sir."
"Did he cross international boundaries?"
"Uh, not recently, sir."
"And why just his hand? Where's the rest of him?"
"It's a Canadian thing, sir."
"Exactly, Detective. Which is why I want you on the next flight to Chicago, and Constable Fraser too."
"Well, sir . . ."
"You drilling for oil, Kowalski?"
"No, sir. Okay. The thing of it is, I didn't know I wasn't sure where I was going to be assigned. Now that Vecchio's back and all."
"You're staying right here, Kowalski. You think I'd inflict you and the Mountie on some other poor unsuspecting division lieutenant? They'd have a contract out on me so fast I probably wouldn't even make it to my car."
And in spite of the fact that Fraser loves me, and I love him, and we're going on this quest together, and I just had one of the best nights of sex in my life, and that was in a tent in the middle of the Arctic circle and I can't wait to see what Fraser can do in a normal bed with real heat and running water, I get a warm feeling inside all the way up from my toes. The lieutenant likes me. Me me. Wants me back.
"You still there, Kowalski?"
"Yes, sir. So, in spite of, uh, making the world safe for polar bears and all, I can't swing a leave of absence?"
"How long a leave, Kowalski?"
Fraser, from a few feet away, glances at me then, and somehow sparkles his eyes at me. Chokes me up and makes me wanna laugh at the same time.
"Constable Fraser wasn't very clear on that point, sir."
"Well, how much time did he ask for?"
At that, Fraser gives up any pretence of not listening and takes the phone out of my hand. "Good morning, Lieutenant," he says, in Canadian, of course. I lean in to listen.
"Ah, Constable, so it's not enough that you dragged one of my best detectives way out of his jurisdiction, again, and risked his life, again, to save a few rocks and some frozen water, now you're taking him to look for someone's hand?"
"I assume the RCMP is aware of your intended leave of absence?"
"And how long are you planning to be gone?"
"For as long as it takes, sir."
"Levity is most unbecoming in a junior officer."
"How long are you planning on keeping Kowalski away from his duties, Constable?"
Crazy Mountie! I try to grab the phone out of Fraser's hand but he puts one hand on my chest and turns away, still holding the phone to his ear, out of my reach.
"Yes, sir, you heard that correctly."
"You're not? I am surprised to hear that."
"No, I don't know either."
His voice softens abruptly. "I yes, Lieutenant. Your friendship was one of the things that made Chicago bearable for me."
He straightens and smiles, his voice back to normal. "No, sir."
"Absolutely, sir. Just let me know. The fishing is best in ah, I see. Quite so. Thank you, sir."
He turns back and holds the phone out to me. I frown hard at him and shake my head. Damn it, I don't know what to say.
"Kowalski? I'll be up for fishing next summer," Welsh says, his voice a little off.
"Uh, I'll look forward to it, sir."
"I'll put you on a temporary leave of absence starting today."
"I appreciate that."
"You're a good cop, Kowalski."
"Thank you, Lieutenant."
"You got a good friend and partner."
"Godspeed." And he hangs up, fast, before, he thinks, I hear the break in his voice. I look at Fraser, blinking my eyes fast and hard a few times. Fraser's got his hand up to the bridge of his nose.
"You could go "
"Oh, not this again, Mountie." I hesitate a second and then touch his hand, fast, while the store clerk is pretending to look out the window. "It's . . . it was nice to feel wanted, after all. But I feel more wanted here, so, you know?"
"Trust me, you are. Wanted here, I mean."
"Yeah, I kinda . . . you kinda made that clear, there, Frase." Grin, wicked as I can, at him, just to see him blush. He turns his hand over, fast, and grabs my hand and squeezes it.
"Do you want to call your parents? Larry and I are going to load up the sled."
He looks steadily at me.
"Yeah. Wow. Um, yeah. Okay. Jeez, Fraser, I think I think that's a kind of in person thing."
"I imagine so, yes."
"I'll just, um, tell them about the quest for now. Tell my dad to pick up the GTO and get my bills for a while. Good thing I put him on my accounts, huh?"
"Forethought and planning, Ray. You'll be quite an asset to this expedition." And he smiles, warm and sweet, before picking up a couple of bundles and heading out the door.
Thank God my parents are home. My mom answers.
I've long since given up the Ray thing with her. "Hi, Mom."
"How are you? Are you warm enough? Are you getting enough to eat?"
"Great, Mom. Just great. Yeah, these Canadians really know how to stuff the calories. Except for this pemmican stuff." Fraser, coming through the door for another bundle, grins at that.
"When are you coming home? Lieutenant Welsh called us and told us what was happening but he wasn't very sure about your plans."
"Yeah, Mom, listen, put Dad on too, okay?"
"Of course, dear." I hear her calling Dad and then hear a click.
"You done good."
"Uh, thanks. Yeah, we, uh, we got them."
"Your lieutenant seemed pretty happy."
"Yeah, he likes those bad guys going away and stuff, he just hates all the cross country paperwork."
Mom interrupts. "You didn't say when you were coming home, Stanley."
"It's Ray, Barbara." Dad never gives up. It's a thing they do.
"Damian, do you think I don't know my own son's name?"
"Yeah, Mom, you do. Listen, Fraser's got some stuff he wants to do here. Some stuff I want to do. An expedition, a quest thing. So I'm not coming back any time soon."
"What kind of quest?"
"Are you sure you'll be warm enough?"
"Mom, Fraser knows what he's doing, don't worry about me being warm." Shit. Even my mom's not that clueless. "Cold weather gear, Arctic stove, the whole nine yards, okay?"
"And food, Stanley. You'd better let me talk to him. He must make sure you eat properly."
"Quest?" Dad prompts.
Deep breath. "Yeah. A quest. An adventure. I . . . uh, I . . ."
"The terrorists weren't enough of an adventure?"
"Yeah. Yeah, they were, but this is a real one, an expedition, just like those books you used to read me."
Mom laughs. "I still have those."
"Fraser and I want to look for the Hand of Franklin. The Northwest Passage guy."
Dad's quiet a while longer. Finally he says, "What's it like up there, son?"
"Pretty much just like the books, Dad, only more so."
"How's it smell?"
"Great, Dad. It smells great. Clean and fresh and cold."
"I'll go get the GTO."
"Thanks, Dad. And, uh, my bills? Lieutenant Welsh has me on leave of absence for a while. Just take what you need out of savings if the checking runs out."
"Don't worry, son. We'll take care of it. Do you just pay your landlady the rent?"
"Yeah. Yeah, she's the apartment right under me. And, you know, you guys are welcome to, uh, stay over if you want some time in the big city."
"Oh, Stanley, that's a wonderful idea."
"I think it's a good idea, Ray." I know he's talking about more than the apartment. Feel choked up again for the second time in less than ten minutes.
"Thanks, Dad. I'll . . . I'll, um, send a carrier pigeon or something. I guess."
"Let me talk to Benton," Mom says. Knew she wouldn't let that rest.
"Fraser! My mom wants you."
Fraser drops the bundle he just picked up and takes the phone from me.
"Good morning, Mrs. Kowalski. Ah, Mr. Kowalski, good morning to you too."
"Er, quite. Yes. Normally we try to eat at least four thousand calories, preferably six thousand, and a good portion of those are derived from fat. Yes, ma'am."
"Oh, of course. I will see to it."
"No, ma'am, I'm well aware of that. We have been partners for some time, and I agree that his dietary habits could use some improvement."
"Really? Ah. Well, then I will certainly ask him to make a sample."
He listens intently for a few more seconds. "Yes, sir. Extraordinarily clear. Extraordinarily beautiful."
"I certainly will. Thank you kindly."
I get the phone back in time to hear Mom say with a satisfied sigh, "Such a dependable boy."
Shake my head, grinning.
"Okay, Mom? Dad?"
"Enjoy yourself," Dad says.
"And take care of yourself," Mom says.
"Fraser won't let anything happen to us," I say. "Have fun in Chicago."
Hang up, look at Fraser, who's grinning ear to ear. "They like me, Ray."
"You just keep on thinking that, Mountie."
"I understand you make a respectable bigos, Ray."
"Damn. It's genetic, you know?"
"I think we could muster most of the ingredients your mother mentioned."
"It's gotta sit for two or three days, Fraser."
"I didn't know you could cook."
"I told you, it's genetic. Some things you're just born knowing. Like you. You were born knowing which way is north all the time, right?"
"Something like that, yes. I'd rather have the inborn capacity to make incredibly delicious and warming Polish stews."
"Well, you had the sense to latch on to the next best thing, a Chicago flatfoot of Polish extraction who can do that, if he's not teased too much about it."
"I think you'll find Diefenbaker, Sergeant Frobisher, and myself to be a most respectful and appreciative audience."
"It's gotta beat mooseburger."
"Ah, precisely my point. And be thankful, Ray, so thankful, that Sergeant Frobisher has given up the gorgonzola."
I eye him. "You're a freak."
"Duly noted. Would you care to acquaint Larry with a basic list of bigos ingredients?"
On the way back, Fraser stops to give the dogs a rest, us a drink, he claims, but I'm pretty sure it's just to enjoy the view. Vast expanse of ice and snow, punctuated by barren rocky peaks. Oh yeah. Warms the cockles of his little Mountie heart, I know.
"Do you like it here?" he asks after a few minutes.
"What books were those, Ray?"
"What books do you think?"
Quirks that Mountie smirk at me. "Undoubtedly the same I read, when I could sneak them past my grandmother. Jack London?"
"Yeah. And my dad's always had a thing about expeditions anyhow. I remember him tearing apart the Chicago public library when I was a kid trying to find a copy of Nansen's book that he was actually allowed to open and read. He finally found one in the rare books collection. He had to read it there. I went with him and he read it to me. Took us a month of Sundays. It was worth it though."
"Oh, my. The Fram. Oh, my. Yes." He's got the biggest fucking grin on his face that I've ever seen, even bigger than the one after we dug ourselves out of the snow and he just stood there looking around. "I read that as well as a book by one of Nansen's crew. Innusiq and I used to pretend our boat was frozen in the ice . . . well, actually, we didn't have to pretend very hard."
"I can guarantee Dad's on his way to the library right now to find out all he can about the Hand of Franklin."
"I hope he runs across Mackenzie's book as well."
"We'll drop him a postcard. You can write it down for him. He loved the Shackleton expedition, the Antarctic one."
"Ah, yes. At least that had a somewhat happy ending."
"Yeah. Now that I think about it, Shackleton reminds me of you, Frase. Never say die. He got 'em all outta there. Wow."
"He was an exceptional personality, Ray. Have you kept up with recent expeditions?"
"Nah, not really. I read about Steger's Antarctic expedition but I don't think I ever got around to his Arctic expedition."
"It was fascinating, of course. I think he established that it was quite possible for Admiral Perry to have reached the Pole when and how he said he did. The Antarctic expedition . . . the katabatic . . . well, Ray, all I have to say is that even I felt cold, reading it."
"Yeah, that was some pretty goddamn intense weather, there. I felt sorry for the dogs. Not even enough snow to keep 'em warm.
He shakes his head, like he's coming out of a dream, and looks at me, hard. "Good God, Ray. I knew . . . I knew I loved you. I knew that you were my soul mate. But I never dreamt . . . I never . . ." Runs out of words, pulls me against him, still staring at me. A way embarrassed me.
"Jesus, Frase. Enough. Dogs're getting cold."
"Fuck the dogs, Ray."
"Benton Fraser! That is it, soap in your mouth back at camp. I've never been so shocked - " Aaaaand get a Mountie tongue, sans soap, in my mouth in the next half-second. Which is good, because the soul mate stuff, while true, is even more intense than hearing that word come out of those lips, and while I'm kissing my higher brain functions are on holiday, as Fraser would say, and I don't gotta process this stuff for a few more seconds.
"You know about this." He's still got a dazed look in his eyes.
"No, Fraser, I just read about it, okay? That's all. And I know nothing about sled dogs or anything else."
"You're a leg up on the learning, though, Ray. Pay attention as we head back. You need to learn the ropes."
"I think next year we're going to run the Iditarod."
"You are unhinged."
He leans in to kiss me once more. "I know. And I am happier than I have ever been in my life."
I settle back and look up at him behind me. "The Iditarod, huh?"
"If we can find the dogs and train them in time. Maggie may be able to help us."
"If you think I can . . ."
"Ray, I know you can."
Jeez. Man has a handle on keepin' me warm, all right.
Back at camp, I go to work on the bigos slicing onions with mittens on is . . . impossible while Frobisher and Fraser sort and pack and talk. I catch snatches of conversation now and then, when the wind is right; Frobisher talks more than Fraser, and he has lots of stories about Fraser's dad. After a while, they take off north, fast, on snowshoes, with Dief. When they come back, they've got more stuff, Fraser dragging a big bundle of wood for the fire on a travois. Frobisher knew a cache, I guess.
Fraser ditches the wood near the fire and gives my hand a quick squeeze while he looks into the pot and sniffs. I put the kettle on for some tea. Need coffee. Get tea. Life in Canada. Frobisher dropped his bundle by the other pile and now comes over, unfolding a map. A military map, by the look of it. They both settle down to pore over it, not talking much now, looking, and thinking.
It's a kind of Mountie shorthand or something, because Fraser'll mention just a coordinate or place name and Frobisher will shake his head or nod and point. I get the feeling that the Mounties probably talk about Franklin a lot, maybe on those long cold nights, because Fraser and Frobisher give the impression of having had this conversation, if you can call it that, before.
After a while they don't even talk, just study the map, grunt, point, nod, point.
And a while after that Fraser starts humming under his breath. Frobisher joins in. Still checking out the map, they start singing snatches of song. That Northwest Passage song, the one Fraser sung in the crevasse. I sit by the fire and smell the bigos and listen to Fraser and Frobisher and I feel a little bubble of happiness inside me. It's a cold bubble, for sure, but it's happiness.
It swells a whole lot bigger when Fraser and Frobisher forget themselves and start actually singing. I could sit here forever, smelling, stirring, watching, listening. As their voices die out after the last chorus, Fraser meets my eyes across the fire and smiles, slightly. I smile back.
Frobisher clears his throat. "Your main difficulty is going to be packing in dog food, son," he says. "You really need two sleds."
"We're not going to the Pole," Fraser says. "There will be game and settlements. In a month or two, we'll split the team and add a sled. They're good freight dogs, Inuit dogs. We'll manage."
"True, true, true. Ah, I envy you. If only I were a few years younger . . . you might do it, young Fraser. You just might."
"If determination has anything to say about it," I mutter.
Mr. Bat Ears hears that and grins big. "Luck and planning, and more luck, I think, Ray. Let's feed the dogs."
"Bigos'll be ready soon. Not that it's actually ready. It's supposed to, you know, age a couple of days. And I'm pretty sure that caribou was not one of the original ingredients."
"It smells wonderful," Fraser says.
"Better than moose hock wrapped in boar tongue," Frobisher adds. "Too bad we don't have any gorgonzola."
I stare at him a second and Fraser grins at me, shakes his head quick. "Come on, Ray, dogs."
I'm hoping that's a Fraser excuse for sneaking a couple kisses and after we dump the last food for the last dog, I'm not disappointed. It's not like Frobisher can't see us if he wants to, but he can't hear us, anyhow, and he can maybe pretend that Fraser's checking me out for frostbite. Which isn't too far off, as Fraser pulls out a tube from inside his coat. Vaseline. Starts rubbing it on my cheeks and lips.
"Is that the secret to that Mountie-like complexion?" I say.
"It smells better than tallow, Ray. Or whale blubber."
"Oh, God. True."
"I should have thought of this sooner but I forgot. You're not too badly chapped, though."
"Hope you got more."
"Well, of course, Ray."
"Because I got plans for that. At least until we can scare up somethin' water-based."
He stares at me and then looks at the tube and then looks back at me, his fingers slowing on his own face. He gets it after a few seconds and his eyes darken and he says, just like last night, thickly, "Oh, God, Ray," right before he pulls me into a real kiss, a melt-the-snow kiss.
When we finally come up for air, he holds me tight, rocking a little, trying to get his composure back. I'm so bad. I wait until his breathing settles down a little and then I add, "Tonight."
At that he actually moans into my ear and then into my mouth as I kiss him, harder than before, thrusting my tongue in and out for a few seconds before his tongue meets the thrusts, passes mine, and slicks right into my mouth, oh, God, can that man kiss.
" . . . Fraser . . ."
"We could, uh, skip dinner."
He pulls back and breathes, smiles. "Dear me, no. Aside from the promise I made to your mother, and aside from the fact that you know you must maintain a certain caloric intake, I have been looking forward to your stew all afternoon."
His hands tighten on my arms as he swallows, hard. "And I, you, Ray." And he turns and practically dashes for the fire. Follow him at a distance, smiling to myself. It's gonna be a wonderful night.
Last night Fraser was kinda single minded, in between the blushing. A little tentative, like me, but single minded. I liked it. Liked that concentration. Tonight he's got something on his mind. I finally give up, know he's gotta get it off his chest.
"Okay, Frase, what's the deal?"
"C'mon, Fraser, something's bothering you. Talk. Spill. Then we can, uh, kiss some more . . . and stuff . . ."
He's quiet though for a few more minutes. I occupy myself with tracing his muscles on his chest, circling his small, tight, nipples with a finger, at least until he grabs my hand with a choked gasp. "All right. I . . ."
"C'mon, Fraser, we're seriously naked here, how can there be anything else for you to get embarrassed about, especially after last night?"
He looks very relieved. "Oh, yes, Ray. That's it. That's it exactly. You seem rather, er, comfortable with this. I . . . I was . . . surprised. Pleasantly! Pleasantly, of course, Ray."
"Yeah. Um, I know. Well, shit, Frase, I'm on the shady side of thirty, that's for sure, and I been a cop a while. I know stuff. Just never, uh, thought about it, until lately. Until you." I look straight at him, finally, daring him to look away. "And yeah, for you, I'll try anything. Wanna try anything. But you . . . once in a while I thought, yeah, you, uh, you might want . . . well, this. But most of the time you seemed pretty oblivious to everyone, male and female. So can you blame me for not knowing which way your road curved?"
"Oh. Oh, dear. Well, no, Ray, but it's not so much the fact that you're male or female as it is the fact that you're you. Although I do admit that your, er, maleness does, ah, appeal to me."
I feel my mouth flash a big grin at those words, both at the words and the memory of how appealing he found my, er, maleness last night, and the memory of that warm, no, hot mouth on me . . . Have to clear my throat. "Yeah. Yeah, I kinda got that, Frase. Appealing, Christ, but yeah, that's a good word. A Mountie-type word, but a good one. Your maleness is goddamn fucking appealing to me, too." Move my hand down to his cock as I say that, can't resist touching, stroking. Really can't resist his moans and his face, I already love to wring those noises and expressions out of him, God yes.
He moans and bucks and I back it off a little. "'S okay, Frase, we got all night. The long nights are definitely a good thing."
He manages a grin as he pulls me against him, on top of him, spreading his legs under me, encouraging me to thrust against him like he did last night. Yeah, he likes this, what's not to like, and I enjoy it for a few, not just the physical side of it, but watching his face, abandoned, open, so happy, just so . . . here . . . and with me . . .
His thrusting's turned purposeful now, moaning louder, hands pushing me against him, hard.
"Whoa, Ben, whoa - "
"Ray. Ray, please - " He brings one hand up to the back of my head, pulling me down for a kiss. "I . . . love . . . ah, yes, Ray . . ."
Long hard hungry kiss and then I feel him tense under me. "Wanna taste you, Ben," I whisper, and fast slide down his body in time to capture his pulsing cock in my mouth. Drink him, drink it all, Fraser, yeah, giving it all to me, fingers clenched in my hair, perfectly still except for the convulsive jerks of his cock, and a soft, incredibly arousing groan as he goes boneless under me.
"God, Ben, want you, you are fucking amazing," I whisper, hoarse words almost caught in my throat, sliding back up to kiss him, hold him, rub my cock against his thigh.
"So . . . so are . . . you."
"You taste so good . . ."
"You feel so good . . ."
"Not to mention the, uh, nutritional value, huh."
That gets a laugh, a little breathless still. "I . . . I'm not sure we should depend on that as a dietary supplement. . ."
"It seems reliable to me, Frase." Grab his mouth again, love to moan against it and feel his reaction, a shudder, arms tightening. "Want you, Frase, please . . . you wanna . . . wanna try?"
His arms tighten around me. "Dear God, yes, Ray. Please." The unabashed heart in his voice makes me shudder, gotta get control of myself. I know what to do, in theory, yeah. Lube, relaxation, and in the back of my head the questions, circling; can we do it, can I do it, does he really want it, will he like it, will I like it, what's it all mean, anyhow, and am I pushing too fast, too hard, too much, too soon, for two guys who hadn't even kissed less than forty-eight hours ago? Why do I want this, so much, when I already got him?
" . . . Ray. Ray." Gentle shake.
"Sorry. Sorry, Fraser." There's a big hard knot in my throat. "I, uh, I'm kinda railroadin' you into this . . ."
"Ray, you're not. You're so much more . . . I want to . . . I want it . . . I just didn't know how to say it."
I stare at him, he stares back. Then he smiles. Then he twists the cap off the tube and grins, wicked grin, never thought I'd see that or that it would look so damn sexy on the Mountie. "Come on, Ray. Show me." Soft. Urgent.
I'm still staring. Can't move. Can't think. Can't believe Fraser trusts me like this, well, yeah, okay, I can believe that part, trust is a big thing we got going for us. He unfolds my hand, squeezes the tube, works the goop around a little on my fingers with his own, then raises his eyes to mine again. He doesn't say anything, just looks at me. And then turns one side of his mouth up in that smile, the one that puts the dimple in his right cheek. I take a deep breath, a shaky breath, lean in to kiss that dimple, and the world starts moving again.
Rub my fingers with my thumb and find his mouth with mine, wanting to feel the gasp, the moan, that I know is coming when I feel for that opening behind his balls, start slicking my fingers around and around, and I'm not disappointed. He inhales, sharp, and then moans, better than I imagined. The feel of his soft skin is better than I ever imagined, too, and the soft heat that surrounds a fingertip as I push inside a little is way more intense than anything my brain could have come up with on its own. He grabs at my back, deepening the kiss as I push in and out, shallow, twisting, then a little deeper, getting bolder because he isn't holding back, really seems to like this, to want this.
He moans again, breaking our kiss, arching his head back as I press further inside. God. I want him. Oh, God. Yes. He's easy around my finger now, starting to push back against it in rhythm, hard not to overload from the sensation of him around my finger, can't imagine that slick, tight, heat around my cock. Fuck, yeah, I can imagine it all right, hear myself moan right back at him before my mouth goes down on autopilot to a nipple. Suck, thrust, feel Ben shake a little, moan a lot, inspires me to add another finger. He sighs, deep sigh, as the second one slips in, around, and I reach up to kiss him again, look him in the eye. Kill me to stop, now, but I still ask him, "Okay?"
He closes his eyes briefly, takes another breath, and then somehow loosens himself around my fingers, pushes himself down on them . . . "Jesus, Ben!"
"Want you . . ." Hardly a sound, more of a sigh, his jaw clenched.
"Kinda . . . kinda got that," I say, my voice raspier by the second. "Want you too."
"Keep . . . keep doing that . . ." he whispers, then opens his eyes, sees me, blushes fiery red, I'm sure he has no idea how much that particular blood flow turns me on.
"No problem, Ben," I whisper back, gentler kiss this time, gentle thrusts now, but each one deeper, exploring. Shift, change the angle a little, and he bucks unexpectedly, the hand on my shoulder pushing down hard.
Shit. What'd I do? Fuck!
"Ray, do that again!"
I respond instinctively to the demand, try to duplicate what I just did, and he bucks, again, twisting himself onto my fingers, sends a jolt right to my cock. Try it again, look down to see his cock, half hard, rapidly hardening. Oh, yeah. He does want this. Does like it. Close my eyes, can't take any more visual input right now.
We're in a faster rhythm now, twist, thrust, buck, and with my eyes closed I can concentrate on my fingers. Seems to be a soft-hard nub of something there, that's what makes him wild, and he's so relaxed now it's easy to just rub against it, easy and fucking perfect, to watch him react like this, know that it's me who's doing it, that it's me he wants . . .
"Long . . . long fingers, Ray," Fraser gasps, and my eyes fly open to see him trying for a grin behind the clenched jaw.
"Hot, perfect ass, Ben," I say, voice so raspy it almost hurts to talk.
"I want . . . more," he whispers, and blushes again, deep flush.
He means it. Christ Jesus. Trusts me, wants me . . . loves me . . . don't know . . .
Sigh, my fingers stilling, rest my forehead against his chest, trying to catch my breath.
"Okay. Okay. Frase . . . uh, maybe turn over?"
I slide my fingers out all the way, fast, as he turns over, almost faster.
I pull at his hips a little. "Might be . . . easier . . . if y'get yer knees underneath . . ." And close my eyes, shaky breath, as he complies. Instantly. My mouth finds its way to his back, and I lick, suck, kiss for a minute, trying to get myself together.
"Okay. It's just . . . I just don't wanna hurt you . . . you know it hurts a little, no, of course you don't, me either, but -"
He sits up on his knees, twists around, enfolds me in a hug, a passionate kiss. "I love you. I want you. Is that clear enough?"
"Yeah. Oh, God, love you, Ben."
He drops back down to his hands and knees, looks at me, smiles, unexpectedly sweet and intimate.
I shift backwards, between his legs, his ass at the perfect height for my cock, and I close my eyes again as I hold myself at the opening with one hand, push forward slightly, because I know the visual sensory array is about to go on overload at the sight of Ben's beautiful ass closing around me.
Of course, the tactile sensory array is in a whole lot of danger too. Tight, tight opening and me trying so hard to go slow, give us both time to adjust, but my dick wants inside, all the way and fast, my body remembering that tight heat around my fingers. I feel his back muscles tense under my hand and I stop completely, frozen. After a few seconds he nods, feel him relax a little, I can push a little more.
He pushes too, backwards, and we're pushing together, still slow, feels so good, and then something seems to give, he relaxes or maybe the lube's kicking in but one long slide and I'm there.
He groans, a loud, deep, animal groan and I lean forward, clap my hand over his mouth fast, feel him shake underneath me.
"Jeez, Frase, wake the neighbours -"
"Sergeant Frobisher can sleep through anything," he says through a gasp and the remains of the laughter.
"I sure as hell hope so." And then I remember what we're doing, and what, actually, I'm doing, the panic kinda drove all thoughts outta my head for a second, so I'm almost surprised to feel him around me, warmer than warm, tighter than tight, and wow now what?
Fraser backs up against me more, like I could be any further inside him, and says, throaty-voiced, "Ray . . . I'm fairly certain that . . . that moving would be . . . nice . . ."
Move. Yeah. That might work. Good call, Frase. Try a couple short, tentative thrusts. Oh, he likes that. Me too. Oh yeah, me too. Try a longer withdraw, a harder thrust, and he moans again, not so loud this time, shifts his weight to one hand and with the other reaches between his legs. Soon as I realise what he wants, my hand's right there too, takes me a stroke or two to get the rhythm right as his hand covers mine on his cock, stroking together, feeling it harden, lengthen, as I thrust, harder, faster.
"That's it . . ." he moans. "That's . . . it . . ."
His cock jerks in our hands, thickens, and then he's coming again, and the amazing thing is I can feel his cock pulsing in my fingers and feel the exact same pulses in his ass around my cock, simultaneous. My spasms start, not quite on the same beat as his, syncopated, as I straighten, my wet hand smearing warm thick fluid all over his hip as I hold him, come with my own damn loud groan, now I know why I needed this. Needed to be a part of him. That was all. That was everything. And it was . . . perfect.
He's gone down on his elbows, quivering, and I fold myself across his back. He tucks a knee and rolls us both sideways onto the sleeping bag, suddenly I'm freezing and I'm shaky and God I hope it was okay for him. He reaches down, carefully, and slips me out, turns around fast and we're hugging, both still breathless. Reaches over, pulls a coat on top of me, enfolds me in his arms and legs.
"Are you all right?"
"That's my line."
He kisses me, soft. "I didn't think any reassurance on that front was necessary."
"Well, ditto, there." I shiver again. "Shit, I was hot a minute ago and now I can't can't "
"Undoubtedly the evaporation of the rapid accumulation and subsequent condensation "
"You come with an off switch?"
Grins, hugs me tighter. "No." Reaches behind us, fumbles with one hand, pulls out a pair of his red underwear. "Here, Ray."
"They're quite warm."
"They're quite ridiculous. Except on you."
He kisses me again, quick tongue flick across mine. "And, I imagine, on you."
Can't hold back a snort.
He says, quiet, "I've imagined . . . from time to time . . . you 'swimming' in my . . . underwear."
There ya go. That's a Mountie fantasy for you. And the thought of the warmth is tempting, but not as tempting as fulfilling the damn fantasy for Fraser, so without a word I drop a kiss on his nose and slide into 'em, fast as I can.
He sighs and starts helping me button lots of buttons with a not quite smile on his face, more a look of quiet satisfaction. More a look like you get in front of a crackling fire in a fireplace with snow whirling outside and a popcorn smell in the air and a glass of cold apple cider.
He pulls another pair on himself and has us in the sleeping bag with his usual mind bending efficiency, not that I'm complaining because I'm finally stopping with the shivers.
God, I feel good. Tired, sleepy too, warm, safe, happy. Turn my head and drop a kiss on Fraser's shoulder. Wasn't sure the red thing would fit me but it does, although it looks a helluva lot better on Fraser, I'm sure.
"Mmmm," he says.
"What are you thinking?"
"I thought guys were supposed to sleep."
"I'm somewhat . . ."
"Wired? Me too, a little."
"So what are you thinking?"
"Whaddaya think, Mountie?"
Feel his cheek move on top of my head; he's grinning. "What else?"
I stop teasing, start thinking. "Um. Wow. How cold it is. How big it is. How quiet it is."
"Yes. All of those things. They can be a trifle . . . overwhelming."
"Yeah. I guess. It's the quiet that's hardest, for me, after the city, y'know? And the wolves, like to hear 'em, but yeah, they do send shivers down the spine, don't they? Probably not yers, though."
Feel him smile again, little bit of wistfulness in his voice. "No. They sound like home to me."
"Even if it's too quiet?"
"You're worth a little quiet, Frase."
And, kinda late for their cue, we hear a distant wolf set up a howl. The dogs'll join in soon. And I've never seen anything more beautiful than Dief in the moonlit snow, nose pointed skyward, joining in the chorus. Well, except Fraser, standing in the middle of a white on white snow field, grinning all over his face, but then I'm a little biased.
His arm tightens under me as he shifts and then, softly, not quite in my ear, he starts singing that song again. I'm learning the words. I know the chorus now. But I'm suddenly too warm and tired and comfortable to even open my mouth. I just smile and listen to his voice, to the welcome sound and the wolves actually sound pretty cool now in the background . . . Bet Franklin heard those exact same wolf sounds, smelled the exact same snow in the air, ate pretty much the exact same pemmican. Makes me smile as my eyes close and I let the sound of Fraser and the wolves wash over me, wash me into sleep.
Fraser's up before dawn, sky's lightening, sticking his head out the tent flap. Sound of the zipper wakes me. I'm still groggy but he shakes me. That's so unFraser I come awake fast. He's grinning like a kid. "It snowed, Ray."
"Oh, jeez, Fraser. What's that, dogsleds on a one hour delay?"
"I think school's cancelled, Ray, so come watch the sun rise over the new snow."
Romantic, aggravating, and a morning person. Can I pick 'em or what?
"Coffee. I mean, tea. Caffeine. What the hell are you doing?"
He's stripped off the red thing and is about to duck out of the tent. He looks over his shoulder at me in surprise. "Snow shower, Ray."
"Frozen extremities, insane Mountie."
"No, no, no, Ray, not in this kind of weather. Just a brisk rubdown and a roll and then back into the warm tent. It's exhilarating. I've missed it almost more than anything else. Come on. Try it."
"Fraser. Let's go over this shower thing. Showers consist of hot water, okay? You know, when you told me Canada had indoor plumbing I thought you meant pipes and water heaters, stuff like that. Damn it, I knew I should've told Mom to send my Canadian dictionary along."
"Certainly we can heat some hot water for you if you like." He manages to look crestfallen and sympathetic at the same time. I groan and close my eyes.
"Damn it, Fraser, you are so . . ."
He leans out of the tent and scoops a whole lotta snow into a pot, puts it on the stove.
"You know, Stella had the guilt trips down, Frase. Ain't no way you can match her."
He grins. "That's for coffee, Ray. It should be hot by the time we're finished. Come on."
" . . . coffee?"
"Ray, do you think I expect you to look for the Hand of Franklin without coffee?"
"Okay. Okay. I'm awake. Okay. For coffee and for you, Fraser, I can do this."
He drops to his knees, bear hugs me. "It is a necessary adjunct to our proposed expedition."
"Yeah. I know. I do. Just . . . cold . . ."
"Come along. The sooner it's done, the sooner it will be over."
"Save it until after coffee, 'kay?"
"Right you are."
He plunges out the door and practically dives into the snow. Jesus H. Christ. Chicago. Hot water, steamy shower . . . "Shit shit shit, Ben, you're making me as crazy as you," I mutter, close my eyes, run a few feet, and drop.
"Roll," Fraser suggests, rolling himself, rubbing himself down with hands full of snow.
"I can't fucking move, Fraser."
He laughs and rolls towards me, starts grabbing snow and rubbing me down. This so does not feel good but he's right, the initial body reaction is to make more heat, so it doesn't feel as cold as it probably is.
"Okay, Ray, that's it, back inside." He pulls me up, plants a quick kiss, and pushes me in the direction of the tent.
"What about you?"
"I'll be in in a minute."
"Frase - "
"I have rather more subcutaneous fat than you, Ray."
"Well, that, and you seem to have some kinda internal combustion thing going on."
"Oh. Yeah." Because, yeah, I'm freezing my ass and other parts off but Fraser, naked, glowing, in the predawn light, is a sight to behold.
It doesn't take me as long to warm up as I thought it would. I shiver for a minute or two but after a rub down with a towel I actually feel pretty good, feel the blood kind of whooshing in my veins, hate to admit it but he's right. Almost always is. Look out the tent flap again and Fraser's just standing in the snow, staring at the mountains, lost in a reverie.
"Frase. Fraser! Fra-SER! Come on!"
He comes to with a little startle, turns, smiles a smile of simple happiness at me. Makes my knees almost go out; good thing I'm not standing up. He comes back in, shakes himself all over, starts drying off. He hardly even shivers. It's just not fair. And it takes three layers to make my pulse rate settle somewhere. Three layers on him, I mean. I sure hope he's got some time-spent-holed-up-in-a-tent planned for. If he doesn't he's gonna have to be a little flexible.
He sits down next to me as I inhale the steam from my coffee, steeping his tea. Leans against me a little. Always did love to touch him and now it's better times ten because he's touching me too.
"The sun will be up soon. You won't believe it."
"I've, uh, kinda suspended the whole disbelief thing for the past week or two, Fraser, so, you know, whatever. And I was so hoping you wouldn't get dressed so fast."
He chokes on his tea. "Ray! Try for a little decorum."
"That's pretty funny coming from a guy who rolls naked in the snow."
"That's, er, necessary. For physical and mental health."
"It's necessary to my physical and mental health to see you naked."
"I refuse to be distracted from the sunrise, Ray. And we have quite a bit to do today. You need to put some sled time in, and . . ."
"Fraser. Put the tea down."
"Ray - "
"Okay." I lean in, put my teeth on his neck. He jumps. I lick, fast. Out of the corner of my eye I see him carefully put the cup down. "That's better."
"I . . . I have a feeling we're . . . not going to . . . oh, Ray, that's . . . that's wonderful . . . we're not going to get much exploring done . . ."
"We can do both, Fraser."
"I'm starting to think perhaps we should head for my father's cabin instead . . ."
"No. No, Fraser. I want it all. I got it all. No backin' out on me now."
"Works for me." I stop nibbling, stop teasing, pull back and look at him, serious again.
"What about afterwards? I mean, me staying? I meant it. You meant it. I know that. But, you know, work permits? Work?"
"Ray, as long as you are here with me, the rest will work out."
"Oh, this is a switch. The Mountie doesn't have a plan?"
"The Mountie is far too amazed and grateful and, yes, happy, to worry about tomorrow or next week, Ray." Get my second bear hug of the morning. What the hell took us so long? I knew the second I hugged him in the bullpen that day that I wanted more hugging, more touching. Or if I didn't, then I been lyin' to myself. Squeeze back, hard, and we both huff a breath out at the same time.
The sky's starting to lighten more outside the tent walls. I kiss Fraser once more and hand him his tea back. He shakes his head and drains it in one gulp.
"Okay, lead me to the sunrise."
"That's part of the beauty, Ray. Out here, it's all around you."
"Walking in the sky?"
"It can feel like that, yes. To me."
"Your dad was . . . was something else."
Fraser looks away, fast, gets to his feet, or what passes for getting to your feet in a smallish tent, fast, and says, "Come on," his voice husky again, looking the other way.
"It's quite all right, Ray. He was."
"Ray - "
"'S okay, Fraser. 'S okay to miss him. 'S okay to be happy too, you got Muldoon. You got Gerrard, you got Muldoon, you kinda avenged him and your mom, if you believe in that stuff, you know, you kinda put his soul at peace."
He finally looks at me, see tears in his eyes, oh God, my heart breaks. "Yes. I know. Sometimes, though, I would rather still have him. Which is utterly and entirely selfish, because he ought to be happy now."
"Fraser . . ." Fucking tears in my own eyes, what the hell is it with this man? "Come here, damn it!" Tug him down, hug him hard, turn my head to kiss his ear, whisper, "Love you," in it. He sobs, just once, almost reflexively, at that. I hold him, one hand in his hair, one on his back, feel hot wetness on my neck. Realise after a few seconds that I'm rocking him, shit, way to embarrass the hell outta the Mountie, but he doesn't seem to mind, just holds me too, hard.
"S . . . sorry, Ray." Swallows, gulps.
"Ben, it's okay, it's okay. You probably . . . you probably just . . . maybe you just haven't had a chance to deal with it all in the past few years. Maybe it's just hitting you now, full circle."
He says slowly, "You . . . you may be right, Ray."
"No need to sound so surprised, Mountie."
"No, I mean it. What with one thing and another, I hadn't really, er, thought about his being dead. I mean, I knew, intellectually, that he was dead, but he seemed to still be here, in one peculiar way or another, and so I didn't . . ."
Got no idea what he's talking about, but lots of times I don't anyhow, so I just hug him again, while he talks on, talks it out, know that's a good thing.
"In some ways, we seemed even closer, and I was able to say things I'd never been able to say when he was alive. Mind you, he was just as aggravating if not more so, but those things needed to be said. Well, most of them. And then . . . here . . . he seemed to be here all the time . . . in the crevasse and on the mountain . . ."
"I always knew you had a rich fantasy life, Fraser."
He chokes, laughs, one stray sob coming in on the tail end of it. "What I have, now, is you, and a future, Ray, that I didn't have before. After the mine I thought I was meant to be alone."
He pulls us both up and out of the tent almost in one motion in time to see the streaks in the sky lighten from pink into gold and then yellow-white brightness. He's right. The new snow and the sky are so bright, together, you can't see where one ends and the other begins, except for the stray pink shadows on the snow, which is mind bending in itself. My mouth falls open and I forget to close it again as I turn a full circle.
"Oh, Ben . . ."
And then just like in a goddamn nature documentary the sun breaks over the peak of a mountain, dazzling the snow, touching the peaks and rocks with almost liquid brightness, setting fire to the ice.
"Holy . . ."
"Ray. Ray. Ray."
" . . . Mother of God . . ."
"I love you."
I finally look at him, knowing I'm going to see his face almost golden in the sudden sunlight and I'm not disappointed. "You are so beautiful."
"I wish you could see yourself, Ray."
"I love you too."
Somehow our arms are around each other and he whispers, right up against my mouth, "Forever, Ray?"
This is so right, so perfect, even if it's so cold. "Forever, Ben." Simple vow, scary vow, but easy to say, easy to mean, something I've needed my whole life, something most people never get, but I got it and I won't let it go.
"Forever," he repeats, and I can tell it's a vow for him too. And we're both so serious we don't even feel like kissing, we just stare into each other's eyes for a long time. Always thought that love shining out of 'em stuff was just a metaphor but I see it, now, here, on this miraculous morning, and I'll never be alone again. Neither will he.
We've just finished staking the dogs out again when we hear an airplane. Frobisher and Fraser look at each other and Fraser gets his little pirate thing out. "Piper Cub."
They look at each other again and say, "Huh," at the same time.
Shake my head and make for the fire. The bigos'll taste way better today, if I get it thawed in time for dinner. And I'm achin' in muscles I didn't know I had, figure the plane is carrying some more Fraser and/or Frobisher weirdness in terms of friends which will make itself apparent shortly, so the fire is definitely my number one destination.
Fraser hauls the harnesses over to the fire and dumps them on a groundsheet. Apparently we need to check 'em for signs of wear, grease 'em up.
"How are you doing, Ray?"
He moves behind me, mittens off, strong fingers digging right into that shoulder muscle that's spazzin' on me. "Ah, Jesus, Fraser, how did you . . ."
He leans down to whisper confidentially in my ear. "Mine were hurting too a couple of days ago. Better?"
"Just don't . . . ah, God . . . don't stop."
Plane's getting louder and louder and we both turn to watch it land. Everything about this place is like watchin' some TV documentary where everything is pristine and mind boggling and perfect and so I love the plane. Bright orange, dinged up, polar bear painted on the pilot door. Definitely not photogenic.
"Who's that, Fraser?"
"I have no idea." Puts his mittens back on and starts walking toward the plane. Frobisher's already there. I wiggle my shoulders a little. Better. Definitely need more of that finger action later though. Wish I'd known about his sore shoulders. Mr. Stoic, there, gotta watch him.
Frobisher's talking to the pilot as they start walking to the fire. Fraser's talking to the passenger as they walk, slower, to the fire. He already took her bag.
Thatcher. What's she doing back? Gonna try for the Mountie one last time?
"Would you care for some tea, sir?"
"No, thank you, Constable, I don't have much time. I heard about your proposed expedition. I thought perhaps there was something I could do to help."
"Oh. Ah. Well, that's very kind in you, Inspector - "
"Don't interrupt, Constable."
She opens the bag and starts pulling things out. Books. Papers.
"I knew you'd need a few reference materials. In addition, I took the liberty of borrowing a few of the RCMP's Geological Survey maps. I also stopped at the bank for you." An envelope joins the pile of books and maps on the groundsheet.
Fraser starts to smile. I'm a little taken aback myself. Ice Queen, ruthlessly efficient, turning it in Fraser's direction for once.
"Here's a Canon EOS 1N RS, cold weather package. Film, also cold weather package. Filters, lenses, polarisers. RCMP issue, Constable, so I don't need to tell you they expect it returned in the same condition it was issued."
"Hand receipts, sir?"
"I signed those, Constable."
I don't know what that means, but it hits Fraser right where he lives. He actually starts to stammer. "Sir . . . th-that's . . . y-you . . ."
She sighs, but I see her holding back a grin. "I'd hand receipt it to you, Constable, but I don't have a pen that works in this awful climate. Now. You have accumulated far more than your annual twenty-five days of leave. Technically you are not allowed to accumulate more than three month's worth, but an exception to policy has been made and your back leave has been reinstated, to encompass a maximum of six months. I doubt, knowing you, Constable, that you will need that much time."
"No, er, undoubtedly, sir. That's very generous - "
She hesitates, though, for just a minute. Frobisher hands her a cup of tea and she takes it almost absent-mindedly.
"I've . . . I've received my requested assignment. I'll be joining the newly formed Criminal Intelligence section." She hesitates again and glances at Frobisher and the pilot.
They look back at her and then at each other. Frobisher gets up and slaps the pilot on the back. "Let's check out the engines."
Thatcher waits until they're out of earshot. And in a quieter voice she starts again.
"I've . . . I've been talking to . . . people . . . in Ottawa." She looks at me and I know it's rude but I ain't budging. I sit down, stir the stew, that's all the privacy she's getting this time.
"Oh, all right, Fraser, I admit I've been, er, worried about you. About your career. Since . . . well, since I'd gotten to know you."
"I appreciate that, sir, but I can take care - "
"Of yourself, yes, I know, Fraser. However, I owe a duty to the men and women under my command, and I think even you would admit that we've forged a bond. A professional bond. Of sorts. A stronger bond than one normally finds in a posting such as the one we've just, ah, endured together."
"Yes, sir, I think that's a fair assessment - "
"Therefore," she gets louder, overriding him, "I've felt it incumbent upon me to attempt to mitigate some of the negative, as you might say, reaction to your completely justified action which resulted in your exile and I use the word advisedly, Benton to Chicago."
I feel her eyes on me and look at her, a little challengingly. She clears her throat, looks back at Fraser.
"I had already put some of this in train, Constable, before the events of the past two weeks. The rest of it is still being organised; however, the, ah, addition of Detective Kowalski to future plans necessitated some rearrangement on my part."
Holy shit. I look at Fraser, startled outta my wits, but he's giving nothing away.
"I admit I was torn between two or three postings, and the final decision will, of course, be yours, but I had narrowed it down to Holman, Aklavik, or Deline, when someone brought Norman Wells to my attention."
She's got Fraser's full attention now, eyes narrowed, intent.
"I wouldn't necessarily rule out Holman, Constable, but I think the posting that's opening up in Norman Wells should be given serious consideration." She bends to pull something else out of the bag at her feet, opens a folder, hands it to Fraser. "This is an outline of the detachment, the facilities, and the community." She turns that page over and says, "And, this, Constable, is your promotion. You would be the NCOIC at Norman Wells." She digs into her pocket, pulls something out that I can't see, and presses it into Fraser's hand as he juggles the folder, which I grab to keep from falling, assignment and promotion and all, into the fire or the food. He's speechless. He's looking at a little black and gold line in his hand.
She clears her throat again. "I understand that it is, ah, permitted to rent extra bedrooms, should you so desire, since the rent for your quarters is deducted from your pay. If, that is, you can find a roommate."
Looks at me again. "Fortunately Constable Turnbull was able to locate the application for permanent residency that you put in at the Consulate."
"Indubitably, Detective. The application has to be submitted from outside Canada, as you know."
"Uh, right. I knew that. Sure."
"Since Const - Corporal Fraser sponsored you, the paperwork is almost through. In light of your recent assistance, they waived the interview requirement. Here are some temporary papers to tide you over, although I doubt that you'll need anything of the sort until you get back."
Fraser's beyond speech. It's up to me, I guess, and I'm not as good at words. So I stand up and grab her and hug her. She hugs me back, for a few long seconds, before letting me go. Human as I've ever seen her. Her eyes are a little bright. She looks straight at me. "I don't belong here. I hope you do."
Fraser finally gets his voicebox open. "He does. And thank you, sir."
She holds a hand up. "Not necessary, Con Corporal. I am doing my duty. I've had an excellent tutor in that respect." She stands back, looks at him for a long, long minute, and then slowly salutes him. Fraser turns bright red, returns the salute with an embarrassed kind of snap.
Awkward kind of minute, broken by Frobisher's voice as he and the pilot start back towards us again. "Let's just fill your thermos for the return flight," he's saying. "Unless you have time for some stew."
Thatcher puts the kibosh on that. "No, I'm afraid not, Sergeant. I am due at my new posting tomorrow and every moment counts. Corporal, I'm afraid I need the rest of that bag, if you'd be so kind."
"Of course, sir." Fraser picks up the half empty bag and starts walking to the plane with her. I let 'em go. I figure she's not gonna kiss him now, and wonder who told her about us. News travels fast. Welsh. Probably. Yeah. And have to admit that I underestimated the hell out of her. Generous doesn't even come close. I sure wouldn't be that nice if I was in her shoes. Lot to be said for this politeness stuff, this kindness stuff, this duty stuff, this Canadian stuff, after all.
Pilot heads off to the plane after a minute with his full thermos and a quick taste of the bigos. Fraser and Thatcher are still talking. Talk talking, it looks like, actual interchange of words, and as the pilot approaches, Fraser salutes her. She grabs him by the arms and, with flair, kisses him on each cheek. I don't have my glasses so I can't see his grin but I'm sure it's there. He gives her a leg up into the plane and tosses the bag in after her, and slowly walks back to Frobisher and me.
Frobisher says to me, "Corporal? I knew she'd come through. Did she mention a posting?"
Yeah, why did Thatcher bother sending him away? She should've known I'd spill as soon as she left. I'm real susceptible to these Mountie types. "Norman Wells."
"Ah! A bit civilised for me, but a good choice for acclimation, as it were. And close to the Yukon, good dogs there for the Iditarod. Fraser's cabin isn't too far away. Not close enough to live in, though."
Fraser's back by now, joining in. "Certainly within a reasonable distance for weekends. Perhaps I'll finally get that addition on, not to mention some indoor facilities."
"Good work, Benton."
Fraser looks from one of us to the other and blushes again. "Is dinner ready?"
We've done the tallow and tack thing and Frobisher's studying some of the maps Thatcher brought. Fraser's got one too, and every now and then he points something out to me. I'm trying, without much success because of the firelight and because of the complex prose, to start in on Franklin's Narrative. Lytton Strachey had nothing on Franklin. I'll try again in the daylight. Close the book, lean over to look at the map with Fraser. He leans, too, so our shoulders are touching. Frobisher scoots his stool over, still holding his preferred map in one hand, so we can all three look at both maps.
My mind worries at Frobisher and Thatcher for a minute. Frobisher's got a weird way of looking at things, definitely a little off, so if Fraser's dad was anything like that, it explains a lot about Fraser. I didn't expect Frobisher to be so matter of fact about us but I can see how he's that way.
Thatcher . . . gotta admit my head's still spinning on that one. Even if she's, you know, open-minded in general, I didn't expect her to be so open-minded in specific, about me. She's always been a little, a lot, dog-in-the-mangerish about Fraser, so her U-turn, and about me, is completely out of left field. Want to ask Fraser, but I don't know if I want to hear the answer, or if he knows the answer, or if he even wants to talk about it. And it's his thing to worry about the future, but he's not, and I am. How are other people gonna take this? Other Mounties? NCOIC implies Fraser'll be in charge of someone. How'm I gonna affect that? Am I gonna mess it up for him? Thatcher didn't seem to think so, but she and I have never seen eye to eye on much. Well, on anything.
"Ray. You're not listening."
"Uh, no. Sorry, Frase."
"Ray. Don't worry. About anything."
How's he do that? How's he know? "I'm not."
Fraser shakes his head. "Yes, you are. First things first. The quest."
"Yeah, 'course, Fraser. I'm good to go. Well, not sled wise I'm gonna slow you down . . ."
"For a while, yes, Ray, but we're not on a schedule. Ah, schedule." He says it the American way second, wrinkling his nose. Why that turns me on I do not know but it does. Fortunately the temperature makes that mostly wishful thinking, for now, anyway. "You'll need to get accustomed to the climate, and your muscles will need to get used to driving, but there's no hurry. Speaking of climate, have some pemmican."
"This public service announcement was brought to you by the Canadian Pemmican Association, Corporal Benton Fraser, RCMP, spokesman."
That gets a snort and then a chuckle from Frobisher. "I wouldn't be surprised if there was one."
"I'm sure there is," I say, and then start chewing. Stuff gets caught in my teeth but I know it's high fat, high cal, and I can tell Fraser's gonna fuss ten thousand times more than my mom ever did. He's usually protective anyhow and I know as well as he does how many calories you can burn in this kinda weather. That's why he's being so tactful about the second sled. I gotta seriously up the calorie intake to be able to handle a day of running with a dog sled. And he's probably gotta ease back into it too. Chicago doesn't exactly prep you for Arctic expeditions, physically or mentally. He will and does tough it out, but like he said, there's no hurry. We got time. Cold, frozen waste type time, but alone time, so I'll take it how I can get it.
Frobisher looks at Fraser and then at me, and then says, "There's some stew left."
Jesus, two of 'em.
"I'm not hungry. And I'm not stupid."
Fraser reaches for, finds, my hand, holds it tight. No words needed. Yeah, I get it, Fraser. And he gets it too, turns the conversation back to the Beaufort Sea.
Frobisher packs it in a little while later. "Don't stay up too late. You ought to get an early start," he says. Without a single note of double entendre. Amazing.
Fraser goes to check the dog line. I walk off in the other direction a little ways. Digesting. Reflecting. Been up on top of the mountain; feel like I'm coming down the other side now, everything rushing by so fast I don't have time to think or even react, but for some reason I got time to be scared. Terrified. What if I screw this up? What if I screw up the quest? What if we end up in a crevasse with no Grade Four classmate to happen by and pull us out? What if I freak Ben out and he stops wanting me, loving me, needing me like I want, love, need him? Stella and me said forever too and she couldn't go the distance with me. But she can go the distance with Vecchio. I shake myself, grin. Yeah, right. Believe that when I see it.
Ben's boots crunch behind me in the snow, pulls me into a hug from behind.
"It's going to be all right, Ray."
"I'm glad one of us thinks so." Don't know where that came from. But I do know that I gotta know, now, just like before. If he can handle pissy Ray; if he wants to.
"So am I." Hear the smile in his voice, the warm breath in my ear.
"You want me?"
"You sure about that?"
He actually laughs, then. "I thought you said you weren't stupid. I love you. I like you. It's all right to have cold feet, Ray."
"It's not just my feet, Fraser."
Holds me some more, sighs into my neck.
"If it's reassuring, Ray, I have warm feet."
"You probably do, Mountie. Both of 'em. You sure jumped in with both feet, too, didn't you?"
"Fraser. Are you tryin' to charm me outta my bad mood?"
"Okay, I like that humming thing, that humming thing into my neck. I don't have really cold feet, okay? You understand?"
"It's just . . . okay, you know, usually you're the one with the plans. The one in control. The one who's always two steps ahead of everyone. And I'm the think later one. We kinda switched. It's a little freaky."
"We're in Canada now."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I . . . I'm not sure."
"So, like, we're in Canada, at the mercy of Mother Nature and the elements and . . . and polar bears and crevasses, and now you decide to lose the control freakiness? I figured you'd be even more uptight here than in Chicago."
He's quiet for a few moments, can almost hear that brain ticking, but on second thought it's probably his heartbeat. "Here . . . here I am all I can control, Ray. Myself and my actions. I can't control those other things, although I can hopefully predict circumstances and affect outcomes. It's . . . you're right. It's oddly freeing, compared to Chicago, and I didn't realise why until just now."
"You were kinda like a sheep dog in Chicago but you didn't know whether to go after the sheep or the goats."
His whole body shakes as he buries his head in my shoulder and lets loose.
"I'm so glad you can laugh at me."
"I am too," he gasps. Impossible man. Impossible to stay mad at him, impossible to have hurt feelings. "The, ah, Canadian flock is, indeed, much more manageable."
"So . . ."
He finally sobers, turning me around to look at him, wiping his eyes on his coat sleeve.
"So you're cool with it. Cool with the future thing, the posting thing, the roommate thing?"
"Absolutely and entirely."
"You cool with the toothpaste squeezed from the middle of the tube? Is that one of those elemental things that you just let happen? You cool with who drank all the milk and forgot to get more?"
"Actually, Ray, often it's much more cost effective to bulk order groceries in case lots and have them shipped via the river barge during the summer."
"Yes, Ray. I am 'cool' with all of that. You and I can have separate tubes of toothpaste."
"Separate cartons of milk?"
"That won't be necessary. As long as you don't mind if I drink out of the carton."
"You? You drink out of the carton too?"
"Upon occasion, yes."
"Cool. Coolness. Guys are so much cooler than chicks."
He laughs again, hugs me, but that reminds me of the other problem, the bigger one. Pull back, look him in the eye.
"You cool with the homophobia thing?"
He sobers abruptly. "I should have thought my reactions to you would obviate the necessity of asking that question." Oooh, got a nerve. Multisyllabic Mountie.
"That's not an answer."
"I love you, I want you - "
"Neither's that. Sounds good, don't mind hearing it, but it's not an answer."
Sighs, tugs his ear, shifts his weight from left foot to right and back again. "Then perhaps I'm not understanding the question. I want to be with you. I want to live with you. I'm not particularly concerned with what other people will think, although I am aware that there may be some unpleasantness. Not much, I hope, since I think that my country is less concerned about such things, in many respects, than yours. Specifically, the beliefs of many of the indigenous populations in the Northwest Territories are much more accepting of relationships such as ours than one might think."
"Sounds too good to be true, Ben." Well, it does. But I feel bad when I see his face fall.
"In actuality, then, it's you who are worried about this." He frowns a little. Drops his eyes to the snow at our feet. I can kinda feel him pulling back into himself, not so open, not so warm, not so happy. Back to Fraser, my partner and friend, but not my lover. Barriers, that's it. Barriers, going up, expecting pain. Expecting hurt. Expecting rejection.
"Ben . . ." Say it as soft, as warm as I can. He looks back up, but I can't read his eyes. "We already said it. Forever. But like I said, you don't seem to be thinking ahead. And I can't help it, I am. Your career's finally back on track. You got a promotion, a lot of attaboys, probably a decoration or two in the works, if Thatcher's double sticks around a while longer. And I don't want to mess that up. Don't want to mess up the Mountie part of you. I know how much it means to you, bein' a Mountie. I won't leave you. I've loved you a long time. I'll love you forever. But you're being so open about this. Is it because you're not thinking? Or is it because you really, logically, don't think we gotta hide anything?"
He searches my face for a long, long minute, then puts one hand on each cheek and holds me, straight eyed.
"I refuse to hide anything, Ray. I see no need for it. And yes, that is both my instinct and my logic agreeing, Ray. I hope you appreciate the rarity of that concord."
"I hope I learn to speak Canadian, and right speedily."
"I love you."
"Okay, that sounds familiar. What's that mean in Canadian?"
"I want you."
"Oh, I like the translation. How do you say I love you in Canadian?"
"I want you."
"Wow. I think I got that. That's pretty easy. Is the rest that easy?"
"That's the most important part, Ray. The only part, really. Forever means the same, of course, unless you're Quebeçois but we're not so don't worry about it."
"Cool. Want you, love you, forever, Ben."
"You're a quick study, Ray." He pulls back and looks at me, serious again. "So is this all right? Are your feet any warmer?"
"They feel like they just got an extra pair of wool socks, Fraser. Looks like you got a roommate. Tentmate now, I mean, roommate later."
"Bedrollmate would be more to my liking, Ray. Sleepingbagmate."
"Sounds good to me because I ain't gonna be able to afford a whole bedroom until I find a job. I was kinda planning to share yers."
"We'll worry about that after we find the Hand of Franklin, Ray. Right now, I think we should concentrate on simply sharing a sleeping bag. Rent free."
"We going to find it, Frase?"
"Who knows? The journey is what matters, Ray."
"Yeah, wondered how long it would be before you let that philosopher guy back out."
Pulls me against him as we start walking, stumbling from time to time because we can't let go of each other, towards our tent. I'm insane. I know that. Six months of down time and I'm gonna spend it in the icebox of the world all because I can't stay away from a crazy Mountie. Icebox, yeah. Wind's picking up, temperature's dropping fast, even I can tell. But in spite of that I look around at the stars, amazing stars, stop, gawking, and Fraser stumbles, pulls me back against him.
"It's like living in a fucking National Geographic," I say. "You ever get tired of it? You ever stop to think how amazing it is that the stars practically light up the snow?"
"No and yes," he says. "I love seeing it through your eyes, though."
"You know, Fraser, if I'd known how, uh, communicative ice makes you I'd've bought a walk-in freezer in Chicago."
Kinda expected the non-answer of a Mountie mouth on mine, I have to admit. Hot mouth, cold wind . . .
"Well, I'm not the one who keeps stopping to look at the stars."
"No, you just keep stopping to see if you can freeze our lips together."
"Ray, have I mentioned that you have the most delightful thoughts?"
Shake my head at him, grin, pull him into the tent behind me, boots off, learned that first thing. Not boots. Mukluks. The real deal. They work too, kinda surprised me. I mean, plain old leather and fur? In the Arctic waste? Who'd've thought?
Fraser gets his off pretty fast too, even though they're regulation Mountie type cold weather boots, while I'm shucking my coat. He drops his coat on top of mine a few seconds later. But instead of settling in for some kissing, he moves behind me, rubbing his palms over my shoulders before digging into the selfsame muscle that was bugging me big time before dinner.
"Oh, Frase. Oh. Wow. You don't . . . ow . . . you don't have to . . ."
"I want to."
"Okay, then. Go for it."
He leans in to kiss the back of my neck, whispers, "Then relax," against it. Yeah, gave that away, he knows the back of my neck and his lips got a real duet thing going there now. Leaves his mouth there, just breathing warm air, while his fingertips push and move the muscle between my shoulder blade and spine, workin' the last knots away and incidentally turning the rest of me into jelly. So after a minute or two, when his breath is replaced by his tongue, just gently flicking, I hardly react except to say something real intelligent, something like, "Mmmmm."
Lips join tongue, sucking, flicking gently, right at my hairline, wow. Hands smooth across my back and then around my front to hold me while he puts the mouth to serious work. Talented, so talented lips and tongue and, oh, perfect, Frase, teeth, gentle scrape, then bite, and I shudder. Can't believe I'm getting hard just from this. Well, it's Fraser, so okay, I can believe it.
Lips, tongue, make their way around to an ear and I jump, jerk back against solid Fraser. "Oh, Frase . . . nice . . ." He pushes against me in return, feel his hardness in the small of my back, one hand on my stomach, encouraging me to rock back against him. The other hand is at my waist, undoing buttons, zippers, one handed, unsurprisingly efficient.
Finally I twist around, can't go another second without tasting him, breathing him, holding him. Oh, yeah, tastes better than I remember even from five minutes ago, wood smoke, pemmican, and all. Too soon he leaves my mouth, starts down my chin, seems to like the stubble, although by now it's almost beard, and then runs teeth down the tendon in my neck. Goddamn, he's hot. He's good. He's perfect at this . . . I've never been made love to, not like this, not like I'm the only thing in the universe. I could get used to it. Seriously used to it . . . and he gets another moan outta me as he fastens himself to the base of my neck, sucking, almost too hard, way possessive, but I am all over that, I know I belong to him and vice versa. I arch my head back, push his head down, squirm against him, encourage him for all I'm worth, wanting to feel the tongue, the lips, and yeah, finally, the burn, the sting, as he gives in and marks me. Involuntary gasp and he raises his head, a little worried, a lot wild.
"Do it . . . do it again, Fraser, you know I'm yours," I say, too unsteady, rewarded with a flash of more wildness as he lowers his head again, lips back at work, different place this time, one hand under the back of my neck, the other slipping inside my pants to cup my ass. Another burn, another sting, moves his head down onto my chest, does it again, no way I could come just from his lips on my skin but it's real tempting.
Raises his head, finally, looks at me long and hard before he kisses me, long and hard, we're stretched out full length now, still too many fucking clothes on, as I pull at his pants, his shirt . . . Tent's usually pretty damn warm, those stoves are efficient at small space heating, so I don't even notice the loss of my shirts. I know he's not gonna notice the loss of his. Got his bare chest above me, finally, zero in on his neck just above that collarbone, leave a mark of my own.
"Feels fuckin' fantastic, don't it?"
Shudders, nods, leans in to kiss me again, harder than before, thrusting tongue into me, thrusting cock against me. Want the tongue . . . realise with a shock I want the cock too. Oh God. Grab him, hold him still, trying to get my head to get with the program, trying to keep my body from hitting overthrust and overdrive way too soon.
"Yeah. Yeah. Okay, Fraser. Okay. Do that thing with your tongue again. That thing, the thing with your mouth."
He's still looking at me, Christ, I killed the mood, come on, Fraser. Look at him and then down him, then back at his face and grin as I start to unbutton his pants. He doesn't say anything, doesn't even breathe, as I push the pants off his hips. Stares at me, wants me, still worried.
So I reach up to lick his nipple, practically eye level with me, scrape it with my teeth. "Like that? I like feelin' your teeth on me too."
Wildness is back, oh yeah, as he kicks his pants the rest of the way off, lowers his head to my neck again, licking, biting, sucking my neck, my chest, my shoulders, didn't know my skin had so many nerve endings, as we fumble my pants off together. He stops then, looks at me, looks at my cock, feral grin on his face matching the one on mine as he whispers, "You like teeth?" and runs his tongue over his teeth.
I say, hungry, "Fuck, yeah . . ."
Practically swallows me in one swoop, no teeth yet, just strong hot tongue and mouth, suction, once, twice, and then the mouth is gone again. He pushes my cock forward and lowers his head again and then I feel the teeth, gentle nibbles all the way down, and I am losing my mind. He does it again. Mind's gone. Scrabble at his shoulders, pull him up to look at him. "Like the teeth. Want more than teeth. Got it?"
Understanding dawns. So does a smile. "Was that - ?"
"Yeah. Just . . . just, uh, yeah."
Wow. Wow. Guess he . . . wow . . . liked it. I mean, really liked it. Is more than okay with it. With us. Realise my mouth is hanging open when he grins and pushes it closed with a finger. For someone who hasn't gotten around much, he sure as hell knows what he wants and how he wants it. Mmmmyeah.
Words skitter around in my head but all that pops out is a smart-ass, "Guess it's all aboard for fun time, then, Mountie."
He throws his head back and laughs, deep-chested, from his toes, shakes his head as he reaches over to dig in his pile of shirts. Oh yeah. Dual duty tube. Chapped lips, unchapped dicks.
And he's a fast learner, knew that already. Even with my kinda fumbling example last night, he's got it down tonight, strong gentle fingers teasing, twisting, oh God stretching, one, then another. And he's added the mouth, licking, sucking weird places, my hip bone, my knee, my ribcage. I want to do the same to him, for him, but all I can do right now is exist, be here, don't wanna be anywhere else, don't want him to ever stop and can't wait until he does, until he gives me what I want. That thought propels my hips right down onto his fingers and he kinda chokes a little, stops licking, closes his eyes for a second. No, he's not quite as together as I think he is.
"'Kay, Ben. 'Kay."
"Oh. God. Ray." Kinda grunts the words out as I roll over, push my ass up in the air. I grunt right back, wordless sound, close my eyes in anticipation, relief, dread as I feel his thighs between mine, his hand on my ass, I know where his other hand is, guiding his cock . . . oh yeah . . . right there . . . and he starts pushing.
Feels impossibly huge, I feel too tight, burning, some pain. Pant a few pants and he stops, leans over me.
"Better than okay . . . just . . . getting used to it . . . you know . . ."
He pulls back a little, pushes in just a little, shallow thrusts, that's it, that's easier, and if I'd just relax it'd be even better. Deep breath, squeeze my eyes shut, consciously relaxing, loosening, and he pushes in some more . . . and moans . . . The moan just fucking finishes turning me on and I push back against him hard, wanting him in me, filling me, needing all of him.
"Want me, Fraser?"
"Need to . . . need to hear it, Fraser."
He's all the way in now, deep inside, oh God yeah.
"Ray, I want you . . . want this . . . and I have you, have this . . ."
Fuck, he always always always has the right words. Yeah, that's what I wanted last night, to have him, what I needed, tonight, for him to have me. To want me, to claim me, needed to know that I was his, completely.
A little cautiously, he pulls back, thrusts in. Getting easier. Yeah. He does it again, harder, and again, and hits something inside me that makes me jerk, makes my cock, only half hard now, twitch.
"God, Ben. What -"
He does it again. "Aw, yeah, right there . . ."
Somehow, somehow, manages to kinda rub his cock right there, right in that place, I'm hard again just from that, and moaning senseless moans.
"Is that is that right, Ray?" Voice shaking, iron self control, hell, can't believe he's lasted this long."
"You're a natural, Frase. Unnhhhh . . ." Definitely a fast learner, knows what he likes, as one hand soothes past my hip to curl firmly around my cock.
Thrust, withdraw, thrust, stroke . . . oh fuck . . .
"Ray!" Somehow he remembers not to yell, harsh harsh whisper, raspy with the effort of not screaming, don't I know it, as he thrusts, hard, deep, and moves both hands to hold my hips still, spasm after spasm filling me, so goddamn fucking perfect, so goddamn fucking right . . .
"Sorry. Sorry," he gasps, pulling us together as he lands, heavily, on his side, still in me. "Overwhelming . . . sorry . . . I . . . to be part of you . . . to have you . . ."
Open my mouth to reassure him and almost yelp instead as his hand finds my cock again, stroking hard, fast, feel warm wetness trickling out of me as he softens, still inside me. Hot breath on my neck, hot tongue, and then teeth, biting, gently but there, right into my shoulder, that's all it takes, jerk back against his teeth, he bites harder, thrust forward into his hand, shudder, and come, hard, can't hold back the noise even though I try to swallow it.
When I come to my senses a few seconds later, he's still apologising, still holding me, whispering nonsense words. "Sorry, Ray, I needed you. I didn't expect . . . I love you. God. Ray."
"Love you too." Sleepy or something, having trouble forming words, feel like crying but not because I'm sad.
"Are you all right?" Feel him get up on an elbow, move over to look down at my face. I roll onto my back a little, smile at him. I can manage a smile. Blink back the tears. His face, already worried, gets more worried as he takes mine in. "I did hurt you. I'm so sorry, Ray."
"Stop fucking apologising, Ben. I loved it. Love you. It's not that, okay?"
"Ah." Back on track now, our thoughts meshing again. He smiles, finally, tender, sweet, and glances around. I follow his eyes to his hand, to my mess there.
"Need a towel?"
"Or . . . something."
"We're gonna have to do something about the laundry problem, I guess."
"It's a wonderful problem to have," he says, getting up, sticking his hand outside the tent flap to wash it in the snow.
"Don't you dare put that hand on me . . ." I grin as I say that and somewhere get the energy to slide inside the sleeping bag and pull it up around me, my eyes drifting shut. Feel complete, full, loved; know this is gonna work, the whole thing, not just the sex . . . feels so good . . .
"Ray. Ray, we can't sleep naked in this weather."
"Whatever, Frase." Can't even get my eyes open.
"Oh, Ray." Half teasing, half resigned, and my eyes fly open, my arms fly up, as I feel ice on my neck. His hand.
"Shit, Fraser, I told you -"
He doesn't look too repentant as he hands me his red underwear. "I'll warm you right back up. Might I point out that this underwear has an appropriately placed flap or two?"
I stop buttoning for a second, stare at him. "What?" He's blushing. After all that, he's blushing about underwear. The man will never bore me, that's for certain.
"I was simply pointing out that as we head further north and it gets colder, it might not be necessary or indeed expedient to remove all -"
"I get it, I get it. This is a Canadian invention, right? I love how you people think. Come here. I'm still cold."
He doesn't waste any time at that, his fingers flying on the last few buttons, slides down into the bag with me and we wrap our arms and legs around each other. My own furnace. I doubt Franklin had it so good.
My mouth ended up by his ear. "So you liked it? Plan to, uh, do it some more?"
"I loved it. I love you. I love feeling so close to you."
"I love you and I love hearing you say stuff like that even if it does blow my mind."
"Oh, jeez, Fraser, don't start that or we'll be thankin' each other all night and then we'll oversleep on our quest morning."
Feel him smile against my cheek as he hugs me, hard, hug him right back. Right here, this is where I belong, where he belongs. Feel my body relax. Feel him relax too. No wolves tonight, just the sound of us breathing in the quiet. Until I feel him take a breath and start singing again, soft, intimate, warm in my ear.
"Ah, for just one time, I would take the Northwest Passage . . ."
Whisper the words along with him, for the chorus anyhow. Manage to stay awake, tonight, for three whole verses, I think.
Always a couple of last minute things, Frobisher suddenly panicking that we didn't pack enough solid fuel for the stove, so the sun's coming up between two peaks before I finally get settled into the sled. Dief's raring to go. So's Fraser. I can tell: can practically feel the adrenaline coursing through his body. But he doesn't say anything. Probably can't. Catch a flash of scarlet outta the corner of my eye: Frobisher saluting Fraser. Quick sidelong glance, Fraser returning the salute, looking prouder than I've ever seen him. Yeah. Guess he earned that. No, I know he earned that. Look forward again, it's his moment. Then I feel more than see him look out the line to the dogs, then to the sun, then down at me. Taps my shoulder.
I don't need to look at him. This is him, this is me, this is us, this is forever; Fraser wiped out all doubts of anything less last night. Let's get to it already. I'm good to go. Nod a little nod, point forward with the fingers of both hands towards the sun.