AN INTIMATE QUANDARY
"A little more, Ray," Fraser called to his friend stationed above him as his keen ears picked up the sound of an approaching vehicle. A four wheel drive jeep if he wasn't mistaken.
Ray Kowalski was perched on the roof of the cabin and assisting Fraser in leveling the final beam across the top. He allowed additional slack into the rope that acted as a pulley for the huge log, careful to maintain his balance on the slippery slope beneath him.
"More?" he hollered down, grunting under the strain. The biceps in his arms rippled impressively under the soft fabric of the sweatshirt he wore, with the sleeves rolled up for convenience. When his partner didn't respond immediately from the other side he called out again. "Fraser! Com'on, this thing is kinda heavy y'know."
"Oh!" Fraser returned his attention to their chore. "Sorry, Ray. That's fine, right there." The Mountie quickly secured the beam to the other posts, then removed the rope and tossed it back up to Ray.
"What'cha lookin' at?" Ray asked curiously, as he gathered up the rope. "Dief tryin' to make a snow angel again?" He cautiously walked down and across the roof to where Fraser was perched on the ladder, looking toward the horizon.
"It appears we have visitors, Ray," the Canadian replied indicating the SUV jeep that was approaching them. Fraser turned to climb down the ladder, then waited for Ray to descend before heading toward the front of the cabin.
Ray followed sedately, not all that concerned about who was approaching. Although, he was a little curious as to who would be all the way out here in the middle of nowhere other than illegal trappers. Fraser had the land decreed a natural habitat for the wildlife. Only the few Inuit that lived in the area were permitted to cross it, since they depended on the wildlife for their survival as Ray and Fraser did.
He paused half way down the ladder and cast a glance at the vehicle as it kicked up a cloud from some of the earlier snowfall and mud on the road.
It was still early September and a large portion of the snow had melted a good bit over the summer months. There was still plenty of snow of course, the territories had entirely too much snowfall for it all to melt away, but there were patches of land and grass in varied sections of the area that surrounded Fraser's cabin. Tall looming trees shaded much of the land toward the back of the cabin, where a small barn had also been erected to house the sled dogs and Fraser's horse.
Wildlife wandered amongst them on a regular basis, a thrilling thing for Ray who had not gotten the chance to see animals outside of a zoo in Chicago. Here, the deer, squirrels, and other forest creatures walked right up and let you feed them. Of course, there were also the dangerous ones, large hungry bears or a pack of wolves, but mostly they stayed clear. Perhaps, because of Dief and the other dogs, or, as Ray believed, a respect for the Mountie who resided on their land and had sworn to protect them all.
"It's not a local," Ray commented as he dropped down the remaining three rungs on the ladder.
He moved to stand beside his partner, who was shading his eyes against the brightness of the sun. Even Fraser, with his Stetson on, found it intensely bright in the territories during the day and had encouraged Ray to purchase a pair of dark sunglasses to wear, so he could see properly.
Ray had agreed and even managed to find a set of special photo gray lenses that could include his normal prescription. They were normal glasses inside, but outside in the bright sunlight the lenses turned almost black, shading his eyes effectively from the harsh UV rays. Ray found he needed to wear his glasses outside much more often, because seeing at a distance could mean the difference between life and death here in the wilderness. Also, the blinding glare off the snow could damage a person's eyes just as effectively as looking directly into the sun.
"No," Fraser agreed, puzzled. "Not anyone we know anyway."
The locals usually travelled on sleds, Ski-Doo's or horseback. Some, like Fraser's friend Dalmar, walked most places. Ray was curious as to who might be coming to see them.
Fraser had taken a reserve position with the RCMP when he and Ray returned from their quest for the Hand of Franklin. The Mountie was usually only called upon for search parties or to track after a particular criminal and the remainder of his time was spent with Ray Kowalski.
Ray received his pension from the Chicago PD, so money was not a problem, and the two men lived relatively simple lives now. Thanks to Buck Frobisher, Ray also had an honorary position with the RCMP, as Fraser had when he was in Chicago. Just as Fraser before, Kowalski was considered Fraser's official partner here in Canada.
Luckily, they had gotten the former detective the permits to carry his weapon, or Ray probably would not have gone along with it. Fraser had noticed Ray didn't wear his gun as much as he once did, or automatically reach for it when he felt talking could resolve the conflict. Fraser was quite proud of the change in his partner. Ray seemed much calmer and more at ease than he had been in Chicago. The wilderness and isolation had been good for him; at least Fraser thought so.
It hadn't been that way at first of course. It was a struggle for Ray to defeat his many demons and the physical disparities, in order to adapt to life in the Territories. He had developed pneumonia twice on their adventure and a severe case of hypothermia. Fraser had worried his partner would not survive, but the blonde's will to live surprised him and Ray made it through just fine.
Ray had also gained a good deal of extra muscle from their excursions. Although, he was still slimmer than Fraser, Ray's torso, legs and arms were much stronger then they once were. He had once commented that he was city fit, not wilderness fit, but now he was both. Fraser was constantly pleased and surprised at what his friend could now accomplish. Ray had kept his usual wild cut on top but had grown the back and sides of his hair longer, which he kept pulled back in a short pony tail most days. It fell to just below his shoulders when he left it down.
Finally, the vehicle slowed a few feet from them and the driver stepped out, dressed in expensive hiking boots, dark jeans, a multicolored turtleneck and a bright red parka and dark glasses. He wore a fur hat with earflaps that was also name brand.
Although, it was a comfortable temperature for Ray and Fraser, newcomers still found it quite cold. The partners had gotten used to the climate and Fraser had been relieved that Ray adjusted so well, after only two bouts of pneumonia to the harsh weather conditions.
"Benny!" Ray Vecchio announced gleefully, and embraced his friend.
Fraser gaped at him in surprise, then delight filled his expression as he returned his former partner's embrace, barely hearing the oath muttered behind him.
"Ray!" Fraser greeted, warmly. "What a surprise. I thought you were in Florida?"
"We were," Vecchio grinned as he clapped Fraser on the back. "But the bowling alley thing got tiresome after a bit so we decided to travel. Canada was one of the places on our tour, so we decided to come see ya."
"We, Ray?" Fraser inquired, curiously.
Ray Vecchio released him and moved to open the passenger door and help former Assistant State's Attorney Stella Kowalski, now Stella Vecchio, out of the jeep.
This time Fraser heard Kowalski's quiet curse clearly and he cast his friend a sympathetic glance. Turning back, he quickly schooled his features into what he hoped was a welcoming and pleasant expression. He never cared for The Stella personally, because of the way she had treated her ex-husband, but he couldn't be rude.
"I hope you don't mind the impromptu visit, Constable," Stella offered and gave him a hesitant smile. She offered her gloved hand to him. Like her husband she was decked out in designer winter wear as well.
Fraser suspected Stella had not been keen on coming here, so he had to at least make an effort. "No, of course not," he assured, quickly and shook her hand. "You are both more then welcome, and please call me Ben or Fraser."
Her smile warmed and she invited him to call her Stella. She looked past him to her ex-husband who, until now, had been ignored by the pair.
Ray," she greeted quietly, and he nodded.
"Stella," he returned just as softly as Vecchio tossed an arm over his wife, almost protectively.
"How's it hangin' Stanley?" he inquired with a grin and watched the blonde flinch at the use of his full name.
the left Vecchio," he retorted. "You?" Vecchio chuckled.
"Funny guy," he taunted, then returned his attention to the Mountie. "So, can you put us up for a few days, Benny, or is there no room at the inn?"
"Sure, Vecchio," Kowalski retorted, grinning. "You can sleep in the barn with the rest of the horse sh...."
"Ray!" Fraser admonished, quickly, casting his partner a look that told him such remarks were beneath even him.
Kowalski shrugged. He shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels, unconcerned.
Fraser smiled at their company and swept his hand toward the steps of the cabin. "Of course there is room, Ray," he assured.
Suddenly, Diefenbaker came bounding from around the cabin. Having been off chasing squirrels, he now threw himself excitedly at Ray Vecchio, who laughed and accepted the animal's excited greeting.
Stella shied away from him.
"He won't hurt you, Stell," her ex husband assured, softly.
A distinct cry sounded above them and they all lifted their eyes to the large regal bird that circled the clear blue sky.
"How beautiful!" Stella remarked in wonder as they watched the graceful animal ride the air currents above.
"She sure is," Kowalski agreed.
He moved a short distance away from them and slowly stretched his right arm out, never taking his eyes off the extraordinary hawk. His left hand reached into the small leather pouch that was clipped to his jeans and the others watched as the hawk circled once more before starting her dive.
Stella gasped and took a step toward her ex-husband to warn him of the danger. She opened her mouth to call his name, but Fraser held up a hand and shook his head. Stella watched in surprise as the large, beautiful bird swept upright, at almost the last second and then perched on Ray's extended arm, accepting the treat from the blonde's fingers.
"That's incredible, Ray!" Stella crowed in amazement, as she watched the bird fluff its large wings and take another treat.
"You an animal trainer now, Stanley?" Vecchio sneered. Privately, he was impressed with the display.
Kowalski didn't bother to award the Italian a glance. He retrieved the large leather glove, which was also fastened to his belt, and pulled it over his right hand. Bouncing his arm slightly, the hawk moved down to perch on his curved fingers. He slowly pulled his arm inward and smoothed his left hand over the Hawk's crown and down its puffed chest.
"Her name's Artemis," he stated quietly, as he continued to stroke the bird softly with two of his fingers.
"What-amis?" Vecchio balked.
"Artemis was the Goddess of the Hunt in Greek Mythology," Stella explained and smiled at her ex-husband. They had both been intensely fascinated by folklore and mythology when they had been young.
"Ray chose the name and I believe it is an apt one," Fraser revealed, proudly. "We found her about two months ago. She had been wounded by a hunter, whom we later found and arrested. However, Artemis could not fly due to the injury in her left wing. Ray nursed her back to health and she seems to have taken to him."
nursed him?" Vecchio scoffed. "Don't you mean you did, Benny?"
"No, Ray," Fraser denied, firmly. "I knew the general knowledge to help wrap and protect her wing, but I didn't think she would survive because of the amount of blood she'd lost. I certainly didn't consider that she would ever fly again, but Ray had faith in her. He stayed up with her long into the night, changed and adjusted her bandages. He fed her with an eyedropper, until she was strong enough to eat from his hand and helped her redevelop movement in her wing when the time came. He gave her the will to live and I think she is greatly appreciative of his effort, which I believe was a valiant one."
Ray Vecchio lowered his eyes, slightly ashamed for having been so petty. He hadn't had a scolding from Fraser in a long time. Not that there was anything remotely accusing in the Mountie's calm voice, but Ray knew Benny well enough to read between the lines and knew when he had pissed off the Mountie by saying something he shouldn't have. He noticed that Kowalski blushed at the praise, but his attention was mostly focused on the bird perched on his arm.
"Er...yah, well. Looks like ya did a real good job there, Stanley," Vecchio offered, mildly.
Kowalski shrugged, still not bothering to look at the Italian, and turned his attention back to Artemis. He flexed his fingers then straightened his arm and bounced it a couple of times. The hawk took the hint and launched into the sky again.
"Yes, well," Fraser commented clapping his hands together and trying to ease the sudden tension around them. "You two must be tired from your long journey, so why don't we go inside and I shall make some tea?"
"Great idea, Benny," Vecchio agreed, smiling. As always the Mountie's answer to every situation was a good cup of tea. "Just let me get our bags."
"I'll assist you, Ray," Fraser offered and moved toward the vehicle then tossed a look toward Kowalski. "Ray?"
Both men answered and the Mountie frowned.
"I'm Ray," Vecchio insisted, arrogantly. "You're not pretending to be me any more, Stanley, or did you forget that?"
"My middle name is Ray and it's what I go by," Kowalski argued moving closer for a possible confrontation. "And if ya call me Stanley once more I'll...."
"Gentlemen, please," Fraser interceded before they both came to blows. He stood between them and met Kowalski's gaze. "Perhaps, I may call you...er...Stan for the time being, would that be acceptable? Simply to avoid any further confusion."
"You can call me whatever the hell ya like, Benny," Kowalski retorted, using Vecchio's nickname deliberately. "But, I only answer to Ray." Why should he have to be the one to change his name? Vecchio was the visitor here. Kowalski had already staked his claim, or so he thought.
"Your Mother calls you Stanley all the time and you respond to her," Stella reminded and he glowered at her.
"She's my Mum," he defended. "You respect your Mum, no matter what, but no one else calls me Stanley, not even you, Stell."
Stella gave a silent nod of agreement. Even when they were married, she would get frustrated with him enough to use his given name and it was the only time that Ray would not respond to her. He would either ignore her until she corrected her mistake, or if they were in a confrontation, he would glare at her until she apologized.
"Don't be such an ass, Stanley," Vecchio accused, mildly. "Make it easier on the rest of us."
"Make it easy..." Kowalski repeated and Fraser watched the rage fill his friend's expression and was fully prepared for the blonde's lurch at the other cop. "How about I dance on your face, Vecchio? That be easy enough for ya?"
"Try it tough guy," the Italian dared and Fraser was once again forced to push them away from each other.
"For the love of God, stop this!" he demanded and both paused to stare at him in surprise. It was a rare thing indeed to hear the Mountie's voice raised in anger. "You're both behaving like children. What does it matter who is called Ray, it's just a name after all. If the two of you don't stop bickering I'll just call you Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum!"
Kowalski's lips twitched and he took a step back, while Vecchio lowered his eyes from the Mountie's accusing stare. Fraser's reprimands were worthy of either man's Mother, and they responded appropriately.
"Fraser is right," Stella sighed. "Can't we all just get along?" She lowered her voice slightly and eyed both of the men she had married. "Of course we could always use your other names, you know the ones you both respond to when we..."
Both men moved toward her but Kowalski reached her first and quickly put a hand over her mouth.
"Stan will be fine, Frase," he assured, even as the corners of his mouth twitched upward, suspiciously. "Just remind me to respond to it is all."
"Thank you kindly, Ra...Stan," Fraser amended, relieved.
Kowalski shot Stella a warning glance before removing his hand and uncovering her smug smile.
"Was that so hard?" she inquired innocently. Her eyes sparkled with devilment, reminding Stan of the old Stella.
yet, but it's getting there," he whispered in her ear and she blushed
a bright pink.
"I wasn't going to tell, really," she murmured, suddenly shy. Ray Vecchio stepped up to them and placed an arm around her.
"Whispering sweet nothings in my wife's ear, Stanley?" he accused. His voice carried a softly veiled threat, but Kowalski was unimpressed. "That's not nice."
"Bite me, Vecchio," Stan responded. "You're just jealous cause I know all the right things to say." He moved toward the cabin, before Vecchio could reply.
"How about that tea?" Fraser suggested.
A short while later, with the Vecchio's few belongings stored in the one bedroom of the cabin, every one settled at the small wooden table adjacent to the tiny kitchen. The corner area held a small counter, a few cupboards and a small wood stove. A closet cooler that worked similar to a refrigerator but without the electricity set opposite it.
The cabin itself was a little larger then Vecchio had remembered from his previous visit, almost two years ago. Of course, Victoria Metcalf had burned down the original cabin.
On a trip to Canada, shortly after the incident with her, Fraser had been injured when their plane was hi-jacked and forced to crash in the forest. Vecchio had feared they might never get out of there alive, certainly with a killer tracking them, but they had managed by working together, as partners did.
By then of course they both had to be treated at the local hospital and then the long trek to Fraser's father's cabin took a couple of days as well. They were left with less then a week to work before they had to return to Chicago and go back to work, but the pair had managed to patch up quite a few of the walls and restore some of the windows.
after the brief tour that Fraser had given them, the cabin seemed to
be finished, other then the roof directly over the outer porch, which
the Mountie claimed was almost done. They had been working on when
their company arrived.
The main room of the cabin held the small kitchen area, a sturdy, hand built table with four matching chairs, no doubt built by Fraser. A quaint little sitting area, adjacent to the stone fireplace on the far wall opposite them, and was adorned with a small-upholstered sofa, armchair, and a hand carved coffee table. There was a tall cabinet built into the wall, close to one of the front windows, that Vecchio assumed was for storage.
Two rifles hung over the large, stone mantle posed above the fireplace that held Fraser's assorted-framed photographs of. Some Ray recognized from Fraser's apartment back in Chicago, the ones that were all the Mountie had left of his family. Others were of friends, some Ray did know some he didn't.
There was a photo of the Mountie at the Vecchio's house taken many Christmas's ago, with the entire family. Another one that Vecchio recognized was the picture he had sent Fraser on a postcard when he was still undercover.
A couple of photos with Kowalski and Fraser included one from the station and a photo that must have been taken during their time in Canada. Crisp, white snow was their backdrop and they were laughing as a tiny blonde and blue eyed Mountie stood between them. She was also smiling and looked completely at home in the protection of their arms
which had been recently added, was about half the size of the main portion
of the cabin, and Ray was delighted to learn that it held a working water
closet complete with a shower stall, sink and commode. Hot and cold running
water was one of the few luxuries Stan had insisted on when he moved
up here with Fraser. The Mountie did not see a problem with that and
had a sewage tank and a propane water heater installed
Vecchio noticed the few feminine touches, as well. Forest green curtains at the small windows and a matching cloth over the kitchen table. A square area rug in the living room and a dark patterned quilt on the bed in blues, blacks, and greens were the mark of a woman. Even the kitchen cabinets had been stained with a rich mahogany and stenciled with small horses, not something a man would usually do.
"Like what you've done with the place, Benny," Vecchio offered, pleased.
He and Stella watched the two other men move about in companionable silence in the small kitchen. Kowalski pulled down four mismatched cups and prepared two for tea and two for coffee, then Fraser followed with the water and a spoon in each cup.
"Thank you kindly, Ray," the Mountie returned as Stan placed sugar, milk and honey on the table for their convenience "Ra...I mean Stan and I worked very hard to get the place in shape." He smiled at Kowalski. "As you know I need very little in regards to furnishings."
Vecchio shivered and nodded, remembering the awfully sparse apartment that Fraser had lived in for so long.
"Yeah, you definitely weren't a spend thrift, Benny," he teased wryly and Fraser smiled and handed him one of the cups of coffee and Stella one with tea. Vecchio noticed his wife's cup held a minty aroma, so he was sure it wasn't that twig stuff that Fraser usually drank.
he agreed as he settled at the table with their own mugs. Stan removed
a towel from the small plate of sweet biscuits on the counter and brought
them to the table as well. "But since we had so much time on our hands,
Stan suggested a few decorating projects. Most of the things, like
the fireplace, bedroom and porch, were his idea. He said it seemed
more of a cabin that way. I must say, I'm quite glad because it does
make the place feel more like a home, don't you think?" He smirked.
"And no one questions that I live like this anymore."
Ray smirked "Well, you two sure seem cozy all right," he commented as he sipped his coffee, surprised at how good it was. "The curtains and cabinets Stanley's idea too?"
Stella kicked him under the table.
Fraser ignored the innuendo and smiled. "Actually no, those were Maggie's contributions." He had written Ray about the discovery of his sister long ago and she was usually a mentioned in their correspondence over the years. "She was so excited that I had moved back here she wanted to do something for me, I suppose. When she learned that Stan and I were remodeling, so to speak, she insisted on helping and I couldn't refuse her."
"Did your sister make that quilt in the bedroom, Fraser?" Stella inquired as she accepted a sweet biscuit from the plate Kowalski offered her. She smiled at him in appreciation.
Stan returned her smile, shyly, then offered the plate to Ray, who also took a biscuit.
"Thanks, Stanley," he replied as Fraser declined the treat.
"You're welcome, asshole," Stan muttered under his breath and setting the plate in the middle of the table.
"Actually no, a friend of ours, Jayad, made it for us...when was it?" He turned to Stan for the answer.
Stan turned his chair around and straddled it backwards, in his usual preference. He doubted the Mountie forgot when they had received the gift, Fraser's memory was impeccable. His partner was just trying to include Stan in the conversation.
"Um...I think it was last March, when he and Ira got hand-fasted," he supplied, reaching for the cup nearest him. He realized it was Fraser's and the pair calmly switched, as though they mixed up their drinks all the time.
"Ah, right you are," Fraser agreed.
"Hand-fasted?" Stella questioned, curiously. "What is that?"
"It's a native equivalent to marriage," Fraser explained, calmly. "Same sex marriages still are not recognized here so they had a cultural ceremony instead."
"So, why did they give you the quilt, again?" Vecchio was confused.
"Jay's Cherokee and Ira's Inuit. It's tradition in both cultures to give away their treasured possessions to those closest to them when they marry," Stan explained. "Sort of like casting off the old bringing in the new and it represents their happiness to share with others."
"So, this is two guys we're talking about, here?" Ray asked, frowning.
Fraser nodded, remembering Ray's Catholic upbringing. "Yes, they are both men."
"What's the matter, Vecchio?" Stan demanded. "Ya gonna start preachin' on the immoral behavior of homosexuals now?"
"No," Ray declined, mildly. "I just wanted to make sure I had the story straight," he smirked. "Pardon the pun."
"These men are friends of yours, Ra...Stan?" Stella questioned, with a hint of disapproval in her voice.
"They're a good couple of guys," Stan defended. "I don't pry into their personal business, that's private. They're friends with me and Fraser and fun to be around, where's the harm?"
"I didn't mean to imply it was wrong," she began quickly. "I...I'm just surprised that's all. I never thought...I mean you never seemed comfortable around gay people when we were married."
"No, no, you're only thinkin' of those socialites you were always introducing me to," Stan corrected. "I had nothin' against 'em being gay, Stell. I didn't like them because they were pushy, uptight, snobs."
"They were never..." Stella gasped in protest.
Stan counted the words off on his fingers. "They were snobs because they looked down their nose when they talked to ya unless they thought you were important. They were uptight because a napkin couldn't be miscounted without them throwin' a dramatic fit and screaming at the poor sucker who had set the table." He leered at her. "They grabbed my ass or tried to kiss me almost every time I was around them, so that make's 'em pushy in my book, Stella."
Stella blushed as Stan took a sip if his coffee and looked away.
"Why didn't you ever say anything?" she demanded.
"And tell you what?" Stan countered. "You were there to mix and mingle with people you felt could help you're career, Stella. What was I supposed to do, say, hey honey I don't want to go because they're after my body, com'on! Ya would've just accused me of holding you back again.
Stella grew silent, knowing he was right.
Fraser watched Diefenbaker approach and slide under the table to settle at Stan's feet, almost protectively. He pretended not to notice when his partner sneaked a cookie, from the plate, to the wolf.
Stan coiled his long fingers around his steaming mug, for once avoiding the sweets available. His stomach was doing flip-flops at the current time so eating probably would not be a good thing. No need to embarrass himself further by tossing his cookies. He started to grin as he imagined throwing up all over Vecchio's designer clothes. That wouldn't be so bad.
"You and Stella may have the bed, Ray," Fraser offered, changing the topic of discussion and elevating some of the sudden tension at the table. "Stan and I will sleep out here."
"Where?" Stella inquired, curiously. She was still stinging from Stan's confession, but she made an attempt to appear undisturbed and sociable.
"On the floor of course."
"Ray sleeping on the floor!" she scoffed in disbelief and Fraser squarely met her gaze.
"Stan has adapted very well to life here, Stella," he revealed. "Why he's practically Canadian now."
"Now that's a scary thought," Vecchio joked, but no one laughed and a tense silence enveloped the group once more.
Finally, Stella turned to her ex-husband.
"Isn't it rather far North for a hawk this time of year, R...Stan?" she amended quickly and watched her ex-husband's lips twitch.
"We have some Beutous Hawks through the summer months," Fraser offered when his partner declined to answer. "Usually, most of them head further south around this time, but Artemis seems intent on staying with Stan."
"Won't she die if she doesn't migrate with the others?" Stella asked, concerned.
"There isn't enough food for her to stay beyond November. Most of the smaller rodents and animals go deep underground in the winter months so the pickings are scarce for a bird like Artemis." Fraser explained. "She does eat the food that Stan gives her, which we purchased at a feed store the last time we went to town, and some of the jerky we have stored so she may survive on that for awhile. However, I honestly don't know if she would last an entire winter here."
"She won't stay," Stan decreed, flatly, as he continued to gaze down at the brew in his cup. "She'll leave like everyone else. Don't worry, Frase, it's a given."
An uncomfortable silence surrounded them for a third time, as they stared at Kowalski with both sympathy and surprise. Fraser finally opened his mouth to speak and his partner rose abruptly, pushing his mug away from him.
"I'm gonna go lay some tallow for the dogs, Frase." he stated quietly, and moved toward the front door.
Dief rose with him but seemed torn between the blonde American that had been living with him and the balding man he hadn't seen in awhile. Diefenbaker had his own food in the kitchen, so he didn't need to be fed with the other dogs, however he sensed his blonde friend would be hurt if he stayed to visit with the dark haired one.
"Thank you kindly, Stan," the Mountie offered, watching the wolf's indecision amused. "Would you like some help?"
"No, no," Stan assured, quickly. "You visit with your company, I'll just be a minute."
He opened the door and immediately Diefenbaker decided to go with him. Stan shook his head, also observing the tug in Dief's loyalty. He couldn't blame the wolf; he had known Vecchio longer.
"You stay here, Dief," he offered, making direct eye contact with the wolf as Fraser often did.
Diefenbaker whined in gratitude and moved to settle next to Vecchio's chair joyously, to receive some welcome attention, as Stan stepped outside and closed the door.
"I gotta admit, Benny," Ray began grudgingly, as he scratched the wolf's ears. "I didn't think he'd last a week up here."
"I believe Stan has surprised all of us, including himself, Ray," Fraser returned, calmly. "He has adapted remarkably well." He changed the subject. "How long will you both be staying? What are your plans?"
"Just a few days, Benny," Ray assured. "Don't wanna over stay our welcome."
"You are both welcome to stay as long as you like," Fraser offered, politely. "Although, I'm afraid you may find it a little boring. Stan and I don't do very much, unless we've been called in to help with a fugitive or search party. We usually work on the cabin or read. Occasionally we play cards, but it's a very quiet existence."
"I can't believe Ra...Stan would ever sit still long enough for something like that," Stella remarked. "He's always so full of energy, isn't he bouncing off the walls here?"
"He hasn't mentioned being dissatisfied with life here," Fraser returned. "He still has incredible amounts of energy and tends to fidget, but we've found a few things that helps him work off some of that energy so he can relax longer."
"Er...what kinda things we talkin' about here, Benny?" Ray questioned warily.
Again, Fraser seemed to completely miss the innuendo, or ignored it, which was just like the Mountie.
"Well, Stan enjoys a number of outdoor activities as well as the labor of remodeling the cabin, which requires a good deal of his mental and physical attention."
"What sort of activities, like sports?" Stella inquired.
Fraser nodded. "In a manner of speaking," he allowed. "Stan has become quite passionate about rock climbing for one, ever since he climbed his first mountain while chasing Muldoon."
"I thought he was afraid of heights?" Stella reminded.
"He has gotten over that fear," Fraser replied, proudly. He finished his tea and rose to his feet. "If you will please excuse me I'll go and see if Stan needs any help."
The Vecchio's nodded and watched him leave through the small door behind them. Diefenbaker stretched out on his back for more attention and Ray laughingly provided it.
Fraser stepped out into the back yard and headed for the barn. He found Kowalski gently brushing the large black Arabian with slow smooth strokes.
"Ray?" he greeted, quietly, addressing Stan normally, now that they were alone. "You can't hide out here forever."
"Not hidin'," Stan denied as he continued to run the brush across the horse's back and down over his chest.
Fraser crossed his arms over his chest and leaned over the stall door, watching him.
"I haven't brushed Malaki in a few days," Stan defended, using the horse as a barrier against the Mountie's intense stare. "Figured I'd better get to it or he won't let me ride 'em anymore."
"Do you want me to ask them to leave, Ray?" Fraser offered, gently.
"You know who, Ray and Stella."
"Nah, I don't care if they're here, Frase," Stan replied calmly, never pausing in his strokes.
Fraser waited calmly, knowing that eventually his silent gaze would nip away at his partner's conscience.
Stan sighed. "Okay, so I'm not thrilled they're here, but I'm okay with it, really. Vecchio means a lot to you, I understand that."
Stan finished and then offered his closed hand to the horse. Malaki sniffed his fist, until Kowalski opened his fingers and revealed the awaited sugar cube, nestled there. He patted the animal's neck affectionately and tried to ignore the Mountie's I-Know-All-I-See-All expression.
Fraser waited until he had Stan's undivided attention to speak again.
"Yes, Ray Vecchio is my friend and I feel close to him, but it is different than what I feel for you..."
"I know, because he was your first partner and your best friend," Stan acknowledged, wishing the Mountie would allow the subject to drop.
didn't intend Fraser to ever know about his ongoing resentment of Ray
Vecchio. He was jealous, plain and simple, because Vecchio had been Fraser's
friend and partner first, but that was natural, right?
"You are my partner, now, Ray," Fraser insisted. "What once was no longer matters, it's in the past. You and I are partners now and always, in every way that counts. I just...this is your home now too, Ray for as long as you chose to stay here. I don't want you to be uncomfortable,"
Stan was touched by Fraser's concern and he stepped up to the stall to fold his arms over his partner's, leaning forward so that their forehead's touched. They could show the closeness they felt to each other here, without threat of being judged by a society that frowned on males touching each other.
Besides, with all the pair had been through, many times they were stuck embarrassingly close and it never bothered either of them. Well, except for the Buddy Breathing thing on the Henry Allen, but Stan got over that.
Stan was a product of a homophobic society. He grew up with the macho attitude of, don't hug your buddy or you're a fag. But, as he got older, especially once he had met Fraser, he had reworked his thinking. He liked giving and receiving hugs. He enjoyed the comfort of someone's hand on his shoulder. He didn't care if it was a male of a female as long as they were friendly.
Stan had always been an affectionate person. That had probably been his downfall with Stella, who disliked such public displays. Fraser, however, seemed to crave that much needed affection. Growing up, the Mountie had been affection deprived, as Stan liked to term it, and Stan was determined to make it up to his friend. Fraser in turn learned to relax more around Ray and not be so uptight and rigid. They met somewhere in the middle, trying to give as much as they could to each other's wants and needs.
"I was uncomfortable when I first started pretending to be Ray Vecchio," he admitted, softly. "I got over it. I was uncomfortable jumping off buildings, swimming in a sinking ship and riding outside an airplane, I lived through it." He raised his head and met Fraser's quiet gaze. "I have never been uncomfortable being your partner or your friend, Fraser."
They continued to stare at each other. Their eyes mirrored the history of their accomplishments, their adventures and their defeats, marking how the felt for one another without the need for words. There were still things out there for them to see and do and they would do it together.
Fraser couldn't help thinking how easy it would be to move his face a fraction of an inch forward and touch Stan's lips with his own. The scent of his partner's peppermint gum, which Stan stocked up on whenever they went to a town or village, filled Fraser's nostrils and strengthened his desire for a kiss.
However, Stan had no idea Fraser felt that way and the Mountie never intended to tell him. Stan would leave him, he was sure, so it was better to suffer in silence and at least still have his partner remain. Being with Stan and never having his desires recognized, was better to Fraser then not having Stan around at all. He would be lost then.
"I...understood," Fraser accepted, gratefully. "But I..."
"No buts, Benton buddy," Stan refused. "I used to feel threatened by Vecchio, I don't anymore, I'm over that. I used to feel...well lost, without Stella. I'm over her too, I think. I'm happy, here and now, with you and I don't care who comes or who goes." Stan moved back towards Malaki.
Fraser found he missed his partner's closeness almost instantly and wondered if Stan had somehow sensed his feelings.
"I'm happy they came to see ya, " Stan continued. "I know you missed Vecchio, so it's cool, really."
"Thank you, Ray," Fraser murmured, gratefully. He knew how hard this must be for his friend. "You...I worry about you Ray. You seem preoccupied."
Stan shrugged and put the brush away, then checked the horse's feed sack and water bucket. He stepped out of the stall as Fraser moved away too allow him through.
"Don't worry about it, Frase," Stan assured, securing the door of the stall. "It's not about them, I've...I've just been thinking a lot lately." He smirked. "Out here a body can't help but do that seems like, but I'm just trying to get my thoughts in order, you know?"
Fraser didn't know why, but he felt tightness in his chest at his partner's words. Was he thinking of leaving and returning to Canada? Did the Vecchio's arrival make him even more homesick for the city? Did he suddenly need companionship other then the Mountie and the animals that surrounded them? He didn't want to press, he knew Stan would talk to him when he was ready so he just swallowed his fears and accompanied his friend out of the barn.
"If you care to talk about it, Ray..." he offered.
"I know, thanks Buddy," Stan returned. "Better call me Stan when we go in or Vecchio will blow a gasket."
That might be interesting to see.
Stan sighed and lowered himself onto his bedroll next to Fraser's, that was stretched out in front of the fireplace in the living room. He released his hair from the elastic it had been bound in and shook his head in relief. Sometimes keeping it up all day gave him a headache, but he had grown it long on a bet from his friend Ira, who sported hair down his back. Stan decide he liked it long and that it was great for keeping the back of his neck warm in winter.
He settled on his stomach and crossed his arms over his pillow, resting his chin on them as he stared into the brightly dancing flames. His hair automatically curved around his face in soft golden waves giving him a much younger look.
He suddenly hissed as Artemis flew down from her perch by the window. She dropped onto his back; her claws pricking his tender flesh just enough to be surprise him.
The hawk hopped back and forth a few times, before walking up Stan's back to nuzzle his hair.
Stan reached a hand back and stroked the bird's crown affectionately.
Artemis dropped to the floor and settled into the small nest box that Stan had built for her, beside the fire. She began preening her feathers, preparing to bed down, then bowed her head for a second caress from Stan.
Fraser lay on his back in his usual position, watching the pair, fondly. The hawk had definitely developed an attachment to Stan and it amazed Fraser every time he saw the bird seek his friend's attention, willingly. He wondered if Artemis might like to make a nest of Stan's hair, she was always picking at it, yet it didn't seem to bother Stan in the slightest.
Neither man had actually climbed inside the bags yet.
Diefenbaker settled between them and heaved an exhausted sigh.
"Indeed," both men agreed simultaneously and then grinned at each other.
"If I hear any unnatural creaking in that room I'm gonna toss both of 'em out in the snow," Stan muttered, suddenly. The Vecchio's had taken his and Fraser's bed for the night, much to Stan's disapproval.
Fraser chuckled and glanced toward him.
"They are married, Stan," he reminded and his partner grunted, belligerently.
"Don't mean they should flaunt it, Frase," he retorted grudgingly, as he continued to stare into the flames. They had almost a hypnotizing effect. "Just thinking of Vecchio and Stella..." He shivered in revulsion. "It's sick! That's what it is."
"It's human nature, Stan," Fraser returned, keeping his voice just as soft so they were not overheard. "Ray is a man and Stella is a woman. They are married and..."
"Quit reminding me already!" Stan growled, glaring at him for a moment before returning his gaze to the fire again. "I know that, ya think I don't know that?"
"You're just jealous, Stan," Fraser stated softly, a smile in his voice. Although, part of him ached for his friend, who was still very much in love with his ex-wife.
"Am not," Stan denied.
"Shut up, Fraser," Stan hissed.
"It's only natural, Stan," he assured gently, trying to make up for teasing his friend. "Stella was your wife."
"Yeah well, Vecchio was your partner, how come you're not jealous of Stella?" Stan demanded, quietly.
"That is hardly a fair comparison, Stan, I was never married to Ray Vecchio."
Stan glowered at him. "You guy's were partners and best buddies, couldn't you sort of be jealous?"
Fraser shook his head. "No, I am happy for Ray. Whoever he marries or does not marry will have no bearing on our friendship."
"I hate it when you're logical, Fraser."
They lay in companionable silence for a few minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. Finally, they both decided at the same time to crawl into their bags. Removing just their jeans and outer shirts and leaving their shorts and T-shirts on. They resumed their positions, Fraser on his back Ray on his stomach, and Dief between them.
"Frase?" Stan finally asked.
"I'd be jealous if it were you."
Fraser's heart turned over in his chest as he rolled on his side to meet his friend's gaze. He watched the firelight flicker across the blonde's pale, angular features in the darkness of the cabin. Their eyes met in a gentle understanding and Stan's lips curved into a shy smile.
"And I you, Stan," Fraser whispered. He reached out to touch his ring finger to Stan's in a symbolic gesture that conveyed how true their friendship really was.
Stan nodded and pulled his hand back, snuggling down into his bedroll.
"Good night, my friend," Fraser returned. "Sweet dreams."
closed his eyes. "You too."
Stella Kowalski-Vecchio awoke slowly the following morning and stretched luxuriously in the large, surprisingly comfortable bed. Her eyes drifted upwards to the pretty feathered ornament above the bed. Stan had called it a Dream Catcher and Stella knew from speaking with her ex-husband that Fraser had given it to him long ago. Stan had said it was supposed to be for the real Ray Vecchio's birthday, as part of his cover, but for whatever reason Stan kept it and apparently Fraser didn't mind at all.
It had taken her and Ray a while too finally get to sleep, neither of them were very used to the silence of the northern wilderness. Ray had finally drifted of an hour after they went to bed, but Stella's mind had refused to rest.
Even though Fraser had put fresh sheets on the bed, she could still detect her ex-husband's distinct scent in them, at least on her pillow. It was one of the many things she first found intriguing about him. It didn't seem to matter what he was doing, he always smelled like mints and chocolate, a decidedly sweet combination.
She had done a little snooping in the room while she was getting ready for bed the previous evening, using the lantern Fraser had offered her to look around. The large bed took up most of the center of the room, and a cedar antique bureau was against one wall, a simple square mirror hung over it. A ceramic picture and basin sat in one corner of the dresser, with a long straight razor next to it, most likely Fraser's.
On either side of the bed were two, small, modestly constructed tables of smooth pine. The one closest to her held a small kerosene lamp, a mystery paperback and a small photo of Barbara and Damien Kowalski. Beside the lamp was also a wooden hand-carved turtle. She assumed that the side where she lay was Stan's side of the bed, usually.
Fraser's table held a black and white photo of a man, woman and young boy wrapped in winter clothing, a bottle of some kind of oil or lotion for leather and a small snow globe of Chicago that Stella knew Ray had sent him last Christmas.
A heavy gray, RCMP issue wool blanket separated a small closet from the rest of the room, which held the clothing of both men. Although, it was hard to distinguish who owned what. Kowalski's familiar biker boots, brown leather waist coat, and a few sweaters were all that Stella recognized as Stan's. The rest were mainly jeans, flannel shirts, a few different pairs of boots, including both of Fraser's brown leather calf boots, and the Mountie's uniforms. Their outer coats were hung on pegs in the inside porch
She had expected Stan to ship more then just a few of his clothes up, but it seemed he had just decided to purchase the majority of what he needed here in Canada, and had only brought a few things back with him. Having spoken to Barbara Kowalski, Stella knew the majority of her ex-husband's things were in storage and his apartment had been rented.
That told Stella the blonde had no intention of returning to Chicago and that concerned her greatly, the idea of never seeing him again. Sure, she would have been in Florida, but she and Ray had decided to settle back in Chicago once they stopped traveling and knowing Stan would not be there had filled Stella with an emptiness she had not been expecting.
The idea that he seemed so happy and content here, in this isolated wasteland also bothered her and she couldn't understand why. She wanted Stan to be happy, to move on with his life, yet this was not the life she had envisioned for him. He and Fraser got on well, almost too well. Stella was big enough to admit she had always been a little jealous of the closeness Fraser and her ex-husband shared. Now, she was beginning to wonder if there wasn't more to it.
The biggest thing that bothered her was that there was only one bed in the cabin, and even if Fraser slept on the floor, Stan would not require a king-sized bed just for himself. Which meant that they probably slept in it together and that did bother her. She hoped she had not pushed her ex-husband too far by marrying Vecchio, a man Stan did not like and greatly resented.
Finally, she decided to crawl from the bed. Careful not to disturb her sleeping husband, she quietly dressed in heavy socks, boots, jeans a shirt and sweater. She applied a touch of makeup, brushed her hair, and then silently crept from the room.
She saw no one about, but the smell of freshly brewed coffee invited her to pour herself a cup. She heard sounds coming from the back of the cabin and moved to the door to investigate.
Stan was chopping wood into smaller logs for the fire with long fluid strokes of his ax. He wore a gray T-shirt under a blue flannel long sleeve that remained unbuttoned with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. As always his hiking boots and blue jeans completed the outfit.
Stella's gaze followed the rippling muscles of his forearms and shoulders as he continued his chore, oblivious to her presence. She noticed the length of his hair, which now hung freely about his shoulders and was surprised at how much the new style suited him.
"Morning," she finally greeted and he paused in mid swing to glance toward her. His expression unreadable beneath the dark glasses he wore.
"Hey, Stell," he returned and lowered the ax solidly, across another wood chunk. He buried the blade in the stump he used for a chopping block. "Sleep okay?"
"Not bad once we got to sleep," she admitted ruefully, as she leaned against the door jam. She watched him toss the log aside before retrieving a larger one.
"Quiet bother ya?" Stan guessed as he retrieved another large chunk and set it upon the stump. He picked up the ax up again and split the log in half on the first swing. He turned one of them and split that, then repeated the chore with the other portion, tossing them onto the pile behind him.
"A little," she admitted stepping forward and offering him her cup. "Like a sip?"
"Thanks," he returned, embedding the ax once more into the stump and reaching for the coffee. He took a swallow then handed it back to her.
"Where's Fraser?" she inquired as he started to load his arms with the splits of wood.
"Took the dogs for a run," he replied walking over to the back of the cabin and stacking the wood in the large bin that held their other logs.
"How long have you been up?"
"Since sunrise," Stan responded and retrieved a second armload of wood.
As usual, Fraser woke him with a steaming cup of coffee and a couple of pieces of toast. He knew it was a chore for Stan to rise in the morning. Once he was up and awake he was good to go, but waking up was always the hard part.
Stella set her mug on the stump and picked up a few of the pieces as well, following him to the bin.
Stan accepted the wood surprised, and offered her a tentative smile. He automatically moved to brush the dust off her sweater.
"Got your clothes dirty."
"A little dirt won't hurt them," she assured and went to retrieve some more wood.
They worked quietly, Stella retrieving the pieces and Stan stacking them,
she had wondered how long he had been out here, since the ground seemed
littered with the splits. Soon, they had it all in the bin and Stan pulled
the tarp down over it to keep
the moisture out.
"Thanks, Stell," he offered, brushing the dust and wood chips off himself as she did the same.
"What's next on the chore list?" she inquired, eagerly.
Stan regarded her quietly for a long moment.
"I'm pretty much done for now," he replied, then paused thoughtfully. "I was gonna go for a ride....would you like to go?"
It surprised her that he was so hesitant to ask, so she smiled reassuringly.
"I'd love to."
Ray brightened and his head bounced slightly in assent. "Um...finish your coffee and put a warmer coat on." He frowned. "Um...what about Vec...your husband?"
"He's still sleeping and probably will be for awhile," she assured, calmly. "I'll leave him a note, anyway."
Ray nodded. "Okay, good, that's probably a good idea," he agreed. "I'll meet you in the stables then."
Stella hurried inside, finished her coffee and set the cup in the sink, then retrieved her coat. She scribbled a note for Ray and hurried out of the cabin, surprised at her own excitement. It occurred to her that she didn't know what sort of vehicle Stan was going to use, as she hadn't seen one in the area.
"Hey," he greeted as she entered the barn and she spotted the magnificent horse that Stan was saddling.
"Oh!" she gasped, uneasily. "I...I thought you meant ride like a sled or snow mobile."
"Nope," Ray refused, watching her closely. "Malaki will be our ride.
You've never been on a horse?"
She shook her head.
"It's fun, you'll like it, " he assured.
When Stella didn't respond Stan's eyes lowered in disappointment.
"But it's okay if you prefer not to. I was afraid of him at first too."
Stella's gaze narrowed and she straightened her shoulders.
"I never said I was afraid," she denied and stepped forward. "I was just surprised that's all. Of course I still want to come."
Ray grinned. "Cool. Stella, meet Malaki."
Stella moved forward slightly and Ray handed her a piece of carrot.
"Offer him that, gently, with your fingers closed at first."
Stella did as instructed and the animal sniffed at her suspiciously. He nuzzled her hand and she opened her palm to give him his prize.
"It tickles!" she giggled as the horse's lips moved across her palm in appreciation.
Ray smiled. "See, he's cool."
Stella gazed at him, with only a hint of trepidation. "He's magnificent, Ra...Stan," she breathed in wonder and shyly reachedup to stroke him. The horse moved away from her touch and she frowned.
"Like this," Ray showed her, taking her hand and rubbing it across the animal's neck. "He likes that, just slow and easy."
Stella's gaze moved between Malaki and Stan, observing their close affection. She suddenly became very aware of Stan's hand over hers and pulled away. If Stan noticed her sudden uneasiness, he didn't show it. He caught the reins and led the horse outside, closing the barn door behind them.
Stan paused and pulled an elastic out of his jeans pocket to pull his hair back.
Stella's hands stopped him and he glanced at her, puzzled. "Leave it down," she requested. "I like it better that way."
Stan shrugged and put the elastic back in his pocket, trying not to show how much her comment had pleased him. "You want to ride in front or in back?" he inquired.
"Which is better?" she asked, curiously.
"You'll see more in front," he admitted and she nodded.
Stan lifted her up and she carefully straddled the horse, more than a little anxious to find herself so high off the ground. Stan smoothly mounted behind her.
Stella tried to hide how impressed she was at his expertise. She felt his arms curl around her to gather the reins and then the subtle squeeze of his legs against hers, spurring the animal forward. Stella jerked a little, surprised by the swaying motion, but one of Stan's arms tightened around her waist, securely.
"Okay?" he asked and she nodded. "I won't go fast. We'll just walk, until you get used to it."
"It's a very strange sensation!" she laughed and Stan smiled as they headed away from the cabin. "Feels almost like you're on a boat but...different."
"Yeah, it's hard to describe," he admitted. "But cool, hey?" She nodded. "Want to go a little faster?"
made a little noise with his tongue, squeezed his legs once again and
Malaki broke into a gentle trot.
"Oh, Ray!" she gasped and pointed toward a forest of trees where a family of deer were frolicking. "I...I mean Stan. Are those real?"
Stan laughed. "Yeah, they're real. Everything out here is very real, Stella. Trust me."
"What about hunters?" she asked and Stan explained about Fraser's land. "So no one can ever hunt them?"
"Oh, some of the natives that live off the land can still hunt and trap," he insisted. "But, they always shoot the older bucks, never the does and that's their food. Like Fraser and me, you have to kill sometimes to survive. There isn't exactly a supermarket close by and the only frozen meat you get here is what you've killed and cleaned yourself."
Stella shivered in revulsion.
"That's so barbaric," she decided.
"Where do you think the food from the supermarket comes from, Stell?" Stan teased. "Someone has to go out and kill it first. It isn't grown in pretty little packages, you know."
"I know," she sniffed, defensively. "It's just...deer are such pretty animals. How could anyone kill and eat them?"
"Everything in nature is beautiful, Stella, but you have to make allowances or you starve." Stan smirked. "I'm not saying it was easy the first time Fraser shot a deer or rabbit and made it our supper, I could barely choke it down. But, after awhile you get used to it." He smiled, fondly. "And I see how protective he is of the animals, Stella. I think they know he only kills when he must and they're cool with it. I figure, they don't seem to hold it against him, so how can I?"
"Have you..." Stella swallowed. "Have you shot any yet?" Stan nodded.
"The meat in the stew you ate last night was venison I shot a few days ago," he admitted and tightened his hold on her as she paled. "But, you liked the stew and that's okay. Don't think about it so much."
She nodded and allowed some of her color to return. She turned her head to look up at him.
"You've changed, Ra...Stan," she observed, unable to get used to calling him by his first name.
For some reason Stan didn't want Stella to call him Ray anymore, not since she had married a different Ray.
"Takes getting used to, doesn't it?" he commented and she smirked. "Now you know why I went by Ray, Stan just doesn't sound right."
"I...I think it suits you actually," Stella said, coyly. "It's...it seemed more in tune with the man you are now, anyway."
"What man is that, Stella?"
She shrugged. "You're like a different person. Stronger, calmer, more sure of yourself, I guess." She shook her head. "I can't place what it is, but you are different."
"Not really," he denied, although silently pleased by her characterization. Maybe Stan wasn't so bad after all. "I'm the same guy, I just feel...less paranoid here about being me. Sure, I've learned a lot and had to make a few adjustments, but that's all good because I like who I am now, better than I was before, you know?"
Stella nodded and turned her attention back toward the horizon.
"You seem happier," she acknowledged. "Not as restless, anyway."
"I'll never be as happy as I was with you, Stella," he vowed, softly. "Don't ever think that. But, I'm content enough I think, being here with Fraser."
"Don't you miss...some things, Stan?" she asked, hesitantly.
"Oh sure," he chuckled. "I miss electricity for one, and TV and fast food. Stupid stuff like that, but out here..." He shrugged. "I don't know. All that stuff seems less important than it was before. I like the quiet now. It lets me think and kind of calms me. My ears are getting as good as Fraser's when we go into town, I hear every little thing it's almost annoying."
Stella frowned. "Don't you get lonely, though?"
"I have Fraser. Why would I?"
"Well, he certainly is happy about that, isn't he," she muttered, bitterly.
Stan scowled at her. "What does that mean?"
"Oh, come on, Stan, he practically gushes about you and his whole face lights up when you come into the room. Ray says Fraser is acting more like a smitten teenager than a so called friend and partner."
"Stella, you're crazy," Stan chuckled, imagining Vecchio's fury over Fraser suddenly turning gay. He'd probably blame Stan for it, too, that was even funnier. "Fraser's not like that. You're reading things all wrong."
"Am I?" she challenged.
"Yes, you are."
"You can't tell me you're content with just him around, Stan," she refused. "Don't you feel the need for...for female companionship. Don't you wish you could...I mean a man has needs and out here, alone without....don't you get...frustrated?"
"Never really thought about it," Stan admitted, quietly. He was actually more frustrated in Chicago being near Stella but not allowed to touch. "Not much stimulation around to get me thinking that way, I guess, unless you count the animals mating in the spring."
Stella's lips twitched in amusement. "But surely you still get...urges."
Stan grinned down at her. "Are you offering your services?"
"I'm being serious!"
Stan smirked. "Is this appropriate conversation for a married woman?" he teased. "Discussing another man's urges?"
Stella giggled and shook her head. "I'm glad you find this so amusing."
"I don't really," he confessed. "But it's laugh or cry, baby."
Stella turned to look at him again but his eyes were hidden behind those cursed glasses and she couldn't read his expression. She frowned and lowered her gaze as they drew to a halt by a small stream.
"This is nice," she encouraged, deciding to change the topic.
Stan nodded, swung off the horse, then reached up to help her down. He looped the reins around a tall tree branch then took Stella's hand.
"Come on, I want to show you something."
Stella followed, intrigued and was grateful for his grip on her as they carefully navigated the downhill slope, slick with wet patches of mud and snow. The reached the rocky border of the brook and the trek was a little easier.
Stan guided her further down and then pulled her into a crouch behind a small nestle of bushes close to the water.
"What are we looking for?" she asked.
Stan put his finger to his lips.
"Shssh," he whispered and pointed toward what appeared to be some sort of partially hidden brush downstream. "Watch."
and watched, puzzled. After a few minutes, a form appeared to be moving
in the water, away from the brush. She heard the loud slap of it's flat,
tail against the water as it dove down then surfaced again. Soon, a second
beaver appeared and
Stella was enthralled as she watched them work on their dam. "They're adorable!" she whispered.
"I first saw them about two weeks ago," he said in a hushed voice. "Fraser had shown me picture of them, but I didn't know if they were beavers or otters. Anyway, Fraser knew and he said they'll be here awhile building that dam, so I come by every once and awhile to watch." He pointed to the large, fat one. "That one's Welsh, he's the leader, or Dad or whatever."
Stella smothered her laughter behind her hand.
"He helps them get everything just right and seems to pick out the best wood for the dam, I think," Stan concluded and pointed to a slimmer beaver with gray around the ears. "That one's Frannie, see she's turning gray workin' with the old guy."
"You're incorrigible!" Stella whispered, amused. She indicated another, smaller beaver that appeared above the surface. "Who's that?"
"That's Ben," Stan replied, fondly. "Because he seems to work the hardest."
Stella regarded him quietly for a moment, not missing the affection in Stan's voice when he used his partner's name. She wondered if Stan ever called Fraser by his given name, since she had only ever heard him call the Mountie Fraser or Frase.
Stan, unaware of Stella's appraisal pointed to the fourth beaver.
"That one's Thatcher, she likes to sit back and supervise."
Stella smiled at him, enjoying the playful glow on his face.
"This is nice, Stan. Thank you for showing me."
Stan grinned shyly and shrugged. "I thought you'd like it is all. You used to like all kinds of animals."
"I like you this way, Stan," she admitted as their gazes locked.
They were so close it would require little effort to move forward and kiss him, but the wedding band on her left hand weighted heavily against her fingers. Stan seemed to guess her thoughts and he quickly stood up, startling the beavers into diving beneath the surface of the water once more.
"Um...we should head back," he decided and she rose as well.
They had just started up the slope when something caught Stan's attention.
"Wait here," he requested.
Stella watched, curiously, as her ex-husband moved back toward the water's edge. She was startled when he started to wade through the calf length water toward the other side.
"What are you doing?" she demanded, shocked.
"Ohh, shit this is cold!" he exclaimed.
Stella laughed as he reached the other side and knelt to retrieve whatever he had seen. When she saw him start back across she could only shake her head at his insanity.
"You have lost your mind, haven't you?'" she teased.
Stan grinned, rinsed whatever he held in the water, then stepped up to her. He handed her the small rose shaped fossil with a shy smile.
"What is it?"
"I'm not sure, Fraser will know, but it's pretty," he smiled, and tucked a slip of her golden hair back behind her ear, tenderly. "Not as pretty as you, but nothing will ever top you, Stell."
Stella blushed and shivered slightly at the touch of his cold hands. Against her suddenly, flushed skin, it was almost electric. She lowered her eyes and accepted the gift.
"Thank you, "Stan."
"Welcome," he returned, removing his glasses so that their eyes could meet.
Again Stella felt the urge to kiss him and for a moment, Stan's head dipped toward her. She raised her lips slightly and closed her eyes, expectantly. She was disappointed when his cool lips caressed her forehead instead of her mouth. She opened her eyes and stared at him, confused.
Stan pulled his glasses back on and took a step back, before he did something they would both, regret. All Stella's talk about urges and missing female companionship played tricks with his mind. His libido was already out of control with her nearness. The way she smiled at him, the way she held his hand and thanked him for showing her the beavers.
her attention and when Stella was being nice to him he felt like they
were in love again all over again. He knew he was reading more into it
than what was there, he always did, but that didn't stop him from letting
her break his heart over and over. She was married now and since Stan
couldn't show her how he felt the way he wanted to, he fetched the rock
that had caught his eye, so she would understand his gratitude.
Stan cleared his throat. "We better head back."
When they returned, Fraser and Vecchio were waiting for them. Ray didn't look all that pleased to see Stella so close to Stan, but Fraser only smiled at them and raised his arms to help her down.
"Did you enjoy your ride?" he inquired politely, as he set her on her feet.
"Stan showed me the beavers dam," she told Fraser as she pulled her treasure from the pocket of her coat. "And we found this, what is it?"
"It's rose quartz," Fraser stated, examining it. "If you polish it the color will become clearer and almost sparkle. I believe I have the materials inside to do that if you like."
"Wonderful!" Stella exclaimed and showed her prize to Ray. "Isn't it beautiful, Honey?"
"Yeah, it's great, sweetheart," he assured, his eyes never leaving Stan as the blonde dismounted.
Stan ignored Vecchio's accusing stare and led Malaki into the barn.
"Did you have a good time, Ra...Stan," Fraser amended.
It would take him getting used to hearing it as well, but in a way he almost preferred it; especially after what Stella said. Besides, he didn't like to have anything in common with Ray Vecchio, not even a name. Maybe he'd continue to go by Stan for awhile just to be different.
"We're both still alive, so that says something, right?" he teased, removing the horse's bridle and saddle.
Fraser smiled, hiding the anxious feeling that had continued to creep through him, since he returned from his run to find his partner and Stella Vecchio gone. Not that he believed for a minute Stan would do anything inappropriate, but Stella did have her charms and certainly Stan had been her puppet in the past. Fraser had witnessed just how infatuated his friend still was with his ex-wife on many occasions.
Ray Vecchio seemed undisturbed by the fact his wife had ridden off with her ex-husband, but Fraser could sense the tension between the trio the moment Stan and Stella returned to the cabin.
"Anything else happen, Stan?" he inquired, in what he hoped was an inobtrusive and unsuspecting tone.
Stan moved Malaki into his stall and filled his water and food trough.
had been about to lie and say everything went fine, but he needed to
tell someone or he would go crazy thinking about. Fraser was his best
friend, the Mountie understood him better than anyone, so he would surely
understand the effect that
Stella still had on him. "I don't guess I'm over her as much as I thought, Buddy."
Fraser frowned, sympathetically and tried to ignore the hammering of his own heart.
Stan shook his head and leaned against the stall bars, dejectedly.
"I came so close to kissin' her, Frase," he confided, ashamed. "I...I think she would have let me and...I...I swear to God, I didn't bring her out there for that it just..." Again he shook his head, lost.
Fraser stepped up to squeeze Stan's shoulder. Secretly, he wished Stella Kowalski would drop dead, then he blushed in shame for having such thoughts.
"It's only natural, Stan," he assured, gently, composing himself. "She was your wife and you are probably still very much in love with her."
Stan shook his head in denial.
"Whether you admit it or not," Fraser countered. "Besides, you haven't been around a woman for many months, other than the women in the village and Maggie. Certainly not one you are so obviously still attracted to."
Stan smirked. "You sound like Stella."
Stan chuckled and turned to face his friend. "She was commenting on me being out here with just you for company. You know, what about my urges, so to speak? My needs and desires?"
studied him, quietly. "What did you tell her?"
"That it wasn't appropriate to be discussing my urges while she was married to Vecchio," he sighed. "After, I asked was if she was offering her services to help fulfill those urges."
Fraser grew still. "Would you have taken her up on it if she had, Stan?" Please say no, his heart screamed, even as he maintained his mask of composure.
Stan met his gaze boldly, prepared to admit that of course he would, he was human, but the Mountie deserved the truth.
"No, probably not. Damnit. I couldn't do that with another guy's wife, not even Vecchio's."
Fraser patted his shoulder, proudly, trying to hide his relief.
"I didn't think you would, Stan," he assured.
"Y'know, living up to your expectations of me is a real pain in the ass sometimes Fraser," he griped as they headed outside.
Fraser grinned. "I only want what is best for you, Stan." He added silently: And what is best for me as well, but you need never know that, my friend
"Yeah, whatever," Stan dismissed and paused outside the cabin as he remembered what Stella had said. "And listen, not that I don't appreciate it, but quick playing me up to Vecchio."
"I...I'm afraid I don't understand what you mean, Ra...Stan," Fraser admitted puzzled.
Stan paused just outside the cabin to look at him. "All that praise and talk over Artemis and the cabin and stuff," he explained mildly. "It's like you feel you have to make me look good in front of them or something, you don't. I don't care what they think of me, Fraser. I'm here to be with you and screw everyone else-they don't matter." He squeezed Fraser's shoulder, companionably. "Stop trying so hard to justify me being here, okay?"
"I...Oh Stan!" Fraser was appalled. "I assured you that wasn't my intent. I don't need to justify your presence here, I am simply grateful for it. I don't mean to...to what was it-play you up or anything. I only want them to understand that having you here has been a wonderful experience for me and I hope for you as well."
"That's good," Stan encouraged. "But, you seem to take every little thing Vecchio says and push how great I am in his face. I don't think you mean to do it, but it's like you're trying to get his approval over me being here. Like, you want him to see me as someone different than I am, so you won't feel as guilty leaving him behind or something."
no, Stan," Fraser refused. " Ray Vecchio is my friend and he always will
be, but I neither need or desire his approval of you. I wish you two
could get along better, perhaps that is why I try to show him what a
good person you are. He has false misconceptions and..."
"Fraser," Stan sighed. "Like it or not, there is no way me and Vecchio will ever be buddies. It just ain't gonna happen. Whatever he thinks of me doesn't matter. I appreciate ya trying to defend my honor and all that, but there's no need for it, okay? It just makes me feel...I dunno, a little less of a person because you feel you have to fight my battles for me."
"I never meant to do that, Stan," Fraser stated, quietly.
Stan nodded and smiled at him. "I know, but...I think they're starting to get...um...the wrong impression about...well us, so maybe you could tone down your pride in my abilities, just a bit. Not...not that I'm not thrilled you're proud of me, but...you know what I mean."
"The wrong impression, Stan?" Fraser questioned, oddly.
"Yeah, like...um...Stella kinda mentioned that you sounded...er...almost smitten when you talked about me, like...ah...like we were more than friends. Y'know?"
"But we are more than friends, Stan," Fraser protested, deliberately missunderstanding him. "We're partners."
Stan grinned and shook his head at the Mountie's naiveté. "No, I mean, yeah we are but not..." He scratched at his neck and tried to find a way to term it delicately. Instead he decided to let it go, no sense opening that kettle of fish with a guy that still uses cheese for bait. "Um...Yeah, yeah buddy we are partners, best partners."
Fraser smiled and nodded, pleased.
"Then, what is it you prefer me to do, Stan?" he inquired.
"I'm askin' ya to keep it to a minimum," Stan suggested. "I know you can't stop it all together, it's your nature to find the good in everyone and praise them on it. Just...just don't feel ya have to make me out a hero in every little thing, okay?" He smirked. "You can let Vecchio know you worship me, no problem, just don't gush about it."
Fraser chuckled. "Very well, Stan," he agreed smiling. "I'll do my best."
Both men entered the cabin and were immediately greeted by Diefenbaker.
"Oh, hey, weren't we gonna meet Mags in town tomorrow?" Stan suddenly asked as they hung up their coats.
"What about our company?" Stan sneered
"Invite them to come with us?" Fraser suggested.
Stan shrugged and allowed the Mountie to go and talk to the Vecchio's,
while he changed out of his wet jeans and boots.
Stan removed the four steaks from the cooler and set about preparing a marinade for them. He had taken them out of the ice chest last night for supper today and recalling Stella's earlier reaction when he told her what was in yesterday's stew he was glad he had done so. They didn't usually buy meat. He and Fraser hunted for what they needed to get by, but Stan would get tired of rabbit and venison and just get in the mood for some beef. So, every few months, they'd purchase some steaks, ground round, and chicken if it was available to bring home.
Fraser would store most of it in the ice chest, just outside the door to save for a special treat. The chest was made of wood, but lined with a type of thermal material on the inside. Designed for use outside, and with the cooler climate surrounding them, it kept things frozen better than an electric freezer ever could. It was well sealed and locked so the animals could neither smell the meat inside nor get into it. Stan set the steaks into the pan of marinade and moved to rinse his hands in the kitchen sink.
Fraser had taken Ray for a brief tour of the area and Stella was taking a nap in the bedroom, so that left Stan to fix supper. He didn't mind; he actually enjoyed cooking, learning different ways to prepare their usual plain fare, with more flavors.
Maggie had gifted him with a hand made spice rack, complete with homegrown spices and Stan used them often. He could eat bland food, but he preferred not to. Fraser had taught him to make a surprisingly good marinade with a little Soya sauce, lemon juice and mixed spices.
Stan fed some more wood into the stove to get it nice and hot then reached across for his cup of coffee. He cursed when his grip failed and the brew stained his shirt. He sighed, he'd gotten rid of most of his clumsiness, or so he thought. It must be the company he was keeping making him nervous again.
Pulling off the soiled T-shirt, Stan quietly entered the bedroom, so as not to disturb Stella. He tossed the shirt into the small basket Fraser kept especially for laundry, then opened the bureau to retrieve a clean one. He was about to put it on when he heard the distinct clicking of claws on the hard wood floor.
Stan dropped the shirt and caught Diefenbaker, just before he could hop up on the bed next to Stella. He had closed the door earlier to keep wolf out. "No, Dief," he whispered and tried to pull the animal away. "She's sleeping, you'll wake her."
Diefenbaker gave him a wounded look. He would never do such a thing! He just wanted to snuggle and take a nap with the female, what was wrong with that?
Stan grinned at the wolf's affronted expression. He released Dief, but blocked his access to Stella and the bed. "Go on, now. She doesn't want you up there, go lay by the fire or something."
Diefenbaker huffed and retreated to the other room.
Stan shook his head, amused and turned back to look at his ex-wife. She looked so beautiful, even in her sleep. Stan waited for the familiar pain to pierce his heart and was surprised when it didn't come. Yes she was beautiful, yes he loved her, but he no longer felt the connection they once had. He didn't even know if he wanted it anymore.
However, he couldn't resist reaching down and pushing a soft golden tendril away from her eyes with his fingers. "So beautiful," he whispered wistfully. "It hurts to look at you Stella, you're still dazzling." He smiled and gently pulled the quilt over her.
Stan turned away to retrieve his shirt and was startled to hear his name spoken softly behind him. He turned back, surprised to find Stella eyeing him sleepily.
"Thank you," she said, drowsily, not quite awake. She regarded his naked chest with interest.
Stan blushed and pulled his shirt on, suddenly shy in front of her, despite the fact that she had seen him naked hundreds of times. He didn't want to think about her hearing his tribute, so he quickly changed the topic. "Spilled something on the other one. I didn't mean to wake ya, go back to sleep."
Stella stretched lazily and rolled onto her back, watching him. He had pulled his hair back into it's normal pony tail shortly after they arrived back from the dam. She patted the space beside her. "Keep me company."
"Not a good idea, Stella," he refused, uneasily.
"I'm not going back to sleep, I'm awake now," she assured and proved it by sitting up and pushing her hair back from her face. "I just want to talk."
Stan shrugged and settled on the edge of the bed. "Talk about what?"
"Do you think you'll ever come back to Chicago?" Stella asked.
Stan hadn't expected that kind of question. He shrugged again. "Sure, it's my home. I'll go back eventually. My folks are there." Again he couldn't resist the urge to touch her and he delicately traced her jaw like with his finger. "The people I care about are there. I'll go back eventually."
Stella nodded, thoughtfully. "What about Fraser? Won't he be upset when you leave?"
"It won't be for awhile yet, things change. Maybe he'll come with me, maybe he'll want to stay here. I'll deal with that when it happens."
"Ra...Stan," Stella amended, quickly. "You....I know I didn't treat you...well...very nicely after our divorce."
"It's in the past, Stella," Stan warned, not wishing to discuss that particular topic.
"I...I know it is, but I...I just wanted you to know that..." She paused to find the right words. "I was unfair sometimes and...and hurtful and I...I just hope you haven't held it against me."
Stan tilted his head and gazed at her, puzzled. "Why would you think that, Stell?"
Stella swallowed, disturbed at how difficult this was now that she was getting the chance to say her piece. "I...I know how hard it was for you, Stan; us breaking up, and I just hope it...that is I haven't done anything to...to push you into something that...I mean I hope it hasn't caused any additional confusion."
Stan whistled and passed his hand over his head in a sign of bewilderment. "Ya lost me there, Stell."
Stella bit her lip and averted her eyes. "Ray...Ray thinks something is going on between you and Fraser."
Stan stared at her. He blinked once, twice.
"Come again?" he asked.
"Ray thinks that because...because of me, of the way I treated you...um...rejected you, that you're..." Stella rolled her eyes as she searched for the courage to continue. She had faced down crooked politicians, gangsters, and murders, but she was babbling in Stan's presence. "He's worried that you might be...over dependent on Fraser's company." There, that didn't sound like an accusation and Stan could take it a number of ways, other than the way she had meant it.
Stan returned her gaze, tongue in cheek. "That's really...what's the word...Stupid, Stella."
Stella sighed and nodded. "I...I know it's just...you two do seem close and I...I just wonder if it's a good thing, you being here." She waved her hands expansively. "This environment isn't what you're used to, Stan. You're a city boy, you've never seemed interested in the wilderness and you always said wild life was dangerous ..."
"Stella," Stan chuckled, "The only wildlife I ever got to see in Chicago were the winos in the park, the hookers on Fifth and Main, and the street thugs I arrested. And they are dangerous."
Stella smiled. "You know what I mean."
"Okay, so I was a little out of my element when I first got here," he admitted. "But I'm good now. It's nice here, clean, quiet, and yah damn cold-but you adapt to that kind of stuff."
"Don't you miss the excitement of being a cop?"
"Sometimes, sure," Stan confessed. "But, Fraser and me get called in on cases now and then, so I get the chance to still do what I enjoy, still be a cop. They have crime here, Stella, not a lot but some and it's all still good. Me and Frase against the bad guys."
Stella frowned and picked at the quilt across her legs. "It's just so isolated, Stan. What do you do when you aren't out chasing someone? I've only been here a day and I'm climbing the walls. There's no TV, no place to shop, no music..."
"Ahh, ahh," Stan protested and rose to his feet. "See, that's where you're wrong." He extended his hand to her. "Come with me."
Stella tossed the quilt aside and rose with him. They headed into the living area and Stan stopped beside, what Stella had assumed was a small, supply cupboard, next to the window. When he pulled the doors open, Stella was shocked to find Stan's stereo and collection of music.
"But...but I thought you didn't have electricity here?" she questioned as Stan selected a CD and placed it in the player.
"We don't, we're too far out," Stan agreed as he found the track he was looking for.
Stella laughed as she recognized the tune was the same one he had chosen in her apartment, the last time they had danced.
Stan did a little jig in anticipation and reached for her. "May I have this dance?"
Stella stepped into his arms willingly and allowed him to waltz her around the room.
"If you have no electricity, then how is this working?" she demanded, smiling.
"Fraser hooked up a special kind of car battery that runs forever and we can recharge when we go into town," Stan explained, grinning. "It was my birthday gift because he knew I missed my music."
Stella shook her head, amazed and rested her cheek against his shoulder.
They danced through the first song and the next three, which were also ballads. Each remembering their past together, the familiar way they fit into each other's arms and the sweet faithful rhythm of their bodies swaying to the music.
"This feels so...right, Stan," she whispered, ruefully.
"I know," he returned just as softly.
She raised her eyes to his, saw her own sorrow reflected back "We should have tried harder."
"We did our best," Stan reminded, gently. "It just didn't work out."
Stella's eyes misted over and she swallowed emotionally. "I'm so sorry."
Stan shook his head. He had forgiven her long ago. He hadn't been what she needed and he understood that now. His love for her hadn't been enough.
Stella tilted her chin upward, pleading.
Stan couldn't deny her. He lowered his lips to hers in a gentle kiss that quickly turned passionate. He wrapped both arms around her and pulled her closer as Stella moaned in compliance.
Suddenly a vision of a certain Mountie flashed in Stan's mind and he pulled away, almost stumbling backwards. Stella was staring at him, confused, her lips moist and swollen from their kiss.
"I..." he began, running a shaky hand through his hair. "I'm sorry Stell I didn't...I shouldn't have..." He shook his head and bolted for the back door, just as Ray and Fraser entered from the front.
"Stan!" Fraser called, concerned as his partner disappeared outside. He glanced at Stella, who had dropped into the chair, dejectedly, and hid her face in her hands.
"What's goin' on Stella?" Ray demanded, moving to crouch next to his wife.
just shook her head and Fraser honestly felt like striking her. Why couldn't
she leave well enough alone? Why did she continue to torture Stan? Fraser
didn't award her a second glance, but instead rushed after his friend
and partner. He was in time to see Stan riding out on Malaki at a break
neck speed. Fraser considered removing the animal's shoes so Stan wouldn't
be able to run away so often.
Fraser approached the riverbed that housed Stan's beaver dam. He had borrowed Ray's jeep and parked a ways back, to avoid startling his friend or the beavers with the noisy engine.
Malaki was nibbling on the tree he was tied to and Stan was in his usual spot, watching the beavers.
Fraser's stealth was something he was renown for and he had no trouble moving closer and settling beside his friend without disturbing the hard working beavers.
"Are you all right?" he asked, quietly.
Stan nodded but didn't speak or turn to look at his partner.
Fraser accepted that his friend wasn't ready to talk yet and he craned his neck to se over Stan's shoulder. "They've almost got it finished."
"Yah," Stan replied, wistfully. "Guess they'll move on then, huh?"
"Not necessarily," Fraser returned. "Beavers are like...." He paused and searched for a comparison. "Well, like athletes, I imagine."
Stan tossed him a backward glance and raised an eyebrow.
Fraser smiled and elaborated. "Well, what I mean is that they strive for perfection. What we may perceive as a finished dam, may only be the foundation of what they intend to build. They exist to work and their livelihood is that of an architect, always building, everything in it's place and so on."
Stan considered his friend's words for a moment; accepted them and turned again to watch the animals.
"I wonder what it looks like inside?" he said. They could only see the top portion of the dam above the water.
Fraser rose. "Let's find out," he suggested and started pulling off his heavy sweater and boots. Fraser rarely wore his jacket during the warmer months.
Stan stared at him as if the Mountie had suddenly lost his mind.
"Fraser!" he exclaimed, bewildered. "Hello, the dam is under water?"
"Of course it is, Stan," Fraser concurred as he started to shuck his jeans, leaving him in his boxers and T-shirt. "Well, actually only the entrance to the dam is underwater, beavers live above it. They build the entrance to their homes beneath the water to prevent possible predators from entering."
"Fraser, the water is freezing!" Stan protested.
"It is cold but it is well above freezing, Stan," the Mountie assured and started to move toward the water's edge. The busy beavers swam away at his presence. He turned back to Stan. "Are you coming or not?"
Stan shook his head in disbelief, then started stripping down. "You're unhinged, ya know that?"
"So you keep telling me, " Fraser agreed, mildly.
He had given Stan swimming lessons during the summer months and the water had not been much warmer than it was now. He was pleased that his friend was willing to follow him, Stan's curiosity almost always got the better of him and Fraser played on that. Besides, he wanted to take Stan's mind off of Stella.
"Ahh God!" Stan cried as they stepped into the flowing water and moved toward the deeper portion in the middle. "T...t...this shit is c...cold, Fraser!"
Fraser smiled and dove under the water.
Stan shook his head, called him a freak then followed.
They explored the dam with interest, careful not to get to close and disturb any of the beaver's handiwork. They were two large to go to far inside and once they investigated what they could they decided to continue exploring the surrounding area. Only once did Stan have to resurface for air, though Fraser would gladly have given him some of his, as he had once before. When he dove back, it seemed to take him a moment to find the Mountie and Fraser was worried Stan might have difficulty a second time as well.
The current was relatively mild where they were and the water clear, but Stan was still an awkward swimmer and became disoriented after surfacing. Fraser didn't want to lose his partner down stream or have Stan panic when he couldn't find him right away.
The opportunity came while they were exploring a particularly interesting limestone shelf in the riverbed, a little ways down from the dam. Stan had started upwards again, and Fraser pulled him back down.
Stan's eyes widened as Fraser pointed between their two mouths suggestively. He hesitated only a moment. He knew his own limitations and the way surfacing screwed up his sense of direction, sometimes. Stan nodded and allowed the Mountie to perform the 'Buddy Breathing' maneuver.
air filled Stan's lungs for the second time in his life, through Fraser.
He closed his eyes and gripped the Mountie's shoulders in gratitude.
He felt Fraser's arms go around him, perhaps to lend stability to Stan's
novice floundering, and noticed a change in the procedure. Barely detectable,
but different was the way Fraser's mouth moved over his. Different from
the last time, yet performing the same act of giving him air.
Stan's fingers sank into Fraser's hair, to pull him closer or push him away, he wasn't sure, but their exchange continued. He felt Fraser's tongue slip into his mouth and was startled to feel his own tongue tingle in anticipation.
Suddenly it was too much and Stan pushed away from Fraser and swam for the surface. Fraser followed and they broke through the top together, gulping in deeply and treading water.
"Fraser!" Stan accused. "That...that was not 'Buddy Breathin' you were doin'!"
Fraser returned his stare mildly. "Of course it was, Stan. What else would it be?"
Stan's conviction wavered, his anger dampened into doubt as it had once before. "I...it felt...different."
"Did it?" Fraser questioned as he swam to shore. "I can't imagine why, there is only one way to perform Buddy Breathing, Stan."
Fraser's heart was in his throat and despite the frigid water he was sweating. He had gone too far. Stan's mouth on his pushed him over the line and he couldn't help responding. He hated lying to Stan, hated making his friend doubt his own senses, but he couldn't allow Stan to discover the truth. It was a truth that Fraser was still unwilling to admit to and he knew if Stan suspected anything of what Fraser was really feeling he would lose his partner for sure, then.
"Yah... I guess," Stan agreed grudgingly and followed. "Maybe...maybe I didn't remember it right before...you know when ya did it on the Henry Allen."
"Possibly," Fraser agreed, extending a hand to aid Stan's rise from the water. They both quickly dressed, shivering slightly. "Let's head back to the cabin for supper, shall we?"
mouth was still tingling from earlier and he couldn't seem to shake the
feeling of Fraser's lips moving over his. He gave himself a mental shake
and moved toward Malaki "Yah, sure, Fraser."
Upon their arrival back at the cabin Ray inquired about their damp clothes and the Mountie explained their adventure with the dam. He did not elaborate further about what had happened underwater and for that Stan was grateful. Vecchio chuckled at their insanity then suggested a game of cards before dinner.
Stan did not notice Ray giving him any particular looks, not any that were more menacing than usual anyway, so he wondered if Stella had told her husband about the kiss. Stan felt guilty about it, but not enough to confess to either Vecchio or Fraser
The steaks turned out perfect and Stan served them with baked potatoes and some canned corn. He was silent during dinner, allowing Vecchio and Fraser to converse without interruption. Stella was also quiet and rose as soon as they were finished to go lay down, claiming a headache. Fraser offered Stella some aspirin but she declined and retreated into the bedroom.
Fraser and Ray played another game of cards while Stan stretched out on the sofa with a paperback novel. He had left enough room for Diefenbaker to settle between his legs and the back of the sofa. The wolf's front paws and head were nestled upon Stan's chest and the blonde's free hand was stroking Dief's ears.
"You've gotten better at this, Benny," Ray Vecchio commented as Fraser one their hand of poker and started shuffling the cards.
Fraser smiled, pleased his friend had noticed. "Thank you kindly, Ray," he returned. "I had to learn to be a card fish during one of our cases in Chicago."
"Card shark, Benny," Ray corrected mildly, as he picked up the cards Fraser felt him.
" Ah, yes, card shark, sorry," Fraser amended. "Detectives Dewey, and Huey also assisted me in learning the game, Although playing with Stan has made me quite good. He is an excellent poker player." He glanced over at Stan, who had finally drifted off to sleep along with the wolf.
Ray noticed the Mountie's wandering gaze and also looked toward Stan. He shook his head and returned his attention to his cards. "He and Dief get on pretty well, then I guess?" Ray would never have allowed the wolf to sleep on him like that; all that fur would ruin his clothing. He smirked recalling how many suits he had gone through while working with Fraser.
"I believe Diefenbaker has found a kindred spirit in Stan," Fraser smiled fondly as he set his cards down and rose. "Excuse me for a moment, I don't want him to catch a chill."
Ray watched as Fraser quietly approached the sleeping pair and pulled the knitted afghan off the back to drape over them. He only brought it up halfway, so the wool wouldn't cover Diefenbaker's face. Diefenbaker opened one eye to watch him, then snuggled in closer to Stan and fell asleep again.
Fraser removed the book Stan had been reading, marked the page with the slip of paper Stan had with it, and set the book on the table. He knew Stan's back had been bothering him a little from sleeping on the floor, so he wouldn't bother waking his partner when it was time for bed. Stan could sleep on the sofa and be more comfortable. It was only his stubbornness that made him sleep on the floor with Fraser, simply because partners did things together.
"You care about him a lot, don't you, Benny?' Ray inquired quietly when Fraser had returned to the table and picked up his cards again.
Fraser cast him a surprised look. "Of course I do. Stan is my partner and my friend, as are you, Ray."
Ray frowned at his cards and discarded two, then accepted fresh ones from Fraser. "Yah, but you seem...I don't know, closer to him than you ever were to me, Benny."
Fraser smirked and organized the cards in his hand. "You almost sound jealous, Ray."
"No, I'm not jealous, Benny-not like you're thinkin'. I'm just...worried."
"About what, Ray?"
Ray sighed. He'd known bringing this up wasn't going to be easy, the Mountie could be incredibly thick when it suited him. "I'm worried about how much you care about him, Benny." He glanced at his cards, barely able to concentrate now, and put in two of the candies that Fraser and Stan kept there for the game. "I mean...this is probably none of my business but you two out here, all alone...It can't be good, Benny. You...stuff happens when people are isolated like this, they get dependent on each other and start feeling stuff that...well that they might confuse..." Ray caressed his forehead. He wasn't explaining this very well. "I just don't want you to make any mistakes about what you think you might be feeling."
Fraser continued to stare at his cards, his face neutral. "You're right, Ray," he agreed matching Ray's two candies and raising him three. "It isn't any of your business."
After a moment of stunned silence, Ray matched the three candies and set his cards down. "Full house."
"Ah, I believe my royal flush beats that, Ray," Fraser confirmed, showing his cards and reaching for the candies.
Ray's hand shot out and covered the Mountie's.
"Benny," he warned when Fraser finally met his gaze. "I don't want you to get hurt. I don't think you know what you're doing here..."
Fraser pulled his hand away from Ray's, along with the candies which he surprisingly popped into his mouth. "I have no idea what you are talking about, Ray. How would I get hurt? I trust Stan to back me up, that is what partners do, and the only danger we are in is an attack from some of the surrounding wildlife, again a remote possibility since we are both very careful when we go outside.."
"Benny, com'on!" Ray exclaimed, frustrated, then immediately lowered his voice when Diefenbaker raised his head to glare at him. He turned away from the wolf and looked at Fraser. "Look, I know Victoria really screwed you up but that doesn't mean..."
Fraser stood abruptly. "This has nothing to do with Victoria, Ray," he denied, coolly. "All of that is in the past, where it belongs. I don't understand what you have against Stan but..."
Ray rose as well to stand beside Fraser. "I don't have anything against the guy," he insisted. "I just don't want you to think you're feeling things that...well that you aren't. You're just lonely, Benny. You need to find a nice woman to..." He was startled when Fraser chuckled softly.
"Ray, whatever you think I am feeling or not feeling for Stan is irrelevant," Fraser stated, quietly. "He is my partner and my friend, as are you. Granted I feel differently about each of you as individuals but that is common, is not? No one cares for someone in exactly the same way as they care for another. I am not lonely, Ray, nor do I have the need to 'find myself' a woman'. I am perfectly content here, something that has rarely been afforded to me in the past and I won't give that up because of your paranoia."
"Benny, I'm not saying..." Ray began but Fraser continued as if he had not even spoken.
"As for my feelings, you have no idea what they are anymore than I do. I have only recently had the courage to admit to them, let alone decipher them." Fraser indicated Stan, who was still sleeping soundly. "I owe that new freedom to him, Ray. Stan encourages me to be whoever I feel I can be without judgment or threat of repercussions. We are like night and day. Stan is open and passionate in his feelings, he is unafraid to do or say what he feels. I was brought up to bury those feelings, to hide them away and swallow all the disappointments and tragedies in life with a brave face and honorable decorum."
"I know that, Benny," Ray stated, trying to make the Mountie understand. "That's why I worry that you might be getting confused and impaired in your judgment when it comes to Stanley."
"Ray," Fraser said, gently. "Without Stan I would still be hiding from my feelings. He isn't afraid to get angry or exasperated with me, because he expects me to forgive him-that is what partners do. I...I am no longer afraid to show my irritation or anger because I know that no matter what I may say or do, how I may hurt his feelings or behave improperly, Stan will forgive me and still be my friend when the argument is over."
Ray couldn't help remembering a time that he hadn't forgiven Fraser. He had felt betrayed when the Mountie found an alibi for Zuko after Lewis' death and it had taken them time to get bakc to being the partners they had once been. It had still not been the same after the incident. Ray had been unable to let go of his anger completely and he suspected that Fraser had been aware of that because the Mountie became more cautious in his approach to Ray.
They were still friends and partners, but there were two walls between them now. A wall that Ray had created by his anger and resentment that caused him to occasionally leave Fraser out of the loop on certain cases, and the one that Fraser created around himself to prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again. Which only meant that the Mountie wasn't as free and open with Ray as he had been.
Now, it seemed that Fraser had managed to achieve that connection with Kowalski, so Ray was grateful, if not a little envious, for that at least.
"Benny," he began, "you don't understand. That's great that you can do that with him but..."
"No, you don't understand, Ray," Fraser insisted. "Stan has done something for me that no one else could, he has taught me that I can be myself around others. He taught me that if something I say or do offends people, then they are better off walking away. A real friend won't walk away. A real friend will tell you when you are out of line and will torment you until you tell them what is wrong."
"I know that, Benny," Ray agreed, wishing he had been that kind of friend to Fraser. "But I think you're confusing gratitude for..." Ray halted before he revealed the word that would send Fraser back into his shell. "I just don't want you to make a mistake you'll regret later, Benny."
Fraser placed his hand on Ray's shoulder affectionately. "There are no guarantees in life, Ray, but I thank you for your concern. However, I am not planning on making any mistakes and I think you are reading entirely too much into this. Perhaps you should sleep on it, your head may be clearer in the morning."
Ray nodded. In other words, the subject was closed and Fraser wasn't going to talk about it anymore. He reached across to pull Fraser in for a quick hug and was relieved that the Mountie wasn't too upset with him to reciprocate. Perhaps Stanley had done him some good after all.
"I just want you to be happy, Benny," he whispered. "Whatever it takes, I just want that because I love you and you know that, right?"
"Understood." Fraser returned warmly and Ray gave him an extra squeeze before releasing him.
"Good night, Ray."
Fraser waited until the Italian had entered the bedroom and closed the door, before he settled back on the chair and dropped his face in his hands. He would have to be more careful. If Ray was suspecting his feelings for Stan, Stan might also notice them and Fraser couldn't allow that.
He cast a wistful look toward his partner and smirked at how adorable Stan was in his sleep. He frowned and shook his head. When had he started thinking of Stan as adorable? Surely that isn't the way most men view each other. However he had noticed a variety of things about Stan Kowalski over the years that other men would not, or rather should not notice.
Fraser enjoyed seeing Stan wearing his shirts, which the blonde did quite often. Fraser knew that was just because Stan grabbed the first available garment most times and that it just turned out to belong to Fraser. Fraser loved the way Stan drank his coffee, with his candies mashed up inside it. He always held the cup very delicately, yet Fraser knew it was his lifeline to first thing in the morning. He liked to watch Stan dance around the cabin in just his socks and boxers, to a heavy rock and roll tune to get the day started.
Occasionally Fraser would catch his partner singing and he thought Stan had a very nice voice. Not well trained, but comfortable to listen to. Fraser had tried many times to convince Stan to sing with him when they sat beside a campfire or at the pub when they did karokee. Stan always declined and made some disparaging remark about scaring the animals or patrons. However, Stan would encourage Fraser to sing and the Mountie obliged, since his partner seemed to enjoy listening to him so much. Stan did consent to allowing Fraser to teach him to play the guitar, which he now played quite well.
Fraser knew he was probably reading entirely too much into the times Stan touched him, or the way his partner watched him singing or telling a story. Fraser would intentionally do something odd or peculiar just to hear Stan call him a freak in that affectionate tone his friend always used. If he was lucky, and he did something that totally baffled or disgusted Stan, his partner would give him that special, what-am-I-going-to-do-with-you smile that always caused Fraser's heart to beat a little faster.
Fraser lived for the times that he and Stan would have to share their sleeping bags to retain body heat, while on a mission. Sometimes, in their bed at home, Fraser would wake up and Stan would be curled up against him in a spoon fashion or with his arm or leg draped over Fraser's. The Mountie would lay there unmoving, and enjoy the intimacy for a few minutes before adjusting his partner back on his own side of the bed. He wouldn't want Stan to be uncomfortable at finding himself in such a position, despite how much Fraser enjoyed.
The guilt of hiding his feelings from Stan was sometimes overpowering. He was always afraid that Stan would catch him staring and read the love and attraction in Fraser's eyes. Fraser was attracted to Stan, he could finally admit that, and the attraction was growing every day. However, Stan's trust in him as a friend prevented him from acting on that attraction. Stan liked women; Fraser had always known that and had thought he was the same. But, somewhere along the line, after meeting Stan, his feelings changed.
Fraser did not find other men sexually attractive, although he could admit there were beautiful men as well as women. Stan was the only man that Fraser wanted in that way. Stan was the only man Fraser loved and it was tearing him apart to know that his feelings would never be reciprocated.
and rose to prepare his bedroll. He would have to be more careful about
hiding his feelings now. If Ray Vecchio was suspicious, Stan might be
too and Fraser could not afford to think about that. He didn't want to
lose Stan and he would continue to suffer in silence to prevent such
They left for Maggie's the following day and decided to take Vecchio's vehicle, because it would be a little faster and it held four. Fraser drove since he knew the area. He and Stan had put some gear in the back of the jeep and Diefenbaker lay next to their bags. It was a little over a four-hour drive to the nearest village. Ray Vecchio and Fraser kept up a steady stream of conversation, catching up on what was going on back in Chicago and with the people Stan and Fraser remembered there.
Finally, they arrived and Stan jumped out. He held the seat forward for Stella to step down and Diefenbaker dove ahead of her. Stan offered his ex-wife an apologetic smile as she accepted his hand and moved from the vehicle.
A petite, blonde haired woman walked up to them and threw her arms around Kowalski.
"I was wondering if you were even coming!" Maggie Mackenzie accused smiling as she gave Stan a kiss on the cheek and ruffled his hair affectionately. Like them she was in civilian clothes today.
"Time to test some of those urges," Stan murmured only loud enough for Stella to hear him. She blushed as he smiled at Maggie. "We were running a little late is all."
Fraser walked over to accept a warm hug from his sister.
"Maggie this is Ray Vecchio and his wife Stella. They dropped in for a visit."
Maggie greeted them both warmly, then waved at them to follow.
"Com'on then, we've already got everything set up," she encouraged. "They've been practising all day."
"Who?" Vecchio inquired as they followed her over to the large skating pond, where bleachers and assorted chairs lined the sides. There were about a half a dozen kids on the ice, shooting a puck around.
"Stan and I help coach a little league hockey team, Ray," Fraser explained as they stopped by the bleachers closest to the pond and Stan handed him his bag of gear. "They have a game tomorrow so we need to practice with them. You and Stella may watch if you like, or you can visit the shops just above us if you prefer. They don't have the elaborate centers as are in Chicago, but there are a few nice clothing and gift shops."
"I'd like to watch if that's okay, Benny," Vecchio offered, wanting more then anything to see Kowalski fall on his ass.
Ray remembered his attempt at playing hockey with Fraser back in Chicago, one night, and there was no way Stanley could handle the ice any better then him.
"Certainly, Ray," the Mountie replied pleased, as he laced up his skates. Kowalski finished first and pulled his stick and gloves out of the bag. He headed toward the pond as Fraser glanced up from his task to address his sister. "Maggie, would you get them some hot chocolate, please?"
"Sure," Maggie agreed and went to fetch the drinks. Stella and Ray settled on one of the benches.
Stella leaned toward her husband. "This should be interesting," she commented. "Ray hasn't played hockey in years."
Vecchio glanced at her surprised. "You mean he can play?" he demanded and she nodded. They turned their attention to the ice where the children were converging on the two men.
"Warm up!" Ray hollered and the kids cheered and dispersed towards the sidelines.
Two native men came toward them on the ice, both tall with long dark hair down past their backs.
"You ready to take a whipping, Blondie?" the taller of the two, a native named Ira, challenged as they met Fraser and Stan in the middle of the pond.
"Bring it on, Crow Head" Stan tossed back.
Ira chuckled, gave a playful tug on Ray's pony tail, then he and Stan assumed the play off positions.
Fraser and the other man, Jayad, moved to their perspective positions as two of the children claimed the nets.
The youngsters adjusted their gear and readied themselves. A young girl dropped the puck. Stan claimed it first and moved with lightening speed toward the opposite net. He passed to Fraser opposite him and the Mountie took it for a moment, before Jayad over took him, and he passed it back to Ray.
They played like demons on the ice and Ray Vecchio was stunned at Kowalski's speed and ability, which easily matched that of the other players. He had seen Fraser play and knew the Mountie was good. The natives probably grew up playing, but Kowalski was a city kid, and awkward one at that.
However, he was also the fastest one out there. He hated that the former Detective had managed to impress him twice now. He didn't really want to like the blonde, but he was finding it difficult not to admire him.
"Here's your chocolate," Maggie offered to Ray and Stella.
They accepted the Styrofoam cups as she settled next to them. Maggie cheered her brother and Stan on against the other men.
"How long have you known Stan?" Stella inquired quietly, as she lightly blew on her chocolate.
"Stan?" Maggie repeated puzzled, and Ray quickly explained the situation of both of them going by the same name. "Oh, well, I met him during my trip to Chicago last year, when I first found out about Benton being my brother. He was still pretending to be you at the time, I believe." She smiled at Ray. "When he and Ben returned here we all just sort of fell back into place and became fast friends." Stella watched the way the other woman's eyes glowed and her features softened as she spoke about Ray Kowalski. "He's a great guy and a fantastic friend to Ben."
"You and he have a thing goin' or what?" Vecchio suggested boldly, receiving a glare from Stella.
Maggie shot him a confused look.
"Me and Ben?"
"No, you and Stanley."
"Oh, well, I don't think that's any of your business," she replied sweetly, and without a trace of offense. She was so much like her brother. "How long will you both be staying?"
"Just a few days," Stella assured. "We have reservations at a hotel in Ottawa later in the week."
"Oh, it's beautiful there," Maggie encouraged, "and so..." she paused as Stan made a goal and she jumped up to cheer. "Beautiful Blue Eyes! Nothing but net!"
Stan laughed and waved at her as Ira made a half hearted swing at him with his stick.
to sip her hot chocolate and tried not to think how annoying she found
the other woman. Like Ray Kowalski really needed a cheering section for
Later, after a long but exciting lesson with the kids, the adults headed over to the small local restaurant and tavern for dinner. Fraser and Kowalski were greeted warmly by most of the people in there, as they found a table that would accommodate the five of them.
"You have a pretty good team, Benny," Ray offered as they glanced over the small one page menu.
"Thank you kindly, Ray, " Fraser returned. "We share them with Jayad and his partner of course, but the children are quite skilled and they deserve all the credit."
"You talking about me again, Mountie?" the larger man rumbled as he and Jayad paused at their table.
"Nah," Stan assured, lounging back in his chair and grinning. "Nobody would want to talk about you, you're hearing things again."
"Your partner's a real pain in the ass, Fraser," Ira decided casting a wicked glance toward Stan who just continued to grin.
"He wouldn't be if you didn't encourage him, Ira," Fraser returned, primly.
"Ah, but we all need encouragement, now don't we?" Ira confirmed. He moved toward Stan with wicked intent and crouched next to the blonde. "Especially a skinny little yank like Blondie here."
Stan pursed his lips at him, playfully.
"Bite me, Crow Head," he retorted. He quickly dodged the intended swat from the larger man, only to run into Maggie's hand coming from the other direction. "Hey! No fair ganging up on me."
"Behave, both of you," Maggie warned, her blue eyes twinkling in merriment. "Or I'll throw you both out in the snow bank."
Ira straightened immediately. "Hey, I know better then to piss off a Mountie, I'll be good," he promised. Despite the vow he kicked deliberately at Stan's chair and cast him a challenging look.
Stan started to rise to the occasion. "You wanna piece of me?" he demanded. His posture was defensive but his eyes flashed with amusement.
"Oh please," Ira purred close to his ear and Stan immediately sat back down and shook his head, he'd walked right into that one.
"G'way, before I sic Mags on ya," he grumbled and grinned up at the native.
"Now wait a minute," Ira protested. "You made a legitimate offer and I accepted. It's only polite that we go outside and discuss it." He smirked. "We could talk about it over curling."
Stan shivered in revulsion. He just could not get into that sport at all, though he knew better than to demean it here as he had at the Consulate with Turnbull eons ago. The natives forgave his dislike of the sport, if you could call using brooms and a large handled disk a sport. Stan called it housework, but he tried to keep his comments to himself most of the time, after all he was on their turf now. Ira, however, was never one to pass up a chance to aggravate Stan.
"I wouldn't go to the next table with you, let alone outside," Stan retorted.
Fraser looked at the Vecchio's, who watching them bemused. "Perhaps another time, Ira," he suggested. He couldn't help the small tinge of jealousy that rose within him. He wished Stan would flirt with him the way he flirt with Ira. Although, Fraser knew his partner was only playing and would never go further, it still bothered him that Stan could play that way with Ira and not with him.
Stan glared at him.
"Don't be making promises I don't intend to keep, Fraser," he warned and Fraser smiled, wanly.
"What are you trying to say exactly, yank?" Ira challenged. "Is that an insult against my person? You trying to say you don't like me or something?"
Ray rose from his chair again, so they were nose to nose almost. "You want me to be blunt?"
Ira nodded. "By all means."
"I wouldn't piss on your head if your brain was on fire, how's that?"
"I think that's pretty blunt," Jayad agreed, grinning as Ira was torn between outrage and laughter. "Even I understood that one, babe."
Fraser glanced at Stan, his lips twitching, in amusement. Despite his jealousy, he was glad they had met Ira, it gave Stan someone to release some playful hostility on and the native seemed to relish annoying the American. They were actually very good friends, but it was more fun to pretend they couldn't stand each other.
Stan had been the first one to offer his services when Ira's family home burned and they had to rebuild. Ira had been the one to come out and help care for Stan the second time he had caught pneumonia, because Fraser was away tracking a criminal.
"Yeah," Ira agreed. "I give that one a ten." He grinned, always impressed at what the American could come up with. He shot Stan a look that promised he'd win the next round, then he and Jayad wished them all a good meal and wandered off to find another table.
"The moose stew is very good here," Fraser suggested to the Vecchio's as their waitress came over.
She was a tall, hulking woman with dark eyes and a sweet smile.
"Sounds good, Benny," Ray replied, offering to try it.
They all requested the stew and a small salad to go with it. Stan ordered a pitcher of draft for the table, commenting that Canadian's did at least make a good beer. Fraser and Maggie asked for tea.
"You were very good out on the ice, Stan," Stella offered. She seemed to be trying to make up for her past treatment of him and Fraser was glad.
Although, he could tell his friend wasn't sure how to react. Fraser worried exactly how much, Stella intended to make up to his partner and how much more of her charms Stan could resist.
"Thanks, Stell," Stan returned shyly, but obviously pleased by her praise.
Stan had released his hair from the elastic and Maggie had moved behind his chair, intent in the process of brushing it out and attempting to braid it. The extra length and thickness gave him an almost warrior look that Stella found very appealing. Stan acted as though it was an every day occourence to have a beautiful woman brushing his hair and Stella couldn't help but be envious.
Maggie leaned over and whispered in Stan's ear and he suddenly brightened in embarrassment.
"Thanks a lot," he muttered wryly as he took a sip of his beer. "Fraser, tell a story or something will ya?"
Fraser grinned and took the focus off of his partner ASAP. Stan still was not very good about receiving compliments. Fraser started regaling them with their adventures searching for the hand of Franklin. Everyone chuckled and gasped and generally enjoyed it, while Stan remained oddly silent and allowed Fraser to spin the tale.
Stella noticed her ex-husband was on his fourth, maybe fifth beer and seemed to have no intention of stopping. He had hardly touched his meal so she was sure the alcohol was affecting him even worse on an empty stomach. She wondered if he always drank so heavily or if it was just their presence that made him drink more.
She tried to concentrate on the conversation between her husband and the Mountie, who were chatting over old times, but she was rather bored with it. Stan didn't seem any more comfortable with the pair's obvious closeness and she suspected he was a little jealous of Ray Vecchio's friendship with Fraser.
The local band started playing a slow song and Stan rose from his chair. His eyes rested on hers briefly and she prepared to decline his request to dance, but was shocked and disappointed when he extended his hand to Maggie instead. She watched them walk toward the small dance floor and Stan took the female Mountie in his arms.
Stella stared at them, confused. Why hadn't Stan asked her to dance, he rarely missed a chance to take her in his arms. Granted, Stella had been about to refuse him, she always declined initially, but her ex-husband would usually convince her. Stan and Maggie were dancing cheek to cheek, entirely too close for the friends they claimed they were.
Ray was fully aware of his ex-wife's appraisal as he pulled Maggie a little closer.
"Try not to cut off the circulation, dear," Maggie teased.
Ray loosened his hold, chagrined.
Maggie smiled and moved in close again. "It's okay, I know you're just being defensive."
"Maybe I just like to hold you close, Maggie," he challenged softly as she met his soft gaze. "What man wouldn't want a beautiful woman in his arms?"
"I'm not complaining," she assured. "Whatever the reason."
He smirked and executed a little twirl, in gratitude.
"If it's bothering you so much, why don't you and I leave?" Maggie suggested casting him a wry gaze. "Before you get any further intoxicated?"
Ray shrugged. "I've a ways to go yet, Mags," he acknowledged. "Besides, you and Fraser will keep me in line, I'm sure."
Maggie reached up tcaress his cheek, affectionately. "Why do you let her do this to you? She isn't worth it from what I can see and neither is Vecchio, even if he is Ben's friend."
Stan lowered his eyes and pulled her close again, so she was resting her cheek against his shoulder. Maggie knew all about his feelings for both Stella and Ray Vecchio, which was why she understood how hard this was for him. But he didn't want to ruin things for Fraser.
"I can't help it," he sighed, finally. "It's a love hate kinda thing. I love her I hate him. What's a guy to do?"
Maggie grinned against his shoulder and reached up to kiss his cheek, fondly. She wondered if Stan realized who it was he loved and who he hated, or if he was just lying to himself about it.
all work out," she assured.
Ray Vecchio regarded his wife, whose eyes were glued to the couple on the dance floor.
"Stella?" he inquired and she pulled her gaze away from Stan and Maggie to meet her husband's gaze. "You okay, hon?" She nodded and watched him glance toward the couple as well.
"I'm fine." she deflected. "What did you want?"
"Benny says they have a real nice bed and breakfast here that we can stay at," Ray replied, still suspicious of what might be bothering her. "It's too late to drive back and they'll be staying at Maggie's."
"That's fine, " she assured as the song ended and Stan and Maggie returned to the table.
Maggie smiled as Stan held her chair with exaggerated politeness then turned his own around and straddled it.
"Are you drunk, Stanley?" Ray couldn't help taunting, despite his promise. He didn't like the way Stella had been watching her ex-husband.
"No I'm..." Stan paused and leaned toward Maggie, "What is it you say?"
"Three sheets to the wind?" she teased and he nodded.
"Yeah, but I'm only one and half sheets yet," he smirked as Fraser and Maggie chuckled. "Gimme time, Vecchio, I'll get there."
"Ra...Stan," Stella cautioned. "You don't usually drink so heavily."
"Hah, you should've seen me when I got my divorce papers," Stan retorted, ignoring her pained look. He gazed brazenly at Vecchio over his beer. "What hoops she got you jumpin' through, Vecchio?"
"Stan," Fraser scolded, sensing his friend's discomfort, but refusing to allow another confrontation between the two men.
Stan shrugged and stood again.
"Oh well, screw it then, me and my mouth." He tossed Stella a lopsided grin. "Pay no attention to me, Stell, you're good at that anyway."
Stella lowered her eyes at the barb, but knew he was trying to apologize for being an ass. However, Ray Vecchio didn't understand Kowalski and he was prepared to defend his wife.
"I've about had it with your mouth, Kowalski," he warned, rising from his chair. Stan put his hands up in a peaceful gesture even as Fraser also rose to thwart a possible battle.
"Hey, you're, right," Stan agreed, surprising Vecchio and meeting Stella's wounded gaze. "I am sorry, Stella, you know I don't mean it. I wouldn't hurt you for the world, you know that right?"
Stan offered her a sad smile as he reached for his coat.
"Of course you do, that's why it hurts so much sometimes."
Stella stared up at him, her eyes swimming with unexpected tears. She didn't know which hurt more, the defeat in Stan's eyes, or knowing she was the cause of it. She watched him shrug into his jacket and finish off the last few swallows of his beer.
"Mag's love," Stan inquired leaning over the female Mountie. "Let's blow this popsickle stand. I'm in the mood for some of your hot chocolate."
She laughed and rose; missing Stella's pained look.
"Best offer I had all day, Blue Eyes," she teased as he helped her on with her coat.
"Hey, where are you two headed?" Ira inquired on his way back to his table. "The night's young yet."
Stan tossed an arm over Maggie's shoulders.
"I'm gonna go wrestle me a Mountie," he informed, grinning and Fraser chuckled.
"You'll lose, Ray," he decided calmly. "Maggie can beat you hands down."
"That's what I'm counting on, Buddy," Ray retorted, mischievously. He smiled down at Maggie. "Be gentle, babe."
Even Vecchio laughed at that one. Everyone was amused except Stella, who was brooding.
"Can we come too?" Ira dared. "I'll play the winner."
"In her dreams and my nightmares," Stan scoffed and Ira laughed.
"We'll leave a light on for you, Ben," Maggie offered, then to Ray and Stella. "You're both welcome to stay at my house tonight if you like."
"Well, thank you very much but Benny says there's a bed and breakfast..." Ray began and Ira cut in.
"They've closed it down for repairs."
"When did they do that?" Fraser frowned.
Saturday, roof gave out from that ice storm we had a week ago."
"Oh, dear, I hope no one was hurt."
Ira shook his head. "No, just a lot of damage."
"It's settled then, my place," Maggie decided. "Plenty of room and Ben has a key. I'll have some hot chocolate waiting for you."
"Thank you kindly, Maggie," Ray offered and Fraser smiled broadly. "We appreciate it."
Stan had remained quiet throughout the conversation, then reached into his wallet and dropped some bills on the table for their meal. Ray frowned when he saw it would pay for all of them.
"I'll get the tab, Stanley," he protested.
Ray dismissed the offer and paused behind his partner's chair to squeeze Fraser's shoulder, affectionately
"Nah, like Fraser said I'm almost Canadian now, only polite."
Fraser smiled, proudly, despite Vecchio's stormy expression.
"That you are my friend," he confirmed, reaching up to pat Stan's hand, appreciatively. "Be careful going back."
"I don't know, looks pretty scary out there, Buddy," Stan commented, straight faced. "Anything could happen is my guess."
Fraser watched his friend's eyes linger on The Stetson that had been placed on one of the vacant chairs beside the table. He smiled and nodded.
Stan grinned, like a child earning a reward, and scooped up the hat to drop on his own head.
"You let him wear your hat?" Ray accused, in mild disbelief.
"Stan thinks it's good luck," Fraser mused, smiling at his partner. In fact Ray called it The Stetson of Invulnerability and Fraser had accepted the title, bemused. "As accident prone as he is, he needs all the help he can get."
"Ha ha, wise guy," Stan grinned, uncaring about being teased, as long as he got to wear the hat; and in front of Vecchio too. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Style Pig.
"Are you afraid of the dark, Stanley?" Vecchio taunted, still bothered at seeing Fraser's hat on the blonde's head. It just didn't seem right, though he fully agreed on Stan's title for the revered Stetson, Fraser could survive anything, as long as he had his hat on.
Stan shook his head, calmly and wrapped both arms around Maggie, protectively. "Mags will protect me from all the beasties of the night," he assured.
"Yeah," Ira agreed. "But who will protect her from you?"
Maggie tossed a mischievous look behind them, as she and Stan headed for the door. "No worries. A Mountie is always prepared."
More laughter echoed behind them.
Ray turned to Fraser, concerned. "Aren't you worried?"
"Oh, Stan is just being silly, Ray," Fraser assured, sipping his tea and crossing one leg over the other. "There's nothing around here that could really cause them harm and Maggie's home isn't far away."
"No, I mean...she's your sister, Fraser," Ray reminded.
"I am aware of that, Ray."
"It doesn't bother you that Stanley is going off with her, alone and intoxicated?"
"First of all, Ray," Fraser began, sitting forward. "Maggie can handle herself in any situation, she is a Mountie, after all. Second, I trust Stan completely and know that he has always had only the most honorable intentions toward Maggie."
"But she's your sister!" Ray insisted.
Fraser's eyes narrowed slightly, but it did not ruin his calm expression.
"Yes, she is and I love her," he acknowledged, easily, with just the thinnest edge to his voice. "I'll always be grateful to have her, she is all the family I have left. However, Maggie is her own person and it is not for me to interfere in her life, professional or personal unless I have been invited to do so, which I have not."
Vecchio couldn't let it go. "You're telling me that it doesn't bother you that Stanley might have designs on your sister, Benny?"
"Whether he does or not is not my business," Fraser stated, quietly. "I will not interfere in anyway that might prevent them from finding happiness, with each other or with someone else."
In fact Fraser already knew that Stan only liked Maggie as a friend. He had been attracted to her for a short time in the beginning, but since their arrival in Canada, Stan had not made any further acknowledgment of that attraction. They flirted comfortably with one another and Stan was an incorrigible flirt when encouraged. Fraser felt nothing but amusement watching them.
He sat back again and retrieved his tea. "The cost is too high, Ray."
Ray finally understood what Fraser was telling him. He knew that his friend had strong feelings for his sister Francesca, but Ray's protective paranoia prevented them from ever being together. At first, he was sure it had just been a crush on Frannie's part. Fraser was a man and even he could only refuse a beautiful woman, throwing herself at him, for so long.
He had thought he was doing what was best for them both, but he had misjudged the situation drastically. He learned later how much Fraser had cared for Francesca, but had denied himself because of Ray's disapproval. They were friends and partners and Fraser had respected that. Ray had known he would and took advantage of his friend's loyalty.
Frannie had been devastated when Fraser remained in Canada and refused to ever fall in love again. Ray had thought she was being dramatic, but here it was almost two years later and his sister had no further contact with men. In fact, she had decided to just have kids, gotten artificially inseminated and ended up wit a set of sextuplets. Ray had never seen her happier, unless it was when Fraser was still in Chicago.
So, Fraser also realized the error of Ray's ways and refused to make the same mistake with his own sister. The idea that Fraser might have been harboring a resentment of him over it all this time made Ray's heart ache.
"I'm sorry, Benny," he offered and Fraser nodded in acceptance.
"It's all over with now, Ray," he assured, gently. "Life goes on."
Ray Vecchio nodded, but could not shake the guilt that he had destroyed Fraser and Frannie's last chance of happiness.
Stella and Ray had argued after Maggie and Stan left and Fraser had gone to speak to someone at a near by table. She didn't want to spend the night at Maggie's but she wouldn't give Ray a valid reason why. Ray of course suspected the cause of her dilemma and was more than ready to force her hand.
She was his wife now and being jealous over what Stan Kowalski did or didn't do with another woman shouldn't be a concern. One of the reasons Ray had decided to come here in the first place, aside from wanting to see Benny, was to try and get Stella to finally let go of her ex-husband.
He knew Stella loved him, but he also knew she was still hanging on to the memory of Stanley and that hurt him. She apparently hadn't wanted anything to do with Stan after their divorce, despite Stan's attempts at reconciliation.
However, now Stella seemed obsessed that Stan might have found a bit of happiness without her and Ray intended to prove to his wife that Stan had moved on. Fraser said he was doing well here and he obviously seemed happy and well adjusted. Now, if Ray could just keep his own jealousy at bay, this might just work.
They arrived at Maggie's just a little over an hour later and Ray secretly hoped that they would walk in on the female Mountie and Stanley fooling around. He didn't want to hurt Stella, he loved her, but he'd tried everything else to make her see the error of her ways. The blatant truth seemed the final option.
Unfortunately, Stan and Maggie were just settled on the floor by the fire, sipping their brew and playing scrabble. Neither of them looked particularly guilty or like they had dressed in a hurry, so Ray had to assume that nothing had happened between them. Either Kowalski was a fool or he and Maggie really were just friends.
is not a word!" Stan was arguing as Fraser took care of the Vecchio's
coats and boots.
"It is so a word," Maggie defended, grinning.
"In Canada, maybe," Stan scoffed.
"We're in Canada," she reminded and he grinned.
"Oh yeah," he glanced back at his partner from their position on the floor. "Fraser, is Ukase a word?"
Fraser nodded and walked over to glance down at the board. "Yes, it means to publicly proclaim or announce." He scowled disapprovingly at his sister. "However, I'm afraid it's spelled with a 'K' and not with a 'C', Maggie. "
"Maggie lowered her eyes, effectively caught, and giggled.
Stan stared at her shocked.
"You should be ashamed!" he proclaimed, wagging his finger at her. "You lied, deceived, falsified, tried to pull the wool over my eyes...That is sooo un-Mountie like." He winked at Fraser, unaware how it had made the Mountie's heart rate increase. "I think we should revoke her Canadian privileges, what do you think?"
only smiled at them.
"I'm sorry!" Maggie cried dramatically and hid her face in her hands, appropriately ashamed. "I should be taken out and whipped."
"Oh good, I was hoping you'd get to that, let's go!" Stan agreed and made a grab for her.
Maggie fell back, laughing harder at his teasing, and smiled at Ray and Stella.
look half frozen, let me get you some chocolate."
"That would be wonderful, thank you, Maggie," Fraser offered as he assisted his sister to her feet.
"I'll have coffee, if you have it." Ray requested, politely, following them into the kitchen and leaving Stan and Stella alone in the large living room.
Stan set his cup of coffee on the table and rose to tend to the fire. The walk to Maggie's in the cool temperatures had sobered him quite a bit and the one-cup of chocolate and two cups of coffee he had consumed so far also helped
"Pretty cold, hey?" he offered as he carefully retrieved their game board and pieces and set it carefully on the coffee table as well, to finish later. He settled on the small love seat.
Stella nodded and moved toward the fire to melt the chill from her bones.
He watched her quietly for a few moments before speaking again. "Stell, I really am sorry for being such an ass, alcohol loosens my tongue sometimes."
"Apparently, it just lets you say what you feel," she retorted with a cool formality. "Maybe you should have drank more when we were married, at least then we would have talked."
"We did talk, Stella," Stan reminded, sourly. "You just never wanted to hear what I had to say."
"Because you only gave me half of everything you were trying to say, Ray," she defended stiffly. She was unaware she had reverted to calling him by his middle name again, but she was still miffed by him horsing around with Maggie. He used to play with her that way and it hurt that his attentions were directed at someone else now. "You were always keeping things from me and I hated it."
Stan sighed and lay his head against the back of the seat.
"Com'on Stella, let's not do this now. I said I was sorry, what more do you want?"
"A little consideration would be nice," she sniffed.
Stan growled and rose to his feet angrily. "The way you considered me when you filed for a divorce, Stella? The way you decided we wouldn't have kids because it would interfere with your career? The way you considered the fact that I was fighting for my life in some Godforsaken frozen waste land, while you were cozying up to Vecchio?"
"That isn't the same..." Stella protested, hotly.
Stan just tossed his hands up at her in frustration.
"Don't speak to me of consideration, Stella. You don't know what the word means." He swore and turned away from her, running a hand through his hair. "Look, I am trying to be nice and not ruin this for Fraser. He really wants to have this visit with Vecchio and I hate that but they are friends and I'm not gonna make things worse by bitching about it." He turned slightly and raised only his eyes toward her. "That's consideration, Stella, because Fraser is my partner and my friend. Don't make it harder on me by pretending you give a shit about me or what I do."
"I do care about you," Stella pressed, quietly moving toward him "I enjoyed our ride earlier and the rose you gave me. Why can't we be like that again?"
"I'd like to be, Stell," he admitted just as quietly. "But it isn't that
"You've no problem being so chummy with Ms. Mackenzie," she accused.
Stan closed his eyes tightly, against the oncoming headache that already vibrated through his skull.
"Maggie is a friend, she accepts me as I am and..."
"You think I don't?" Stella hissed, angrily. "Damnit, Ray we were married, remember? I think we know each other enough to..."
"That's the problem, Stella," he insisted. "If I'm that friendly with you, I'll want it to be more. I can't help it, I still love you and you know that."
"Ray, for heaven's sake..."
he growled, exasperated. "Call me one or the other, Stella but make up
your freakin' mind!" He couldn't be sure anymore who she was talking
to, him or Vecchio and it frustrated him to be so uncertain all of a
Stella's eyes narrowed in annoyance. "Stan, " she enforced through gritted teeth. "I'm married and we're both responsible adults..."
"Being that...friendly with you will only end up getting me in trouble, Stella," he decided. "If I try to be like that, I'll cross a line somewhere and I don't want to fight with you or your husband, or get my heart broken again when you stay with him. If I respect Vecchio's claim and stay hands off, you get pissed at me for ignoring you. I can't win!"
"Ray Vecchio doesn't own me, Ray," she stated.
"He's your husband, Stella!" Stan reminded, frustrated. "Of course he doesn't own you but you are his wife and he deserves certain...considerations for that. I expected certain things too, when we were married, it's the way it is. I...I won't trample on another man's territory, not even Vecchio deserves that."
"You're talking about me like I'm a building he purchased!" she exclaimed, uncaring that her voice now carried into the other rooms of the house. "This is the twentieth century, Ray, for God sake join us!"
Stan sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"I'm not saying this right, but you know what I mean so stop pretending you don't, Stella." He rubbed his face, tiredly. "I don't know what you want from me Stell, just tell me what you want and I'll give it to you."
"I want us to be friends," Stella insisted. "I want you to tell me what you're feeling and...."
"I'm too weak, Stella!" Ray cried, then lowered his voice. "Can't you understand that? With you I always want more, I can't help it."
"That isn't weakness, Stan," she protested gently. "It's just..." She paused as the others entered.
Stan moved back from her and turned toward the fire.
Stella lowered her eyes from her husband's, who was watching them intently.
Ray handed Stella her cup of chocolate.
The silence was almost deafening.
Finally, Stan moved and spoke quietly to Fraser. "I'm gonna turn in for the night, Buddy."
Fraser frowned but it was Maggie who responded.
"Don't you want to finish our game, Ra...Stan?" she inquired, gently.
Ray smirked at her correction and shook his head. "Um..nah, let Fraser visit, they're his company. I'm gonna catch some Z's."
"Stan, I didn't mean for this to make you uncomfortable..." Fraser began, quietly.
Stan shook his head.
you worry about it," he ordered. "I've had too much to drink and not
enough to eat is all. I'm grumpy and my head hurts. You visit, it's cool,
They stared at each other for a long time; again the need for words did not apply when it came to expressing themselves. Fraser's gaze showed his gratitude at Stan's patience, and his sadness at Stan's discomfort. Stan's eyes merely showed he had all he could stand for the moment and it was okay for Fraser to enjoy himself.
Fraser finally replied and moved to speak to Ray. Stella watched Stan
kiss Maggie's cheek and said good night.
Stan dropped onto the twin-sized bed in Maggie's spare room, Diefenbaker hopped up next to him. She would allow Ray and Stella to sleep in her bed and she and Fraser would bunk on bedrolls by the fire for the night. Usually, he would argue about her sleeping on the floor, but tonight he was too drained to fight about it. Maggie didn't mind sleeping on the floor anymore than Fraser did, so Stan wouldn't bother changing her mind.
He pulled off his two outer shirts and tossed them in the chair by the corner. The cooler air of the room struck his naked chest immediately, but he hardly noticed. He fell back across the mattress and stared at the white ceiling above him, cushioning his head with his arms.
Why did they have to come here now? He had thought he was over Stella, but that was obviously not true. He'd been lying to himself, as always. She still got under his skin, the smell of her still sent his blood pressure through the roof and her beauty still tore at his aching heart. She was Vecchio's wife, and Stan thought he had accepted that. He shook his head, they'd only be here a little while, he'd managed for Fraser's sake to be civil at least.
A knock at his open door caught his attention and he turned his head sideways to regard Ray Vecchio in surprise. He sat up warily.
"What the hell do you want?" he demanded, beyond the ability of pretending to be civil now. He'd left to get away from them, why couldn't Vecchio just respect that?
"I think we need to talk, Stanley," he stated and Stan growled low in his throat and lay back again, turning his back to the Italian, pointedly.
"You are the last person I want to talk to, so scram. I need some sleep."
"What were you and Stella arguing about?" Ray demanded.
"Why don't you ask her, she's your wife?" Stan retorted, refusing to turn around. If he looked at Vecchio he may have to hit him.
"She says nothing," Ray replied, mildly. "But she's lying, so why don't you tell me?"
Stan smirked, sardonically. "Pretty bad when you're calling your own wife a liar there, Vecchio."
"I'm not in the mood to trade insults, Stanley," Ray insisted, gravely. "You tell me what you two argued about."
Stan rolled to his feet so quickly that Ray took a startled step backwards.
Stan sneered. "Let it go, Vecchio. If she won't tell you then you're out of luck, because I don't think it's any of your business."
"She's my wife that makes it my business," Ray stated, dangerously.
Stan did a sarcastic little head shake. "Then go talk to your wife, Vecchio."
Ray glowered at him and Stan knew it was just a matter of time before the Italian lost his temper completely. He didn't know Vecchio well, but he'd observed him enough in the past to know the calmer Ray got, the closer he was to blowing his top. They continued to glare at each other. Stan's cast him challenging facial expressions, daring Vecchio to take him on.
"You're lucky, Stanley," Ray finally decided. "I promised Fraser I would tolerate you. Don't push your luck or you'll find out just how painful defying me can be."
Another bold head wiggle from Stan accompanied by a dangerously quick smile.
"Oooh, I'm really scared now," he tossed. "Did all your little mobster buddies teach you that speech, Vecchio, or did you make that up yourself?"
Stan had anticipated Vecchio's lunge, but the Italian was slightly stockier than he had expected and they both ended up on the bed. Ray's blow caught Stan across the cheek, but Stan managed to return a solid knee to Ray's stomach. They rolled and ended up on the floor, knocking the lamp off of the night stand in their struggle.
Stan managed to push Vecchio off and pull himself to his knees.
Vecchio lunged again but stopped suddenly, when he came face to face with a very menacing row of sharp white teeth. He stared at Diefenbaker startled, and backed off. The wolf was protecting Kowalski, had been ready to bite Vecchio if he had to and that information pierced the Italian's heart.
Suddenly, Fraser was there and looking furious.
"For the love of God!" he exclaimed. "Whatever is the problem now?"
Stan shakily rose to his feet and scratched Diefenbaker's ears, gratefully.
"Ask your friend, there, Fraser," he suggested, wiping the blood from his lip, as Maggie and Stella ran in. "He's the big bad ass who can't take no for an answer."
"Benny, I swear I'm gonna kill him!" Ray warned as he took another step toward Kowalski, only to be halted by a firm Mountie arm this time.
"Ray stop it!" Fraser ordered, angrily. "This is getting ridiculous. Why are you even in here?"
"I came to talk," Ray insisted, watching Maggie move to Stan's side and check out his injuries. "Just to ask some questions, but he started with that mouth again and..."
"I told you I didn't want to talk to you, Vecchio," Stan snapped, ignoring Maggie's concern, and trying not to trip over Dief who was glued to his side. "You know where to get your damn answers, so back off!"
"What is this about, Ray?" Stella demanded staring at her husband, reprovingly.
asked him what you two argued about," he hissed. "You wouldn't tell me
straight, so I asked him."
Stella shot Stan a questioning glance and he returned her gaze, unflinchingly. His naked chest was contracting and expanding as though he had just run a marathon. Stella lowered her eyes, unwilling to come forward about their discussion.
Stan glanced at Fraser and regarded the hurt and frustration on his partner's face and knew he head to end this somehow. He glowered at Vecchio. "Stella put me in my place for being rude earlier, that's all," he lied. "As usual, my mouth pissed her off and she was letting me have it. Ya happy now?"
Ray 's penetrating gaze fell on his wife. "Is that true, Stella?"
She hesitated only a moment before nodding. She silently thanked Stan for not showing her up in front of Ray, her husband would never understand their discussion; he would take it all wrong.
Ray immediately calmed and Fraser released him.
"Well then, that's all you had to say, Stanley," he said and grasped Stella's arm. "Let's go finish our coffee, honey."
Stella offered Stan an apologetic look before leaving with her husband.
Maggie glanced between Fraser and Stan, before discretely leaving as well.
"Why did you lie, just now, Stan?" the Mountie demanded, after closing the door so they wouldn't be overheard.
Stan dropped on the bed, defeated and rubbed his jaw where Vecchio had hit him. He suspected Fraser had heard the conversation from the kitchen, his keep ears picked up everything within a two mile radius.
"You know why," he growled, keeping his eyes lowered. He absently petted Diefenbaker, who had hopped up beside him. At least now he knew where the wolf's loyalties lay and there was a small piece of satisfaction knowing Diefenbaker would have attacked Vecchio to save him. "If I told the truth Stell would've looked bad. I don't want to hurt her."
Fraser scowled and settled on the bed next to him.
"So you rather you looked bad, then. Is that it?"
Fraser caught his partner's chin and turned it toward him to examine Stan's swollen lip and jaw. "Let me see."
"I'll live," Stan dismissed and pulled away from the Mountie's touch.
"I imagine so," Fraser opted. He was frowning, his dark eyebrows drawn into a single straight line above worried, cerulean eyes.
"I'm sorry, Fraser," Stan felt the need to say.
Fraser patted him on the knee, but seemed preoccupied. "Get some sleep, we'll leave early tomorrow."
Stan watched him leave and even take Diefenbaker with him. He dropped his head in his hands and cursed his temper, Ray and Stella Vecchio, and even Fraser for making him feel so guilty about everything. He could admit to being impulsive and down right explosive at times, but no one could set him in attack mode faster than Vecchio and he just didn't understand it.
Maybe Fraser was right and it was all about Stella, Stan certainly hadn't been the picture of calm when his ex-wife was dating Orsini either. Still, at least he had towed the line there and didn't intentionally goad the Alderman. Stan found another way to get rid of him, by simply doing his job. He'd investigated Orsini and found out he was dirty, case closed.
Stan knew Vecchio wasn't dirty, no matter how he felt about him personally, he knew the Italian was a good cop and cared about his family. Stan had been a part of that family for a year and he couldn't believe Vecchio would do anything to shame himself in the eyes of those he loved so much.
Fraser always defended Vecchio, even when it bordered on obstruction of justice, like that fellow they found holed up in the wall at the precinct. Stan had wanted to believe that Vecchio had carried out his threat and killed the guy, but in his gut he knew it wasn't true. Just as he knew the snitch that claimed Vecchio stole 9 missing kilos of cocaine was bogus.
Stan had studied Vecchio's file; he'd had to know almost everything about him to make the cover stick. He hadn't seen anything that could even be remotely shady in Vecchio's work history; and in fact he had been quietly impressed.
Fraser of course, was the deciding factor. As gullible as the Mountie could be at times, Stan knew that having the kind of faith Fraser exhibited toward Vecchio had not come lightly. Fraser knew when he could really trust someone and he had never failed in his belief of his former partner. Stan could not fault his friend's loyalty or question it.
Why then did Vecchio bring out the worst in him? He just couldn't understand it. He hated giving into his anger, hated giving Vecchio the satisfaction and causing Fraser more frustration. Vecchio had Fraser. Vecchio had Stella. Vecchio had returned to reclaim his life, a life that Stan had come to cherish. Francesca wasn't Stan's sister; she was Vecchio's. Vecchio took everything Stan wanted and perhaps that was the problem.
If he kept this up, Stan knew he might lose Fraser too and that scared him more than he cared to admit. Why would the Mountie keep him around when Stan couldn't be civil more than a few minutes to Fraser's best friend and ex-partner? Between, trying to make it work for Fraser and doing his best not to eat his heart out over Stella, Stan was a wreck.
A knock at his door alerted him to yet another visitor and he was almost afraid to look, unwilling to be party to another confrontation this night.
Maggie smiled at his wariness and moved forward to settle beside him.
you okay?" she inquired, softly.
Affirmation rose to Stan's lips, but he couldn't get it past the lump in his throat. He covered his face with his hands and groaned in defeat as he shook his head. He was so close to crying it was scary. He sat up and Maggie immediately pulled him into her arms.
"I suck," he whispered.
Maggie smiled again, pulled his head to rest against her bosom, and caressed his hair, tenderly.
"Love really hurts sometimes, doesn't it?" she sighed.
Stan nodded, distressed.
"I don't want to ruin this for Fraser, Mags," he whimpered, hating himself for being so weak. "But it's so freakin' hard to see them together."
Maggie didn't question them to be Stella and Ray or Fraser and Ray. It was probably hurting Stan to witness both.
"I know, honey," she soothed and gently rocked him in her arms. "Ben knows that too. He's hurting because you're hurting and he's caught in the middle. He loves you and he loves Ray Vecchio."
Stan sniffed and moved away, nodding. "I know, I don't mean to make it harder on him." He wiped his eyes, angrily. "Great, it's not enough that I'm messin' up things for Fraser, now I'm bawlin' like a girl."
Maggie punched him in the arm, playfully. "Hey!"
Stan grinned. "Sorry, you know what I mean."
Maggie nodded and gently grabbed a handful of his hair to pull him close again.
Stan folded his arms around her, comfortable in her embrace as he had learned to be after all this time.
"Why don't you hang out here with me for the next few days then?" she suggested. "Let Ben have his visit and then when they leave I'll drive you back to the cabin."
"Sounds tempting, Mags," Stan admitted. "But I wouldn't give Vecchio the satisfaction of chasing me away. Fraser's my partner and my friend too and we have just as good a relationship as him and Vecchio. Vecchio needs to accept that, because I'm not given up an inch of Fraser to him."
Maggie smiled, approvingly. "That's more like it, Blue Eyes," she teased.
Stan laughed and shrugged.
"Hey, Fraser's the best friend I ever had, no way I'm gonna lose him," he insisted. "Not for Vecchio and definitely not for Stella. I gave up my life in Chicago for him Mags we're tight. I intend for us to stay that way."
"Speaking of tight," Maggie teased, running a cool hand across Stan's washboard stomach. "Living here had been good for you, I think." The added muscle that Stan had gained turned a man, was once considered to be scrawny, into a healthy, athletic looking individual.
Stan lowered his eyes shyly, but didn't stop her roaming hand.
She caressed his shoulders, squeezing gently and watched him wince. "Okay, on your back, yank."
"You better go back downstairs, Maggie," he stated quietly. "They'll be wondering where you are."
"Ray and Fraser are deep in conversation and I really doubt Stella will miss me," Maggie informed, mischievously.
"That is so rude, Maggie," he scolded. "I'm rubbing off on you, I think. First you're cheating at board games now you're being sarcastic. I've created a monster."
Maggie smiled. "So let's get to some more rubbing then," she encouraged and pushed him backwards. "Roll over, Mister. I'm going to give you the massage of your life."
Stan smiled and did as instructed, lifting his legs onto the bed and stretching out on his stomach, while Maggie went to retrieve the liniment. She returned a moment later and closed the door again. He felt her straddle him and then warm, slick hands were turning him to butter.
"You're an Angel, Maggie," he sighed, contentedly. "You're so good to me."
"I could be even better if you let me be," she taunted as her fingers continued their magic trek across his shoulders.
"I deny you nothing," Stan returned, arching slightly as she hit a particularly sensitive spot below his rib cage. "Ahh! Ohh, that hurt."
"Sorry," she offered as she massaged the knot away. "Better?"
Stan moaned in assent and relaxed beneath her once more.
He was almost asleep when he felt her move off him and he lazily rolled onto his back.
"That was great."
"Not done yet," she assured and straddled him again, this time working on his chest and upper torso. Stan tried not to think about how intimate their position had become and closed his eyes to allow her to work her magic.
"See, I knew you'd enjoy this," she said, softly.
"That's no lie," he murmured and raised his arms to cushion his head. He continued to watch her, admiringly. "You're beautiful, Maggie. Anyone ever tell you that?"
"My husband," she admitted, flushing, even as she continued the massage. "And you tell me every time you see me."
Stan grinned. "Then I guess I'd better tell you more often, you don't seem to believe it yet."
Maggie just shrugged and smiled as she continued her task.
"How good to me would you be if I let you, Maggie?" he asked softly and she smiled again, sliding her hands up over his chest as she leaned down to intimately cover his body with hers.
"Very good, Blue Eyes," she assured, meeting his gaze with a flushed desire that caused Stan's heart to hammer in his chest.
He wrapped his arms around her.
"Show me," he whispered and their lips touched in a soft, tentative kiss.
When they parted, Stan swept Maggie's mane of blonde hair away from her face.
"Why me, Mags?" he asked, softly. "Because you feel sorry for me?"
She shook her head.
"If you have to ask, " she reminded. "Then you weren't paying attention." She claimed his mouth again and Stan reciprocated. "This is all I've wanted for so long."
"Me too," he whispered against her mouth.
However, the moment Stan said those words he felt it was a lie. He had liked Maggie for some time now, ever since they first met in Chicago, but he had never pursued a relationship with her. Even when he came to live in Canada and saw her on a regular basis, nothing had ever transpired between them other than friendship.
They got along famously and she was always generous with her affections, which Ray welcomed, but it never crossed the line to being lovers. They hugged; spent time together, kissed a few times and playfully sparred with a bounty of sexual innuendoes. All of that and they had never....
"You're Fraser's sister," Stan reminded suddenly, thinking that had to be the reason.
A guy didn't sleep with his best friend's sister, wasn't that a rule somewhere? It certainly worked on Fraser and Vecchio where Francesca was involved.
"Ben doesn't care, baby," Maggie assured, sitting up and pulling off her sweater and blouse so their flesh could touch. She wore no bra. "Trust me on that."
Stan realized he was shaking as her lips touched his again. It had been so long since he'd held a woman, not since Stella. Maybe his ex-wife had been right and he had been denying himself all this time. He tried to tell himself it was okay, Maggie said it was okay so it was okay, right?
Maggie suddenly fell to the side and pulled him with her, so he was now on top. She ran her hands across his back, intrigued the way his muscles tightened beneath her touch. She and the sensitive pressure of his hot chest against her naked breasts. She released Stan's hair and curled her fingers through it to bring his mouth down to hers again.
Stan felt like man drugged as he tried to reciprocate Maggie's passionate kisses. He released her to trail a path of teasing kisses down the column of her throat and across one shoulder. His eyes rose to meet hers as he hovered over one creamy peak and she smiled in encouragement.
Stan lowered his head and took the perky pink nipple into his mouth. He heard Maggie's sigh of contentment as he lavished her breast, devotedly. He moaned in distress as he realized their lovemaking was not having the desired effect on him that it should be. Stan gasped, as Maggie's hand slipped between their bodies to grasp him and he suddenly pushed off her.
He arched against her hand, desperate to feel what he should be feeling, but finding none of the stimulation was working. Maggie's hand continued to stroke him as he captured her mouth again. It felt good, he couldn't deny that, but he was barely aroused by her adour.
Maybe he had waited too long and his body was in shock? Maybe the cold or the isolation had made him impotent, or he was still stressing too much. There had to be a reason why he wasn't feeling anything remotely sexual. Maggie was beautiful and he had always been attracted to her, so what was wrong with him? He pleaded with his body to respond but it remained passive.
When Maggie boldly slipped her hand inside Stan's jeans, again thoughts of Fraser entered his mind and he was forced to push himself off of her.
"What's wrong?" she whispered her voice husky with desire, as she clutched her blouse to her naked chest.
Stan slipped off the bed, ran his hands through his hair and paced the room like a caged tiger. It had to be guilt, because Maggie was Fraser's sister. that was why Stan kept thinking about him while they tried to make love. His conscience was bothering him.
He shook his head, he knew that wasn't it either. Stan wouldn't feel this guilty over it, he enjoyed sex and he had to admit most times he did think with his libido and not about the consequences, so there had to be another reason.
"I'm sorry, Maggie," he croaked, coming to a halt by the window. He braced his hand against the frame and stared out at the evening sky, keeping his back to her.
Even from her position on the bed, Maggie could see that Stan was trembling and she immediately tossed her blouse aside and pulled on her sweater. She dropped her feet to the floor and tentatively approached him. She had an idea what was bothering him, but from the stark confusion in Stan's blue green eyes, she sensed he didn't yet understand what had happened.
"It's okay," she assured and slowly wrapped her arms around him, resting her chin against his shoulder blades. "I understand, honey, it's all right."
Stan turned and embraced her. "I don't know what's happening to me," he croaked.
Maggie's heart went out to him.
will, baby," she promised and hugged him. "Don't worry, you will very
soon, I think."
The following morning, everyone was up early for the trip back to Fraser's cabin. Stan was unusually quiet as he pushed the egg and bacon breakfast, Maggie had cooked for them, around on his plate.
Vecchio was his usual talkative self and continued to indulge Fraser and Maggie in conversation. He'd even tried to include Stan a few times, but the blonde only offered one word answers before becoming sullen again.
Stella hardly spoke either and Fraser and Maggie had heard the Vecchio's quarreling late last night after everyone had gone to bed. Fraser had also had a restless night and Maggie had tried not to comment on how much her brother had tossed and turned next to her on the floor. She felt he would talk to her when he needed to and not before. Any encouragement on her part would only be politely dismissed.
A knock at the door heralded the arrival of Ira and three of the village children. Maggie wondered if the native had also sensed the tension between the four people at the pub last night, especially Stan. He knew it was not normal for Stan to drink that much.
"Can your partner come out and play?" Ira teased when Fraser opened the door to them.
"It's for you, Stan." Fraser called, smiling. He was relieved to see Ira, perhaps their friend would elevate Stan's spirits and bring him out of the gloom he had cast himself in.
Stan tossed his napkin down on his untouched meal and rose from the table to walk to the door.
"Ye God's it's himself!" Ira taunted when Stan appeared.
"What do you want, Ira?" he asked, quietly.
Ira frowned slightly at the use of his name. Stan must be very upset not to have made a snippy retort or at least call him Crow Head, as he usually did.
"The kids want to go tobogganing and they tormented me into coming to ask you," Ira stated, trying to keep up the game and hoping his friend would join. "I guess they figure you're so good at hauling around that giant chip on your shoulder you'd be perfect for giving them a pull up the slopes."
"No, no!" one of the children cried, laughing and moved in so Stan could see her. She smiled at him. Her name was Janaya and she was Jayad's little sister. "We want you to come because you're fun to play with!"
Stan usually enjoyed playing with the kids. They liked that he would do almost anything in the name of fun. "Can't today," he declined. "We're getting ready to head back."
Fraser watched the disappointment of both the children and Ira.
"Another hour or so won't hurt, Stan," he encouraged, smiling. "You can go if you like."
Stan shook his head, slowly.
"No, don't wanna keep your friends waiting, Fraser," he replied, then to Janaya. "Sorry. Another time, maybe."
"Oh come on," Ira insisted. "Not even for an hour? Man you are getting old. Starting to show your age when you can't even handle a little sled ride."
Stan did not respond to Ira's goading and that surprised everyone.
"I'm gonna get those extra supplies, Fraser," he indicated, grabbing his coat and slipping past Ira and the kids to the vehicle in the driveway. They usually purchased supplies whenever they were in town so they would always have the cabin well stocked.
Ira turned to Fraser. "What's wrong with him, today?"
"I don't know," Fraser mused, disturbed as he watched his partner ignore the jeep and head across the small bridge that led into the village. "Perhaps you might go and keep him company, Ira. I believe he is just out of sorts today."
"Sure, Fraser," Ira agreed, casting a worried glance at Stan. "I'll see what I can do."
Ira sent the kids tobogganing alone and chased after his friend. He caught up with Stan by the skating pond instead of the mercantile. He was sitting on a bench and staring out at the kids practicing on the ice. Ira settled beside him and lightly elbowed him.
"Hey yank, what's with you today? Someone make you watch curling?"
Stan shook his head and ignored his friend's teasing.
"Come on, Buddy, what's up?" Ira pressed, really starting to worry now. He had never seen Stan like this.
"Leave me alone, please, Ira," Stan requested, quietly, continuing to watch the skaters. "I'm not good company."
"You never are," Ira retorted and thought he saw a hint of a smile grace Stan's lips. "So why should it make a difference now?" He playfully shoved Stan's leg with his own. "Come on, talk already, you're killing me here, all this politeness crap. It doesn't suit you at all, let me tell you"
"I don't know what's wrong with me," Stan admitted, pulling his glasses from his pocket and shading his eyes against the brilliant sunlight, and from Ira. "Just screwed up, I guess."
"You were fine yesterday," Ira reminded. "Other than that you drank more than usual, you were your usual obnoxious self at the pub. What happened to change that?"
Stan shook his head.
it something with this friend of Fraser's that's got you in a snit?"
"I don't know."
"What about the woman then, his wife?" Ira questioned. "She make a pass at you or something?"
Stan almost laughed at how close to the truth Ira came.
"Vecchio's wife used to be my wife," he admitted.
Ira digested that piece of information, thoughtfully.
"So you're jealous that your ex-wife remarried?"
Stan shook his head again.
"You're jealous of Fraser and Vecchio, then-because they seem so close?"
Another dismissive shake.
Ira sighed in exasperation. "Can I buy a clue here, Vanna? Help me out, Ray, Stan, whatever the hell you're going by now."
Stan smirked. His sense of humor was rubbing off on the native and that couldn't be a good thing.
"I don't know," he stressed, spreading his hands emphatically. "I don't know what it is. I thought it was Stella, then I thought it was Vecchio, now I don't know what the hell is going on, I only know I'm all screwed up."
Ira regarded him silently for a moment, then turned his attention to the skaters on the pond that Stan was watching.
"Love's a weird thing, all right," he said finally.
Stan glanced at him, bewildered.
"You're screwed up because of love, Stan," Ira insisted. "It's written all over your face. All that confusion and guilt and hurt and anger, it's all there scribbled in bright red ink across your pale-ass face for all the world to see."
Stan smirked. "Funny, I must have missed it when I shaved this morning," he retorted.
Ira chuckled; relieved the American hadn't completely lost his sense of humor.
"What are you going to do?" Ira asked, seriously.
"I don't know," Stan confessed. "What can I do? I don't know which part of all this hurts the most. I don't know whose love it is I'm willing to be destroyed for. All this started when Vecchio arrived, but I still can't place it all on him. I just don't know, Ira."
Another silence fell between them and only the sounds of the children nearby could be heard.
Finally, Ira spoke.
"Stan, I'm going to tell you something, but if you repeat a word of it to anyone, I'll deny I ever said it, understood?"
"Outside Jay, you are probably my best friend."
Stan glanced at him, surprised, but remained silent and allowed Ira to continue.
"When I first met you, it was just before I met Jay," Ira said, a note of pain in his voice. "I hadn't been in a relationship with anyone in almost three years and I was very, very lonely."
Stan nodded. He remembered when he and Fraser had stopped in the village, at the beginning of the trek for the hand of Franklin. Ira had seemed intensely lost and alone and Stan had recognized a fellow sufferer. They had hit it off almost immediately, but then he and Fraser had to leave on their adventure. He had been relieved to learn, when they returned eight months later, that Jayad had moved into the village and seemed taken with Ira.
"You have Jay now though," Stan reminded.
Ira nodded. "Yes, but I didn't know him when I first met you, Stan. I...I hope this doesn't make you uncomfortable, because I don't mean to do that. You know that I'm gay."
Stan retained enough of his good humor to cast the man a deliberate look of shocked horror and Ira grinned.
"I was gay when I met you, though I had not really 'come out' in the community at that time," Ira stated. "I was still struggling with my identity then. Anyway, when I first saw you climb off that sled of Fraser's I was completely smitten."
"Really?" Stan asked, startled.
"Really," Ira confirmed. "I saw those blue green eyes and that incredible golden hair...the way you smiled at me the first time took my breath away. I thought, I could be so happy waking up to you every morning."
Stan chuckled, nervously.
"Um...well, thanks, I guess."
"I thought, if I could just get you to notice me, to get to know me, you'd fall just as hard as I did," Ira said, regretfully and Stan smirked. "Then I saw the way you looked at Fraser."
"I don't get it," Stan admitted, puzzled. He'd lost something in the translation, because what Ira just said didn't make any kind of sense. "How did I look at Fraser?"
"Like a man in love," Ira confirmed and Stan bolted to his feet.
"Are you unhinged?"
he demanded, furiously. "That's...that's nuts I...how can you say that?
I'm straight, Ira. I like women, Fraser is not a woman-he may be as pretty
as one but he is definitely not female. You read it wrong, somehow you
mixed it up and..."
"I didn't read it wrong, Stan," Ira insisted. "Look, you may not be ready to hear this, but I'm not the first one to notice how you are around the Mountie. You wanted to know why you're so mixed up. I think it's because you're in love with Fraser and you're trying to hide from it by using Vecchio and your ex-wife as an excuse for your actions."
"You're crazy!" Stan refused and started down the bleachers to the ground.
Ira quickly followed. "I'm telling you this as your friend, Stan, because I love you and Jay loves you and we hate seeing you lying to yourself. Maybe...maybe what you feel for Fraser isn't sexual, but you can't deny you're in love with him."
"Look!" Stan exclaimed, turning on him with menacing rage. "I am not gay, do you get that? I'm flattered that you find me...attractive or whatever, but I'm not like you. I don't care how you and Jay live your lives but don't you try to tell me it's how I should live mine. It's not!"
"I never said you were gay, Stan," Ira denied, stepping closer. "You're probably bisexual and there is nothing wrong..."
Stan shoved him away and Ira toppled over the bench behind him.
"Don't!" he warned, shaking with fury. "I don't like guys, I like women. Ask my ex-wife! Ask Mag..." he stopped in mid sentence as he remembered his encounter with Fraser's sister. He shook his head. No, that couldn't be why he...that wasn't right! Ira was screwing with his head.
"Stan, I'm only trying to help..." Ira encouraged as he climbed to his feet just as Fraser walked up.
"You're wrong and I'll prove it!" Stan said, desperately. He turned, grabbed Fraser's face in his hands and kissed him hard on the mouth.
Fraser was too shocked to react but Ira only shook his head.
"There!" Stan stated turning back to the native. "You see, nothing. You're wrong so keep your fag fantasies to yourself from now on!"
Stan bolted and the two men stared after him concerned.
"Ira, what on Earth is going on?" Fraser demanded, rattled by Stan's earlier kiss. "What did you say to him? What have you done?"
Ira could only shake his head, remorsefully.
Stan kept running until he reached Maggie's then he turned left and headed into the woods. He wasn't ready to face anyone yet, especially not Fraser. He couldn't believe he had actually kissed the Mountie, there in front of the entire town practically. What had he been thinking? Had he lost his mind?
It wasn't embarrassment at his actions that bothered him; it was the fact that he had lied to Ira that he'd felt nothing when he had kissed Fraser. Stan had felt something all right, a stirring way down deep that had frightened the crap out of him. He had been convinced Ira was reading it wrong and that Stan couldn't possibly be in love with his best friend.
He shook his head and dropped down onto a fallen tree. There had to be a reason he hadn't been repulsed by kissing Fraser, there just had to be. Maybe it was like Stella said. Maybe, he'd just spent too much time with the Mountie and not enough time with the opposite sex. He cared for Fraser, was happy being with him, depended on him and trusted him. Could Stan's body be mixing up those feelings of friendship and be mistaking them for love?
he'd had the chance to be with a woman last night and he couldn't do
it. For the life of him he didn't understand that. He told himself it
was because Stella was there and he couldn't be intimate with another
woman with Stella so close. Another possibility was the guilt of Maggie
being Fraser's sister; that was certainly part of it.
Stan grabbed his hair in frustration and tried to stop the questions flooding his mind. This wasn't right, it was all a mistake. He was just worked up because Vecchio and Stella were here. All of this would stop the moment they left, he had to believe that, and things would return to normal for he and Fraser.
He couldn't be in love with his partner that was...that was sick that's what it was. It was wrong and it was insane and...a betrayal of trust between two friends. You don't tell your best friend you want to..to...Stan couldn't even think the words, despite the visions that popped into his head.
took a few calming breaths and rose to his feet. He could hang on until
Fraser's company left and then everything would be fine again. He wouldn't
allow Vecchio push his buttons or Stella to get under his skin any more.
He would get through this for Fraser, because Vecchio was Fraser's friend
and partners had to make sacrifices sometimes for the good of their friends,
right? He could do this.
When he returned to Maggie's, Fraser was there, loading the jeep with the supplies he had picked up in town. Vecchio was assisting and Stella was politely chatting with Maggie. Ira was also there, having helped Fraser bring the supplies back. Stan fixed a smile on his face and added a bounce to his step as though nothing had ever happened.
"Hey, sorry about that, Fraser," he offered indicating the groceries. "I guess I got a little side tracked."
Fraser regarded him quietly, as he shut the back door of the jeep.
"Are you all right, Stan?" he inquired, tentatively and Stan nodded.
"Oh yeah, just..." He twirled his finger by his ear. "You know, a little unhinged-told you I was damaged, Buddy." He had meant it as a joke but Fraser did not smile.
"You are not damaged, Stan," the Mountie denied, firmly.
Stan shrugged and offered his hand to Ira in apology. "Sorry about the crack I made back there, I didn't mean it."
"I know," Ira assured, shaking his friend's hand, relieved. "I didn't mean to upset you."
"Forget about it, it's just...we're both letting our imaginations run away with us I think," Stan decided.
Ira nodded but didn't comment.
"You have imagination, Stanley?" Vecchio tossed as he paused to stare at them.
"Sure," Stan assured, calmly. "For instance, I imagine you with a personality, Vecchio."
"We're about to leave, Stan," Fraser said. "Is there anything else you'd like to do before we go?"
"Yeah, we're not gonna stop for a potty break on the way back, Stanley," Vecchio insisted.
"No problem, " Stan dismissed. "I'll just piss in you're expensive designer hat Vecchio."
"Stan!" Maggie laughed and moved to hug him, glad he was feeling better. "You're terrible.
Stan returned the embrace, ferociously. "Good to see ya, Mags." He bent to kiss her cheek. "See you in a couple of weeks, probably."
"So you can let me cheat in Scrabble?" she teased and he smiled.
no more cheating, young lady," he scolded and she chuckled.
To be continued in part two.
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