by Penelope Whistle
Disclaimer: They made me do it.
Author's Notes: Deepest thanks to Sihaya for beyond-the-call beta and to Speranza for cleaning up the overlooked dog doo.
Story Notes: It's Chicago. It's winter. It's a stake-out. Now what could The Guys do to pass the time? Just a suggestion.
"You know, Fraser, I think your wolf loves me."
"Yeah. You got any other wolfs around? Of course Diefenbaker."
They were pulling the graveyard shift of a stake-out on the south side of Chicago, in a neighborhood where all the street lights had been shot out. Ray's GTO was the perfect color for this activity; it was almost invisible at the curb. But its windshield's tendency to fog up whenever the heat was on for more than five minutes made surveillance and comfort incompatible.
Ray was freezing, and he complained interminably about watching a house where he was willing to bet Fraser anything he liked that the perp Howard Brock was not going to show, girlfriend or no girlfriend. He had ended the litany of woe only when Fraser had told him he was going to jump a double Bogart all over his head if he didn't stop, a threat that had tickled Ray to the point of helpless laughter. To make up for his crankiness, he had let Fraser tell several shaggy-dog Inuit tales. Right before dawn, they got around to discussing the wolf.
"What makes you think Diefenbaker loves you?"
"He licked my ear today, and there was no pizza involved."
"I don't like to disillusion you, Ray, but Diefenbaker licks a lot of things. If licking means love, we might say that Dief loves Francesca or even fecal matter from--"
"That is disgusting. Dis. Gusting. Why can't you let me have this? Why can't you just agree that the wolf loves me? It's a small thing, but it would mean a lot to me. I'm not asking you to agree that Sharon Stone loves me or that Stella loves me or even any other human be--"
"If it makes you feel better, Ray, then I'm sure Diefenbaker is quite fond of you. He's told me so on many occasions."
"Fond. He's fond of me."
"Yes, the supporting evidence being the fact that he hasn't eaten you. Yet."
"Thanks, Fraser, but this isn't the time for jokes. We're sitting here freezing our nuts off on the stake-out from hell, and I'm trying to be serious here."
"Forgive me, Ray, but I find it hard to treat the question with genuine gravity. thought you were simply amusing yourself--and I confess I was amused as well--with idle speculation about--"
"Wait." Ray took off his glasses and blew on the lenses, then put them back on.
"Fraser, I can see you."
"That should be no surprise. I'm right here."
"No, I mean, it's dark as the inside of a black dog in this car, but your head looks--jeez, it glows."
Fraser looked in the rear-view mirror.
"Ah. That would be the paint."
"Yes. White Linen. Eggshell finish. The spatters must reflect the smallest amount of ambient light, and dawn is--"
"Where'd you get paint on you?"
Fraser yawned. "Inspector Thatcher pressed me into service when the professional housepainters failed--"
"You were painting?"
"We were on a tight schedule as it was, but when Turnbull stepped in a five-gallon bucket, it--well, there simply wasn't time to wash thoroughly. Now, you were saying?"
"Fraser, you should be sleeping during the day. When you're on night stake-out, that's what you're supposed to do."
"I had duties, Ray. Ottawa is arriving next week, and the Inspector wanted the paint fumes to dissipate, so time was of the essence. I must say that the fumes were far worse for me than any lack of sleep. And if they affected me, you can imagine the effect on Diefenbaker, who has four million olfactory--"
"Maybe I smell good. Maybe that's why he loves me."
"Why is it important for you to believe that Diefenbaker loves you? For instance, I am under no illusion that he loves me." Fraser turned to look at the wolf, then turned back. "We have a mutually supportive relationship, although sometimes I suspect he does not consider me his equal, despite God's allegedly giving man dominion, but--"
"You don't think Dief loves you?"
"No, I could not honestly characterize our relationship that way."
"Why this sudden concern over being loved?"
"It's a normal human need, Fraser. Like the need for food. Shelter. Sleep."
"Even you, Fraser. Even you have basic human needs. And now that I don't have Stella any more, my basic human love need--"
"But, Ray, strictly speaking, you haven't had Stella for a long time."
"That's where you're wrong. You are so wrong. I might not a had her in person after the divorce, but, until yesterday, I--sorta--I had her in my mind."
Fraser rubbed his forehead hard.
"I'm sorry, but I'm having difficulty grasping how Stella could be in your mind yesterday but not today when obviously you're thinking about her right now, so she must--"
"You are so--so--so...literal. I'm talking flavors here, Fraser. Yesterday she was there like a sweet ache, like a song that makes you want to cry. Something like that. Today she's there like a picture you see when you're flipping through a magazine--sorta 'hey, lookit that'--nothing more."
"Apparently, it's a matter of emotion one day, no emotion the next. Is this accurate?"
"Yes. No. I don't know, Fraser. It was more like an enlightenment after a serious endarkenment. And the weird thing is that I think it had something to do with Paulette--"
"You mean Brock's--?"
"Girlfriend. Yeah, the babe in the house there. Anyway, I would like to think that the wolf loves me. Not just supportive. Not just that other thing--fond. Love."
Diefenbaker leaned in from the back seat and licked Ray's ear.
"You see that? He did it again. He loves me I tell you."
"You may be right, Ray." Fraser smiled. "And if it makes any difference to you, I love you."
"Gee thanks, Fraser. That means a lot. I love you too."
"Thank you very kindly."
"The evidence being that I haven't eaten you yet."
"That's pretty funny, Ray."
"I have my moments."
Ray sat up in bed with a start, his heart pounding as if it were trying to break out of his rib cage. The clock radio was blaring: "O-OH BABY, MOUNTIE LOVE, MOUNTIE LOVE, I NEED YOUR MOUNTIE LOVE!!" By the time the jive-talking DJ had observed that it was 9 o'clock pm at 87-point-5 on Ray's dial and that he was listening to the end of a golden soul oldie, his heart had slowed with the realization that the song was celebrating someone's "mighty love."
"Jesus," he said, and went to take a shower.
Back in the bedroom, he picked up the long underwear Fraser had loaned him at the end of their last shift as armor against another night of complaints. He didn't put it on right away, however, but sat down on the bed and just looked at it in his hands. Very slowly, almost against his will, he brought the fabric up to his nose, and then, since it was right there, right under his nose, he pressed it to his face and inhaled.
"Hmm," he said. "Wonder what kind of soap he uses." He sniffed again, and then again and again, all over, until he suddenly realized he didn't know how long he'd been doing it and he stopped. "Well," he announced, for whose benefit he couldn't have said, "Seems clean enough."
He started to dress, mumbling, "Maybe I should get a dog."
He picked up Fraser, who got in the car with a thermos and a paper sack, and they went to relieve Huey and Dewey.
Fraser reported that he had managed to complete half the painting by working non-stop and insisting Turnbull not help. He had instead convinced the younger man that by making him and Ray a dozen peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he would somehow honor Her Majesty the Queen and magnify her glory.
"You should be ashamed of yourself, Fraser. In a battle of wits, Turnbull's an unarmed man."
"We have to keep our strength up, Ray, and it did allow me to complete the woodwork. You know, I believe your instincts are correct. I do not think Howard Brock is going to appear."
"Nobody thinks Brock is going to appear, except Paulette in there and maybe Welsh. I can feel it in my bones. Even though they're so cold I'm surprised I can still feel anything."
"I think we could have the engine on for a brief period."
Ray turned on the engine. Fraser shifted in his seat and spoke straight ahead, as if purposely avoiding Diefenbaker's line of sight.
"You know how we were talking about how"--Fraser cleared his throat and jerked his head toward the rear seat--"feels about you? I hate to admit that it hurts my feelings, but sometimes I think he takes me for granted."
"Takes you for granted? How?"
"It may be nothing. Perhaps, like you last night, I too am feeling a bit sensitive--"
"Sensitive! Who said anything about sensitive? I did not say sensitive. Did I say sensitive? Don't go putting-- You always do this, Fraser. I did not--"
"Perhaps melancholy is a better term. Wistful even."
"All right then. Even though that is not what I said, I can confess to a little melancholy. So how come you think the wolf takes you for granted?"
"I was just saying that it could be my current mood--and I wouldn't mention it ordinarily--but I remembered your speaking with a certain poignancy, and we might as well talk about something, since it's too dark to read, and we are obliged to keep watch for--"
"Fraser, if you don't spit it out, I am gonna butt you with my frozen head."
"Very well." Fraser planted his hands on his knees. "Diefenbaker never licks my ear."
Ray shut off the engine. They just sat there for a few heartbeats.
"What do you mean?"
"I should think the sentence structure is perfectly clear. Diefenbaker you know. You know the concept of licking--or not, in this case. You surely can recognize the organ known as my ear."
"Thanks, Fraser. If I was being sensitive instead of only melancholy I might pop you one. Of course I know-- It's just...never? He never licks your ear?"
"Not within recent memory."
"Wow. I had no idea."
A few more heartbeats went by.
"Those long underwears you loaned me are great, Fraser, really great, by the way."
"I'm glad, Ray."
"You don't think I take you for granted, do you, Fraser?"
"Because I don't. Even though I don't lick your ear either. Although, come to think of it, your ear is probably cleaner than mine because it hasn't had wolf spit in it."
"Don't rub it in, Ray."
"Oh come on, Fraser, you're kidding me now, right?"
"Maybe it's the melancholy--the darkness always magnifies it, don't you think?--but I see how he is. With you. And--"
"Fraser, do not tell me you're jealous of me. No one is jealous of me. Come on. This has gone-- You have to be putting me on. This takes weird to a whole other level. I do not believe we are having this conversation. You are seriously sleep denied."
"Deprived? I don't believe so. In spite of the painting, I've managed to take 10-minute naps from time to time. As you know, Turnbull--"
"Is a waste of a red suit. Come on, Fraser, speed sleep is like speed reading. It doesn't get the job done. Why don't you lay back and catch yourself some winks right now? I'll wake you if anything--"
"No, no, I assure you I am quite alert and functioning completely--on all cylinders, as you might say--even if I have a touch of wistful melancholy." He yawned. "But I do have to ask myself, since I assume--and fervently hope--you have not been rubbing pork chops on yourself, why Diefenbaker would lick your ear and not lick mine. It leads me to believe that he regards me as nothing more than an automatic food dispenser, an automaton, an--"
"Fraser, that is so ridiculous I--I-- You guys are a team, partners, and it goes way beyond licking. I don't even know why you'd want a lick. It's not that great, trust me. I only mentioned it in the first place because of my own melancholy thing. It's not that great, Fraser. It's messy. Plus, in weather like this-- Look, I'll show you."
"Hey Dief, c'mere." Ray turned and grabbed Dief's fur and his attention. "Lick Fraser's ear, Dief." Ray made exaggerated licking motions toward Fraser's ear. "See? Go on. Lick Fraser, Dief."
Dief licked his lips and licked Ray right on the nose.
"No, not me, you silly wolf. Ugh. Wolf breath. C'mon, Dief. Lick Fraser. He tastes great. Look." He made more elaborate licking gestures and added slurping sounds until he remembered the wolf was deaf.
Dief looked bored and nosed the sack of sandwiches. "No, no, Dief." Ray grabbed his ruff. "See how good Fraser tastes." And before he realized what he was doing, he had leaned over and licked Fraser's ear for real, from bottom to top.
"Oh. Sorry. Um. You taste fine. The wolf must be nuts. See what I mean, though? It's not that great. Sort of chilly being the lickee."
"It's...interesting." Fraser put his hand up to his ear.
"Come on, Dief, now you do it." But the wolf wasn't cooperating.
"Ray, you're embarrassing me. He obviously doesn't want to. But I thank you kindly for trying."
"I don't know what's wrong with him. You taste fine, really. Better than fine. Good."
"But obviously not as good as you."
"Well, I wouldn't know about that, Fraser, since it's humanly impossible for a person to lick their own ear."
"Then again, as I said, given what Diefenbaker finds appealing on the street--"
"There you go again. Are you saying that he licks me because I taste worse than you? Oh, that is low, Fraser. Just when I'm having melancholy and can use some--some--" He fidgeted in his seat.
"I'm sorry, Ray."
"And you aren't helping. You're now gonna chalk the licking up to the fact that I maybe taste like a dog turd or something."
"No. That came out badly. I never meant to imply--"
"Well that's what it sounded like."
"I'm sorry, Ray. You want me to lick your ear and tell you what it tastes like?"
"I don't want you to do anything against your religion."
"I don't believe any of the world's major religions offers any guidance on the question of ear-licking, Ray, although perhaps some minor sects--"
"This has nothing to do with sex, major or minor. If you think that, you can just keep your tongue to yourself."
"I was referring to the plural of sect, a small religious denomination--"
"Oh. Sure. Well, if you're gonna do it, you better hurry before I start to think about it." Ray took a breath and jutted out his jaw.
Fraser turned, and Dief put his paws on the back of Ray's seat. "What are you looking at?" Fraser asked. He pulled Ray's face closer and gently but thoroughly licked his ear in a circular motion that followed its contours.
"Jesus, Fraser. I mean--Jesus!"
"Hmm. You taste perfectly acceptable. Somewhat too clean for a wolf's taste, I would have thought." Fraser lightly smacked his lips. "Coast Soap is it?"
"Jesus H. Christ on a bike, Fraser!"
"So we're going to address the religious question then?"
Ray hardly spoke for the rest of the shift, so Fraser filled the silence with tales of Inuit humor, which is to say incomprehensible stories that were only charming because he told them with such obvious pleasure.
That afternoon, when he went to bed, Ray set his alarm to buzz instead of play music.
Ray sniffed the long underwear again and decided it still smelled clean--the most active thing he had done in it was fidget.
It was his turn to make the peanut butter sandwiches, but he found that his jelly was nothing more than a purple haze in the bottom of the jar. An excavation of the cupboard turned up a jar of something his mom had sent in a Christmas basket: Honey & Cinnamon, with little curlicues around the "&". He scooped a fingerful into his mouth and muttered, "Don't knock it if you haven't tried it, Fraser buddy."
"Ah," said Fraser at the first bite. "Cinnamon. If I'm not mistaken, this is Chinese cassia instead of genuine cinnamon, but many people prefer it, myself included. Did you know, Ray, that to the male of the human species, cinnamon is the most romantic taste on earth?"
"What's that supposed to mean?" Ray asked, turning sharply enough that Dief whined.
"What does romantic mean?" Fraser rubbed an eyebrow. "Mmm. Well, there have been tests--studies--that show a man's, uh, sexual interest is piqued by cinnamon more than any other taste. I myself would have guessed chocolate. But I would have been wrong."
"Sexual interest? What the hell is that, Fraser? You mean," he snorted, "cinnamon is supposed to give guys a hard-on?"
"Or perhaps just put them in the mood, yes." Fraser took another bite.
"Well, spit it out, Fraser. We aren't having any hard-ons in this vehicle."
"I mean it, Fraser. I didn't know this. I did not do this on purpose. I was out of grape."
"Oh sure. You secret seducer you," Fraser said, yawning, and took another big bite, then proceeded to hum "That Old Black Magic" with his mouth full.
"Okay. All right. I get it," said Ray. "You're just yanking my chain. But if you make any moves on me, Fraser my friend, so help me I'll clock you."
"Understood. But I must warn you, Ray my friend, that the threat of clocking is a powerful inducement--a verbal aphrodisiac, if you will--that may only inflame my already unquenchable ardor."
Ray tried to see his partner's face in the dark and frowned. "Well. All right then." He grabbed a couple of sandwiches and stowed the rest under the front seat where the slobbering wolf couldn't get at them. After one bite, however, he slipped Dief a sandwich.
"You think Dief's happy being a wolf? Of half a wolf? Do you think he wishes he was human?"
"I doubt that wishing is on his list of available activities. I'm not sure it's possible for him."
"What about pizza? Seems like some wishing going on there."
"I believe his relationship to pizza is sheer, unadulterated wanting. Wishing is one of those distinctions that carries with it a connotation that the wished-for thing is beyond one's reach. For instance, Diefenbaker might want pizza when he sees it in your hand--and we all know how you indulge him--but he would wish he owned a pizza shop, if he were capable of wishing, which I do not believe he is."
"The wolf can't wish for stuff?"
"Wishing requires some imagination, Ray--some mental projection of what is not as an overlay, if you will, onto what is. Even with respect to pizza, I believe for Diefenbaker it's out of sight, out of mind. Being incapable of wishing, he can only be exactly what he is where he is, moment to moment, and therefore he is probably quite happy--to get back to your original question."
"There are advantages to being human. But it's true that we seem to be the only ones who make ourselves miserable with wishing we could have what we can't have or be what we can't be or--"
"Like me and Stella."
"With a certain amount of discipline, we all should be able to attain the level of peace and acceptance enjoyed by a wolf."
"What? Like Zen Wolf? Oh right. What about you? What do you wish for?"
"You mean like a half hour of silence? After working with you, I've learned wishing for some things is futile."
"Oh, ha ha. C'mon, Fraser, I bet you got at least a couple wishes tucked away someplace. You just don't moan and groan about them in public like me. Cough 'em up."
"'If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.' That reminds me of old Tom Slack, a one-legged trapper from--"
"No, Fraser. No no no. Don't start with the Tales of Ice Floe Joe on the Tundra. Come on. What's a wish of yours?"
"Honestly, Ray, I don't--"
"Well, if not having wishes makes a person--or wolf--happy, and you don't have wishes, then why do you look so sad sometimes?"
Like a phonograph needle skidding off a record, everything stopped. Dief even stopped panting. It was as if the air suddenly congealed, flash-frozen. Ray closed his eyes and cursed silently, then stumbled on.
"Maybe--maybe you wish you were up in Chinookamuck where it's 90 below instead of here in Chicago."
"Or--no, no, I got it--you wish Thatcher would do the damn walls herself--"
"--wearing nothing but a painter's hat."
"RAY! Just STOP IT!"
Whoa. He dropped his chin to his chest. Too much babbling no doubt. The wolf didn't seem to mind, but then he was deaf. When it came to humans, he just sucked big time. "Sorry, Fraser," he mumbled.
"Look." Fraser paused for what seemed like an eternity. "I might wish I were--let's take this to a ridiculous extreme--a wolf, but wishing is not going to make it happen, and entertaining the notion is only going to make me dissatisfied every time I look in the mirror. Or try to howl at the moon."
"But what if you sort of like wishing you're a wolf?"
"You wish you were a wolf?"
"No. But I wish-- Listen, I was sitting there taking notes while Paulette was crying about how much she missed Brock"--Ray went falsetto--"'Oh, he's so sweet. Except for that annoying little habit he has of popping the eyes out of people who piss him off'. And all I could think was, Lady, you would rather talk about the guy coming back than have him actually be back, and I don't fucking blame you. And then I got it like a load of bricks on my head: That's just like me."
"I'm not sure I get the connection with the wolf."
"Forget the wolf. I'm talking about Stella now."
"I stumble outta Paulette's like I got brain-lock and go home and put on my Stella song--well, that's what I call it; it's something we used to dance to--and I'm mooning around, doing my little dance number like I always do when I want to get in that feel-sad-wishing groove, but it's not working. It's like my wisher is broken or something. But here is the real punch in the head--I realize that I wished I had Stella back the whole time I was married to her."
"But when you were married to her, you did have--"
"No. Not the Stella I wanted."
"The 12-year-old in the pink dress and patent leather shoes."
"Yeah. 'Oh dear' is right. But it wasn't kinky, Fraser. It wasn't like I, Stanley Raymond Kowalski, 37, wanted some 12-year-old. No, it was like I was 12 too. Or wished I was. Or something. Everything I did in that marriage was to get back that first-dance feeling." He leaned his head back on the seat. "It's really a good thing we didn't have kids. That would a been a disaster."
"You've always said you and she--" Fraser's vague gesture could have meant anything from "rolled a great ball of yarn together" to "had crazy hot monkey sex." Knowing him well, Ray could translate even in the dark.
"In my mind we did. We were perfect. We were meant to be. But in the real world--ow!"
"It was sorta like frozen pizza when you're starving."
Fraser turned toward the whining in the back seat. "If I give you part of a sandwich, will you please be quiet?"
Ray was on a roll. "You want it to be good so bad that you eat it anyway, even though you know it's the frozen kind. And sure enough, it tastes like greasy cardboard, and on top of that you burn your mouth."
"You've heated it first, of course." Fraser seemed glad to return to talk of food.
"No, Fraser, you burn your mouth on frozen pizza. Of course you heat it. But the point is that a smart guy would stop there, but not me. Me, when the first slice doesn't do it, I jump on number two, then number three, and so on until I've insulted one of the great food traditions of Chicago."
"My. Three times in an evening. That's certainly--"
"No, Fraser. That's a--you know--a analogy. I'm not talking about scorekeeping." Ray pounded the dashboard with his fist. "I mean, what kinda idiot keeps going for the cardboard?"
"Everybody makes mistakes, Ray."
Ray handed him the sack. "Didn't somebody say, 'You can never get enough of what you don't really want?' If they didn't, they should have. That's me. You can give the wolf my sandwiches. I don't think I'm hungry any more. I must be pretty desperate to care what a wolf thinks, huh?"
"It seems to me that your giving up wishing for something unattainable opens up the real possibility of your finding true love."
"Yeah. True love. Right. You actually believe in that stuff, Fraser?"
"Yes I do. And I know you will find someone, Ray. Someone who will love you as you deserve. Someone of your own species."
"I don't know, Fraser. I was so hung up on Stella for so long that now that I'm not, I can't even imagine a woman who would do it for me."
"You know--butter my muffin, salt my fries." He gave a little disco wiggle. "Put chocolate in my coffee."
"Ah. Perhaps you need to socialize more. Meet new people. Have a nice meal."
"That's what I'm trying to tell you. I don't even feel like it. It's like my batteries are dead or something. I can't rev up any interest in the chase. This ever happen to you?"
Fraser didn't answer. He opened his mouth several times, but yawned instead.
"I know this is none of my business, Fraser, but why aren't you out there doing the dating thing? You could have any woman in Chicago. Don't you like Americans?"
"Oh, of course. Americans are wonderful. I don't really dwell on it, Ray. I have so many--ah. I mean--" Fraser yawned again. "Sorry. I mean, I have, uh, my duties, my schedule--ah. It--ah--that is--it's difficult."
"Well, that is a shame, Fraser. That is a crying shame. Because you're a helluva good looking guy--not to mention the fact that you are depriving Windy City women of a very talented tongue, if nothing else. And I am babbling like I left my good sense in my other pair of pants. Just forget it. Why don't you stop me when I start to run my mouth like that?"
"That's a very nice compliment, Ray. I thank you kindly."
"No. Babbling is not a thank-you thing. Babbling is letting your motor oil run into the street and pollute the lakes. It's stupid. What I meant was maybe you should do what you suggested for me--get out more, socialize, eat."
"I'm perfectly happy socializing with you right now, and, while your sandwiches might not be considered haute cuisine, they make a fine meal."
"Yeah, but I'm not a date, Fraser." He cleared his throat. "You know when I said that thing about loving you, I didn't mean love like in--"
"No, of course not."
"Because that would be weird."
"Well. . . ."
"What, Fraser, you don't think that would be weird?"
"Well. . .weird. I don't know. But--" He yawned.
"But what? No buts about it, Fraser. It would be weird."
"I understand. Some people might say it was weird, Ray, but for some reason I can't explain, I find the thought depressing."
"Hmm." He rubbed his forehead. "I don't remember. I think I'm starting to take naps in the middle of my sentences. You must not let me operate heavy machinery."
"Come on, Fraser, what are we talking about? What was depressing? This may be something I need to know here. I'm confused."
"So am I, Ray. I think perhaps I--" He cracked his jaw with an enormous yawn. The wolf yawned as well, then yipped. "Be quiet. You had dinner. And sandwiches." Diefenbaker huffed and lay down.
"Fraser, you gonna be able to get some shut-eye today for a change?"
"Unless--unless--" He yawned again. "I'm sorry, Ray. What was the question?"
Ray hit the steering wheel.
"Okay, that's it. You're coming home with me. If the Ice Queen doesn't like it, she can lump it later. You, my friend, are going to pound some serious pillow after this shift."
Ray opened his front door. "Okay, Fraser, home again, home again, jiggety jig. You can hang your clothes in the bedroom closet. I'll get you some stuff for the couch there."
When Ray came back with an armload of bedding, Fraser was rocking slightly, still standing beside the door and yawning. Diefenbaker was sniffing his way around the apartment, on a mission to confirm his status as sole wolf in residence.
"Okay, there's no law you have to take your clothes off." Ray reddened as he heard himself as if on broadcast delay. "But, um, the bathroom's just beyond the bedroom there in case you need to, uh, do anything." He took Fraser's elbow and pushed him gently in the right direction. "Clean towels are above the toilet." Diefenbaker had completed his check of the perimeter--and the floor under the kitchen table--and flopped by the front door.
Ray had put the stack of blankets and pillows on the couch, fetched Dief a bowl of water, then spread out the bedding, smoothed wrinkles away and plumped the pillows for the third time before starting to worry about his partner. He didn't hear water running. He didn't want to intrude, but.... He stepped into the bedroom.
Fraser's jacket and fisherman's-knit sweater lay on the bed. So did Fraser, although his feet were still on the floor, trousers around his ankles where his boots had impeded the undressing process. He was snoring softly, his fingers laced across the belly of his red long-johns, rising and falling with each deep sound-asleep breath.
"Oh great," said Ray. "Hey Fraser, I got your bed made up in the living room." Nothing. "Hey, Mr. Super-Mountie, Mr. Excess Lung Capacity." Not even a twitch. "Mr. Excess Brain Capacity, I hate to tell you, but your excess stay-awake capacity is shot to shit." Not a flutter.
Ray looked around for help from other quarters, but there was only Dief, so he took off Fraser's boots and trousers--"Mm, very classy, Fraser, white socks"--then tried to pull him up on the bed so his feet would at least clear the floor. "Jeez, Fraser, you weigh a ton. Frase--hey Fraser, the consulate's on fire." Fraser stirred and attempted to sit up, and as he did, Ray grabbed him around the middle and pulled hard.
"Mm, Ray," said Fraser, smiling in his sleep and snuggling his head against Ray's chest.
"Hoo boy," said Ray. He picked up the end of the blanket Fraser was lying on and folded it over him, then moved the pillow under his head. "You gonna be good there? I have to call the station and--and do my regular things, so just, you know, holler if you need anything." The body on the bed didn't move. Ray bolted.
He did the wash, bought groceries and called Lt. Welsh to beg him--in vain--to call off the stake-out. Welsh said to give it another 24 hours. Ray told him to call him on the cell if he changed his mind because he was turning his home phone off for the day. Welsh didn't ask questions.
Ray looked in on Fraser, still on his back, sleeping like the dead. "Jesus, Fraser, you even sleep neat." He carefully closed the bedroom door.
He fed the wolf some raw hamburger he'd picked up at the store. Now don't go expecting this all the time. This is just a treat for being such a good wolf and giving me licks. But I do think you could give Fraser a lick now and then. It would mean a lot to him." But Dief was--well--wolfing down his dinner and paying no attention.
Ray put on his Stella song and started dancing around the room. But the old feeling was still gone. The pleasure of the it's-painful-to-be-alive-but-at-least-I'm-alive longing was missing. He just felt cold and antsy. He switched to mellow jazz and flopped down on the couch. As if determined to cheer him up, Chicago was putting on a rare winter display of sunshine, streaming ruthlessly through the window.
"Oh great," he said. Then, "Fuck it, Fraser's just gonna have to share."
He turned off the music, grabbed a pillow and blanket and went in the bedroom, wonderfully dark. He stripped to shorts and washed up, leaving the bathroom light on and the door cracked in case Fraser needed to get up, and then took a deep breath and lay down. The wolf's snoring in the next room was strangely comforting. He burrowed deeper under his blanket and sighed, at peace and content.
When the alarm went off--some song about doin' right by your baby, or maybe it was doin' your baby right--Ray smiled and stretched luxuriously at the feeling of solid warmth at his back. When he looked over his shoulder, however, he saw only blankets bunched up where Fraser had been, and he felt a prick of disappointment. The smell of bacon frying propelled him into the kitchen.
Fraser was standing at the stove, his face flushed and vigorously handsome.
"Ah. Good evening, Ray. Breakfast is almost ready. I think we may call this breakfast even though it is well past morning. We are, after all, breaking our fast."
Ray couldn't think of anything to say, except: "Sleep good?"
"Oh my, yes. Although I was temporarily without my bearings when I first awakened. I hope you don't mind that I started breakfast. Are scrambled eggs acceptable?"
"Yeah, scrambled is good."
"The last thing I remember is 'jiggety jig.' Did someone hit me on the head?"
"You hadn't had any sleep for three days, Fraser."
"At the risk of sounding like a virgin in a bodice-ripper, how did I end up in your bed?"
"A bodice ripper, Fraser? What is a bodice ripper? And do me a favor--don't explain virgin. In fact, don't explain bodice ripper either. Uuuh, you passed out, and you were too heavy--"
"Oh, I didn't pass out, surely Ray. I never--"
"You passed out. You were zonked. You're human. Sorry to break it to you. Lookit the eggs there, Fraser. They're sorta smokin'."
"Oh. Oh. Oh." Fraser turned off the heat and eyed them critically. "I think they'll be fine. No chance of salmonella at least."
He dished up the meal. "Did you undress me?" He didn't look at Ray.
"Took off your boots. Seems like you fell asleep before you got to them. Sorry I had to bunk with you, Fraser. The sun was a killer in the front room."
"No, I should apologize to you, for invading your private space, for the inconvenience, for--"
"Don't worry about it. And Welsh said this is the last day of the stake-out, so you'll be free to go back to the consulate and watch the paint dry all weekend if you want."
They were both quiet as they settled down for the last night of surveillance. Ray fidgeted a great deal.
"I think I'm losing my mind. This sitting for four days is making me want to hit something."
"Perhaps you just need exercise."
"My life is dog poop. What kind of exercise is good for that?"
"Has something happened?" Fraser turned toward his partner.
"No, Fraser. Nothing has happened. That is the point. Nothing has happened, and nothing is gonna happen. Like this stake-out. I have no life. And it looks like I have no hope of a life. Women bore me, and--if I was into men, I'd know it, right?"
Fraser cleared his throat. "I would suspect so, yes. The latest studies suggest that homosexuality might be genetically--uh, so--" He cleared his throat again. "So one is frequently aware of one's sexual preference quite early, although, because of the effects of cultural conditioning, the awareness can sometimes emerge--"
"Do you read everything?"
"Everything? No. That would be impossible."
"Well, it seems like it. And you think you could just say 'gay,' and not that other thing? That other thing sounds like a disease."
"You did it again. Don't do that. It sounds like something you'd catch off a toilet in the park."
"What about 'heterosexuality?' Does that word bother you?"
"That's pretty gross too. It sounds like scientists watching people doin' it."
"Oh good lord."
"So let's just say 'straight' and 'gay,' because if it turns out I'm not the dirty-old-scientists word, I don't want to be the park-toilet word."
"Ray, you're not gay."
"How do you know, Fraser? Just how do you know?"
"Is it a safe bet I'm not gay if it makes me sick to think of Dewey kissing me?"
"You've actually thought of Dewey--?"
"Only briefly, Fraser. Only as a sorta test. I mean, I'm trying to find out where to float my boat on the river of love here. You may want to live like a monk, but I'm not willing to write myself off as a neuter."
"You think of me as a. . .neuter?"
"No offense, Fraser. It's just that you don't go out with women, and you don't go out with men--well, you go out with me, but I don't count because I'm your partner, and, well, we don't really go out like a date or anything; we sorta hang out, which is what buddies do--not that I want to go out with you, because I don't, but I'm just saying that if you liked men, it seems like maybe you might at some point have thought about liking me in particular, but if you did, I woulda known it by now. I mean, we even slept together, not that--oh hell, I'm babbling. Just forget it."
"Oh dear." Fraser began some intense eyebrow-rubbing. "You really think of me as a neuter?" His voice seemed very small.
"Forget it, I said. It's not important." Ray crossed his arms and looked out the side window.
Ray's cell phone rang, and they both jumped.
"Vecchio!" Ray listened briefly, then turned to Fraser and gave him a thumb up. "Thanks, Lieutenant." He started the car. "We're outta here, Fraser. They found Brock over in Gary, Indiana, and we, my friend, are off the hook. Whaddya want to do?" He checked his watch as he pulled out and headed north. "It's just after midnight. The jazz clubs--"
"I think I'd like to go back to the consulate, Ray."
"Oh no! Why? The night is young. We're well rested-- Look, we can go to a club, maybe get lucky, at least get the juices flowing--"
"I don't think so. I have quite a bit of paperwork to catch up on." Fraser looked out the side window. In that same small far-away voice he said, "And I would only cramp your style, I think, so--"
Ray smacked the steering wheel. "It's because of that neuter thing I said, isn't it. You shouldn't pay any attention to me when I'm running my mouth, Fraser. I--"
"No, no, Ray, there was an element of truth in what you said. I can see... Well. Just take me to--"
"Hey, how about I come help you? Get the paperwork done lickety split. Many hands make light--"
"Thank you kindly for the offer, Ray, but I would really like to be alone."
Ray pulled the wheel hard to the right and slammed on the brakes. "What did I do? Did I piss you off or hurt your feelings? If that's it, then I'm sorry." He ran a hand back and forth over his head. "If that's not it, then tell me what it is, and I'll try to fix it."
"No, you haven't-- You were just being honest. There's nothing--"
"Then don't make me beg, Fraser. Please, please don't make me beg. I'll make you tea. I'll make you lichen soup--well, maybe not that. It's just that. . .it's the middle of the night, and I'm wide awake. If you go back to the consulate, I'll probably drink myself into a fog and do something stupid. So please don't--you know--just--please."
Fraser sat very still, his hands folded in his lap. "A cup of tea would be very welcome."
"Wonderful. Wonderfulness. I will make you the best cup of tea you've ever had. Well--given what I got. I don't have any twigs and bark, but we could stop at the park on the way home."
"Would that be the park with the toxic toilets?"
Ray laughed joyfully. "I love you, Fraser."
"And I you, Ray."
"If you were a woman, I'd marry you in a heartbeat."
Fraser flinched violently. "Oh. Well." He cleared his throat. "Oh dear."
Fraser took over the tea-making as Ray downed a beer. By the time they were settled on the sofa, Ray in a blanket against the nighttime dip in apartment heating, they were mellow.
"Now isn't this better than goin' back to a dark old consulate with paint fumes and nobody to talk to?"
"Oh, I don't know, Ray. I could take up your recent hobby--where you imagine kissing people. Can I assume that is what you're doing on those rare occasions when you become quiet?"
"Sometimes. I mean, lately. Not that I'd really do it, the actual kissing, I mean. Can you imagine what Dewey would do to me if I laid one on him?" He shuddered.
"Who else did you imagine kissing?"
"Well, there was Francesca. She kissed me like I was a tree toad with bad breath."
"Naah. No way. Couldn't even make myself consider that one."
"I gave ol' Turnbull a try. And you know what? For being a doofus, he really kissed kinda sweet. Lips closed. Very polite."
"In your imagination," Fraser confirmed.
"Of course in my imagination. I wouldn't really kiss Turnbull any more than I'd smooch the Ice Queen."
The unasked question hung in the air, swaying gently above their heads, tantalizing and heavy with possibility. Ray smiled. When Fraser finally looked at him, he was smiling too.
"Oh all right." Fraser rocked his head from side to side. "I have to ask, of course. What about me?"
"What about you? No, Just kidding. Actually, it was hot. You're a fantastic kisser, Fraser. The best."
Fraser's expression didn't change, but his skin flushed in the lamplight. "In your imagination."
"Yeah, yeah yeah. That's where all these kisses were happening. Oh. This is what you were talking about wolfs not being able to do: imagining--putting wishes on top of reality. But I wasn't wishing all those people would kiss me."
"Fraser's gaze didn't waver. "But some of them."
"Actually. . ." Ray licked his lips and looked at Fraser's mouth. His voice dropped to a lower register, soft now. "Only one of them."
Fraser licked his lips and looked away. "You know, Ray, decisions always carry with them the freight of untold consequences. So logically--"
"Yeah?" Ray rolled his eyes. "Logic sucks."
Fraser looked back at him. "Logically, there are times when one should follow one's heart--or else pay the price of wondering forever."
"On the other hand, logic can be good." Ray swallowed hard and moved closer.
His last thought before their lips met was: Jesus Christ, his mouth's open.
Fraser's lips--so soft!--brushed gently across his, back and forth, no rush. He could feel the firmness of teeth behind them, but there was no demand, no force. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to open his mouth as Fraser rubbed the moist inside of his bottom lip against Ray's upper lip. It was a tender exploration, a question that had no answer in mind, as if they had all the time in the world, but that slick little wetness set fireworks off in his groin.
Fraser did it again, this time his upper lip slipping over Ray's lower. "How . . .compare with your imagination?" he said.
"This--this better. More this, Fraser."
With that, Ray pulled Fraser's shoulders, not altogether gently, and slid down on the couch so Fraser had to either lie down with him or pull back. Fraser did not pull back.
This was definitely not cardboard. This was Chicago deep-dish deluxe super-combo with everything, and nothing held back.
"Oh God," Ray managed to croak.
In a way, it was too fast. What did it mean, this urgency? His whole body reached for Fraser the way refugees in news reels reached for rice from the aid workers. His cock was as hard as stone, snugged up against a set of hot rocks on top of him that belonged to the same man who was doing these wonderful things to his mouth. Was it just because he hadn't gotten laid in a long time? Or had he been batting on the wrong side of the plate all his life? That at least would explain his dismal stats in the love department. But, really, who the fuck cared? He smiled into the kiss.
"What? You aren't thinking of clocking me, are you?" whispered Fraser, as he snaked a wet tongue across Ray's lower lip.
Aaah. The introduction of tongue. Sweet Jesus! Excellent! "Clocking? Where'd you get. . .crazy idea like that? Talk later. Kiss now."
Fraser kissed Ray again with all possible tenderness and a lot of tongue, then pulled back, his thumb caressing the slickness where his tongue had been.
Ray's eyes were closed, his mouth open like a baby bird's.
"Ray," said Fraser. "Ray. Ray."
"Uuh," said Ray, opening one eye.
Fraser smiled a smile Ray had never seen before, and which made him think that finally he knew, since he first heard it in 8th grade, what "bedroom eyes" meant.
"Ray," Fraser said softly. "We have all night." He rubbed his thumb across the yearning lower lip again. "We have all week end."
Ray felt something wet in his ear. "Mmm. Frase--"
Then he heard panting. When he opened his eyes, Diefenbaker licked his nose and danced toward the door in universal and unmistakable dog language. Ray looked over his shoulder at the man behind him, fast asleep, dark tousled head on one arm, the other arm thrown over Ray's hip.
Ray mouthed at the wolf: "Can't you hold it?" Then grimaced as Dief whined and danced in a half circle. He carefully lifted Fraser's arm and slid out of bed. Grabbing some clothes--to hell with underwear and socks--he followed Dief to the living room and dressed there, miming put-upon sacrifice the whole time.
It was 6 am on a Saturday, and no one was on the street.
"So whaddya say, Dief?" Ray jumped up and down a little to keep his feet from freezing. "Just you and me, two lone wolfs together, huh?"
Dief answered by peeing on the rear wheel of a BMW.
"You made me leave a pretty sweet deal back there, so hurry up and do what you gotta do." Dief was sniffing a tire of the GTO. "But not there or you are wolf soup." Ray knelt down in front of Dief so he could speak to him head-on. "I gotta tell ya, pal, that you have been replaced in the licks department. That Fraser--holy mother of God. The man really does lick everything, and I mean everything." Dief snorted and trotted down the sidewalk.
"You're going the wrong way, Dief." Ray trotted after him. "Gimme a break." But even though it was early--and so cold he could no longer feel the bottoms of his feet--and even though he was following a wolf who seemed in no hurry to conclude his business with every pillar of the community, he found himself whistling. Because he was happy. For the first time in recent--or maybe not-so-recent--memory, he was deliciously, deliriously happy. He laughed out loud, just because he could.
"Hey Diefenbaker!" Ray caught up with him as he was squatting by the curb. "Diefenbaker, I love you. I honest-to-God love you. I love everything about you. I love your top-dog act, when you're really just a jelly-donut inside. I love how smart you are. I love that you take care of Fraser--yeah, I really love that. I even love that I'm gonna have to clean up this huge pile of wolf shit that you are making right in front of my eyes." He looked around and found a trash can with newspapers. By the time he turned back, Dief was off again. "Hey!"
Ray hurriedly disposed of Dief's generous gift to the street and ran after him, calling after him, then laughing at himself like a fool.
He saw Dief sitting at attention a half block away. At least he was pretty sure it was Dief; he'd left his glasses at home. When he got closer and saw where he was, he knew it had to be Dief.
"You waiting for the day's first hot batch there, buddy?" He scratched behind the wolf's ears as the door to the Krispy Kreme opened, and out walked Fraser with a box.
"Hey!" Ray spun around and looked back the way he had come. "How'd you do that? You were asleep."
"Yes I was." Fraser grinned. "And then I wasn't. Donut?" He opened the box.
"The wolf is gonna have a heart attack. Mind if I--?"
Ray gave Dief a jelly donut. "Did you track us?" Ray took one for himself.
"Didn't have to," Fraser said around a mouthful. "He always ends up here. It's pathetic. I thought I'd surprise you."
"Well, I'm surprised all right. Yep. You could say that I am ab-so-lutely surprised." Ray grinned.
"So," said Fraser.
"So," said Ray.
They ate donuts and shuffled their feet at each other.
"Diefenbaker probably interrupted your sleep," said Fraser.
Ray nodded. He couldn't stop little stealth grins from creeping onto his face. "You could say that."
"You probably would like to get some more sleep," said Fraser.
Ray licked his fingers. Slowly. "You could say that too."
"Perhaps you would like Dief and me to return to the consulate so you can get some rest."
Fraser's hair was mussed, his face glowing from whisker burn and maybe something else, his mouth full and dark as bruised rose petals. Debauched, thought Ray, with a catch in his throat. Fraser looked positively, lusciously debauched.
"I dunno," he said, taking the box of donuts from Fraser. "You're gonna have a hard time getting Dief away from me. You see, we've"--he leaned closer, confidentially--"bonded."
So Ray led the way back to his apartment. His feet were warm now. All of him was warm now.
As he was unlocking the door, Fraser pressed up close behind him and whispered, "I think Dief would follow you anywhere," he said.
"Dief," said Ray, "is a very smart wolf." The smart wolf, whose eyes had never left the donut box, was whining pitifully.
"Yeah, yeah," said Ray, as he let them all in. "You're gonna get yours, Diefenbaker. You are about to go on the take, in exchange for giving me and Fraser some privacy." He dropped the box on the floor and looked over at Fraser. "We're gonna go have our own kind of jelly donuts."
He hadn't stopped speaking before Fraser was moving, shedding clothes on the way to the bedroom.
This time they closed the door.
Later (probably much later, but who was keeping track?), Ray wondered sleepily where the heat of Fraser's backside against his frontside had gone to. He whined a complaint, then sighed appreciation as gentle hands removed his loaded condom and swabbed him down. There was something he needed to say, but his mouth wasn't working. Nothing that required muscle control was working.
The bed dipped behind him, and he felt himself enfolded by strong arms. Fraser nestled against him, stroking his hair, his arms, his chest, petting him, seducing him to sleep. But he really needed to say this thing before he forgot.
"Miz Cox," he mumbled.
"Shh. We can do it again later. It's all right," said Fraser.
"Yeah. S'all right. . .dogs."
Fraser stopped the petting. "What?"
Ray kissed the arm that had paused under his chin. "Germ' shep', 2-B. Lan'lord s'cool." He yawned. "Jus' don' say 'W' word."
Fraser resumed the petting, rather distractedly it seemed to Ray, but then Ray was starting to drift, wondering if he'd said the thing he'd wanted to say or had just thought about saying it. Suddenly Fraser hugged him hard, very hard, hard enough that he woke up. Fraser was making little whuffy whimper sounds just like Dief did--when he was dreaming of mushing with his dog buddies, according to Fraser, although how Fraser knew what the wolf was thinking Ray couldn't imagine.
"You dreamin', Frase?" he asked.
"I hope not," said Fraser, voice husky with some emotion. "I certainly hope not."
End What We Talk About When We Talk About Wolves by Penelope Whistle: email@example.com
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