Spoilers: CotW, et al
Summary:It's why he could sit in the middle of a camp of Mounties, eating a bowl of God-is-this-polar-bear-stew and say, hey, buddy, got an idea. Let's go get that Hand of Franklin. I cannot think of anything more unlikely, so I'm pretty sure we'll find it.
Author Notes: My thanks to justabi, cjandre, fanofall, and boggitt. And to winterlive for the carrot/stick approach of persuasive editing. It totally worked.
Fraser's been trapped with the Mounties for hours. Ray's seen him three times, looking so professionally polite, ruler-straight back and blank smile, that Ray found himself wincing well before someone found Fraser a fresh uniform. It should have made him less conspicuous, not more, but he's like a skyscraper in a suburb--you just can't *not* see him. To anyone else, he'd look as polite and helpful as he always does; to Ray, he looks about three seconds from snapping and finding his inner Clint Eastwood--to wit, justice be served quickly, with a rope, a tree, a horse, and a strong sense of personal vindication.
It's been a long-ass day.
Not like Ray wouldn't *help* either, which is probably why so far, there's been a hundred questions Ray needs to answer and explain while being kept carefully away from the Mountie whose personal debt against Muldoon runs most deeply. Ray's not Fraser, though--they'd left Ray alone when they'd pick up he was perfectly capable of being dangerous even without his gun and didn't have any problem explaining why, in detail.
Muldoon's arrest isn't any kind of ending, not for anyone but Ray. Someone a lot smarter than they'd looked had surrendered a carafe of coffee and a cup and left him alone with a tent, Dief, and nothing to do but wonder what the hell he's supposed to do now.
Dief, curled up on his feet, gives Ray a worried look. Rubbing his ears, Ray fights the urge to hunt Fraser down himself. "I know, they won't let me see him neither."
Ray knows that eventually he needs to find out when he can leave, though hell, he might need to be around for the trial, too. That doesn't sound too bad, and after all, with Vecchio back, his job description just vanished but good. Welcome back, Ray Kowalski.
"Kowalski," he says, testing it on his tongue, trying to apply it to himself. "Kowalski. Kowalski. Kowal--"
"Detective Vecchio!" a heart voice rings out cheerfully, and Ray looks up with a sense of doom as Frobisher appears only a few feet away, tramping through the snow enthusiastically in his direction.
"Kowalski," Ray corrects; it *still* doesn't feel right. The skin he wore for most of his life fits awkwardly, the worn spots rubbing against new places that had almost healed. He can't imagine how the hell he's supposed to deal with snow, a depressed wolf, losing his partner and his name without adding talking to Frobisher to the mix.
Frobisher pauses on the other side of the fire, studying him with sudden, surprising intensity. "I wondered why you looked so much less Italian these days," he says, and the look's gone like it was never there at all. Circling the fire, he sits down on one of the abandoned rug-things everyone uses and smiles with irritating cheer. "How are you doing, Detective?"
Ray's tempted to actually tell him; Frobisher's nuts. This shit would probably make sense to him. "Cold." Since they brought in Muldoon, come to think, sinking into his bones like maybe he'll never be warm again.
Days ago, he stood on a mountain and realized he was going to live through this, and for a second--just a second--he knew, knew he could do anything. Anything at all.
That's gone. Figures.
"How's Fraser?" Ray asks quickly. Frobisher's nuts, but Ray has a weird feeling he's nuts in that way that's like Fraser's nuts. Just--escalated. Weirder. Ray puts down his cup, wondering if Fraser has fucked up his sense of normal so much that even Frobisher doesn't seem all that weird.
"Benton? Good boy." Frobisher smiles fondly, and Ray has this irresistible vision of Frobisher patting Fraser's head and calling him a good boy for bringing in a murderer. "Been rough, eh?"
"'S okay," Ray answers warily. Frobisher's just sitting there, all crazy and happy and not telling him a goddamn thing. "You letting him go soon?"
"Ah." Frobisher scratches at his chin. "Well. As you know, Muldoon's capture is quite an achievement. For the RCMP--"
"RCMP got nothing to do with it." In fact, Ray would say that the RCMP had shit to do with anything Fraser had done in the last few years. In *fact*, if they asked Ray, and Jesus he wishes they would, *he'd* say the RCMP hasn't done shit *for* Fraser, period.
He just can't imagine saying the word 'shit' in front of this guy. It's like sitting with his grandfather, if his grandfather had been a Mountie and seemed permanently stuck at "happy". Which Lez Kowalski had never, ever been by any stretch of the imagination.
And wait, the guy had avoided the question. "Where's Fraser?"
Frobisher hesitates. That can't be good. "We've offered him leave," Frobisher says, and it wasn't Ray's imagination at all; Frobisher's *here*, no matter how much he acts like he's on another planet half the time. "He's insisting on returning to duty and his new assignment."
Ray's stomach clenches. "So he's transferring?" He can't hide the crack in his voice and doesn't bother trying to. "No exile no more?"
"He's been offered whatever post he wishes to take." Frobisher clears his throat, like maybe he realizes he's not being weird anymore. "Of course, he's been thinking it over. Despite circumstances, there are still some--hard feelings regarding his actions in pursuit of--"
"The killers of his father, whom he brought to justice," Ray drones, hands clenching on the cup. Dief growls softly against his knee. "For which the Mounties fucked him over and left him to die in Chicago. Which is what you do when someone does their job."
Frobisher's eyes narrow. "That, Detective, you do not need to argue. Not with me."
Ray blinks. Something old and raw stares back at him for a second, and he abruptly remembers what Fraser had said about him and Robert Fraser. Partners. Friends. Something even time and distance couldn't touch. Robert Fraser's been dead for nearly five years, but for this man, it's as close as yesterday, a hurt that maybe ain't never gonna heal.
Ray licks dry, chapped lips, tasting blood. "Sorry."
He wonders if this will be him, someday, if he'll get a call, read a letter, five, ten, fifty years from now. If he'll look like that after, like something's missing that he won't ever get back.
Frobisher leans back and it's gone again: zero to crazy in four seconds. Ray wonders how the hell he's doing that. "I'm putting him on indefinite leave," Frobisher says, smiling his crazy again, but Ray knows what's beneath it now: a lifetime of duty and the weight of age and experience, like the older cops Ray's seen over the years, the ones who've done and seen it all. Fraser, sideways, escalated--Ray realizes he's looking at the man Fraser could be one day, who's stopped caring what other people think, stopped worrying what other people will say, who acted like he didn't know enough to figure out the time of day because what the hell, life's short, *have fun*.
I want to see this, Ray realizes, startled. When Fraser can finally let go. Maybe not like this--though Ray kind of likes the idea of Fraser honing his sense of humor into a weapon of mass confusion--but in a place where he can be this easy in his skin.
Then, "Indefinite leave?" Ray puts his cup down before he drops it. "Uh--"
"Some time to relax," Frobisher goes on blithely, like they're talking about someone normal. "Usually, Constable Fraser's leave tends to err on the side of--"
"Arresting people and chasing them across the tundra."
"Exactly!" Frobisher beams like Ray just said something insightful. "So you already understand the problem. Excellent. I'll leave it in your hands, then."
Ray opens his mouth, *Leave what?*, but Frobisher moves *fast* for an old guy, leaning over to *pat him on the head*. "Good boy," he says fondly, and Ray forgets what he was going to say. "You'll do."
"You boys have fun!" Frobisher says merrily, wandering out in the direction of the open snow. Ray almost tells him he's going the wrong direction, then stops himself, because really. *Really*.
Ray stares at his cup, then at the empty rug; to be sure, he touches it. It's--warm? Maybe?
"That wasn't--wasn't a hallucination, right?" Ray asks Dief. He still has some weird memories of a voice muttering about partnerships, which luckily can be blamed on hypothermia, but he's fed, not dying, and as far as he knows, no one's slipped him drugs in his coffee.
Ray's still studying the carafe suspiciously when vivid red appears behind it. Ray looks up at Fraser.
"Think I'm having some kind of psychotic break here," he says, indicating the rug, and hell, the entire Mountie brigade. Rubbing a hand over his face, he pours more coffee.
Fraser sighs. "I believe I am having a similar experience." Taking the space Frobisher (maybe?) abandoned, Fraser sighs again, hands limp in his lap, glancing up long enough for Dief to lick a welcome before curling up between their knees. Fraser looks as exhausted as Ray feels, laced with something that in anyone else, Ray'd call bitterness. Then Fraser glances around with a frown. "I thought I saw Sergeant Frobisher come this direction."
Not a hallucination. Maybe. Ray points toward the wilds of the untented areas of snow. "He went thataway."
"Ah." Rubbing one eyebrow, Fraser fixes him with an apologetic look. "I understand this is tedious. I'm working to see that you're released as soon as--"
"S'okay. I needed some time off anyway." He can't remember the last time he took time off--before Fraser, now that he thinks about it. Not for more than a day or two, anyway.
"Hmm." That hmm, Ray knows. It's the thinking hmm. "I don't suppose--never mind."
Ray would kick him if he could get his legs to unbend. He settles for a glare. "Spit it out."
For once, Fraser doesn't say anything about his language, and that alone gets Ray's undivided attention. "I was thinking--it seems I've been--ordered to take leave." Fraser somehow makes it sound like a dirty word, and not one of the fun ones neither. "It's been suggested I find some way to relax that does not involve the pursuit of criminals."
Ray hides his smile behind his cup. "That's called a vacation."
"Hm." Unhappy. "However, if you are going to be--" Fraser breaks there, obviously searching for just the right word. Ray's tempted to let him flounder, but he's not stupid.
"I'm in," Ray says and is rewarded with a look of gratitude that almost makes up for the fact he's freezing his ass off. "Whatcha have in mind?"
By the startled look on his face, Fraser didn't have *anything* in mind; the question of Ray is as far as he got and he hadn't expected to get that at all. Ray keeps his eyes on the cup and swallows hard. If there's anything, anything Fraser should be sure of, if there's *one single thing* that should be absolute, it should be Ray. It shouldn't even be a *question*.
"Well, I have a place--" Fraser checks him, like he expects Ray to suddenly mention a burning appointment elsewhere. "We could go. It's--a bit isolated," so in the middle of nowhere, "and there's not a lot of company," really, *really* in the middle of nowhere, "but we could decide there. If that's acceptable."
Ray puts down his cup, fighting not to grin like an idiot. "Can we leave now?"
Fraser's tempted, he can see it. He gets the impression Fraser is balancing trying to get out of here at night and to wherever they're going against the possibility Ray will wake up suddenly wanting to take off to Mexico (not exactly unprecedented) or more Mounties asking more questions.
"We'll need to wait until morning," Fraser says, giving hope up with reluctance. Five in the morning, is what he means, so Ray'd better save the coffee. Even the Mounties here don't get up that early.
"Cool." Ray picks up his cup, glancing at the sudden activity going on across camp. Dinner, probably, and Ray realizes abruptly he's starving. Relief does that to you. "Hungry?"
From the look on Fraser's face, the answer is yes, but qualified with something else. Ray takes a second to think about it, then works it out. People. People who have been around him for days, and don't leave him alone, and he'd thought it himself; Fraser's a skyscraper, and not one universally popular, neither. Attention everywhere, all the time, and here especially, and maybe, maybe not always the good kind.
God, Canadians are stupid.
"I ain't fighting the politeness brigade," Ray says before Fraser can answer. "And you look like shit. Don't argue," he says when Fraser opens his mouth, obviously to say he's not tired, not at all, and he can face dozens of people just fine, thank you kindly. Distraction is in order. "Wait until it clears up a little. Anyway, I was wondering about that Hand of Franklin thing."
Fraser's expression lightens. Getting up, Ray backs toward the tent, noticing Dief on Fraser's heels, just in case.
Good Mountie. Nice Mountie. Come in the nice warm tent away from all the stupid people. I'm asking for a *story*, here. And you can't resist that.
Like a magnet drawn north, Fraser follows. "Well, Ray, it's a fascinating mystery. Often in the Depot, we'd spend the evenings discussing the events surrounding the disappearance and probable fate of Franklin's crew." Once inside, Ray finds his sleeping bag by touch, pulling it as close to Fraser's as he can get before he sits down.
Leaning on an elbow, Ray fixes his very best "I care about what you are saying" look that had Stella fooled through no less than twenty-two separate explanations of real estate law. "You don't say? Tell me more."
The thing is, the entire *idea* is so stupid it works; Ray'd always suspected that comic books got closer to reality than reality ever did. If there's one thing he's finally figured out, it's that everything he ever needed to know about dealing with the life and times of Benton Fraser could have come straight from Marvel.
Or DC, maybe, but only when he's able to admit that while he's never met an English class he couldn't sleep through, there's something to be said for symbolism if you take a long look at Fraser's affinity for the Arctic and the color red.
So yeah--stupid and crazy, sure, bizarre, yes, really inexplicable, Christ let him count the *ways*, but that's what makes it (the idea, Fraser, them, everything) *work*. It's why he could sit in the middle of a camp of Mounties, eating a bowl of God-is-this-polar-bear-stew and say, hey, buddy, got an idea. Let's go get that Hand of Franklin. I cannot think of anything more unlikely, so I'm pretty sure we'll find it.
Fraser had lit up like a fucking *bonfire*, Ray had finished his stew, and then *everything went to hell*.
One week and two days late, after two hours of what has to be some kind of Fraser-type revenge, Ray gets what he's always heard about how adversity makes you--what's that word?--assess your priorities. Put your life in perspective. Ray's down to exactly three things he wants out of life these days:
2.) more beer
Secret option 4.) kill Fraser, currently sitting a few feet away, perfect posture and all, watching in interest while Ray--chops wood.
Chops. Wood. From trees the man *actually chopped down*.
Putting down the axe, Ray pushes sweat-soaked hair from his eyes and squints blearily in Fraser's general direction. "This is payback for telling Turnball you'd told me you didn't know what you were going to do without him, isn't it?"
"Not yet, though I thank you for the reminder of why I received a fascinatingly worded email expressing hopes of an expansion of our relationship in the future." Smile, all teeth. Ray winces. "We can only hope he means in a professional capacity. No. You said you wanted to make yourself--how did you put it? Ah. Useful."
Revenge, he means. "Do you do this to all your friends?"
"Actually, yes. However, that's not the point. We have several weeks before we leave. Acclimatization will make our journey a great deal easier. In any case, this is a very valuable skill." This with a glance at the axe.
"In case of a tree attacking me. Real Canadian problem, I've heard." His heart's not in it, though. He'd asked for this, after nearly a week of sleeping, eating, napping, and exploring the wilderness that was Fraser's natural habitat. Ray had woken up this morning just as Fraser was leaving to do whatever he did in the mornings and said, quote, "Hey, you need any help?"
What Fraser had heard was, "I wish to be put to hard manual labor to amuse you." It's not that Fraser's *wrong* exactly, at least about the acclimatization thing; city-fit, and this Ray knows from mountain-related hypothermic experience, does not equal the great outdoors fit. City-fit means Ray knows where to find a pizza or dim sum within a three mile radius of anywhere he happens to be and can get a cab in under a minute. Frozen tundra will not have either takeout or cab service, unless trappers count as cabs and caribou as take-out, and he really, really hopes they don't.
The week off has done Fraser good, though; the sharp tension that had followed them from the Mountie camp has eased away, and while his back still looks like someone shoved a broomstick up his ass and left it there, he's stopped carrying himself like he's bracing for a blow. The evening Inuit stories are starting to be less about miserable, revenge-fueled lives ending in some kind of ice-related death and more about heroic, lonely lives ending in ice-related deaths that save villages from certain destruction. Ray counts it as progress.
He's only thinking of Stella twice a day and only dreamed of Vecchio's miserable ice-related death once. Okay, maybe a few more than that, but it doesn't count if he's *awake*.
Like he said. Progress.
With a sigh, Ray picks up his axe with arms that are starting to feel like Frannie's pasta, staring at the wood that will eventually be turned into something that goes into a fireplace and is burned for heat. Central heating, Territories-style. "Do you have to watch? I know you can do this faster. Don't need to rub it in."
When he glances at back, Fraser's mouth is curving into a faint, pleased smile, reminding Ray of every time Ray had ever made fun of lumberjacks. "The view is fascinating from here, Ray," and Ray really, really hates him.
Back in the good old days before the 2-7, when undercover work was prostitutes (arresting, not fucking, though he won't lie and say it never happened), drug busts, adrenaline rushes, and the proving he was the best shot in the department, Ray had a certain--reputation. Sure, people wincing when they saw him could be irritating, but also deeply and profoundly motivating, in that way that getting a rep for being a crazy asshole equaled bad ass. Then he discovered the 2-7 and Fraser and it all went downhill like a flash flood.
Those were the Pre-Fraser days, and it says something how he thinks that. There was Pre-Stella, Stella, then Post-Stella that suddenly became Pre-Fraser, because while being married might be called a life changing experience, Fraser was a force of *nature*, like an earthquake or a meteor hit. Something *huge*. On a day like any other, Ray got up, got dressed, went to work, walked into the station, turned around, and boom, done, finished, this is how the first movie ends, this is how the sequel starts, with red serge, startled blue eyes, and a burning car crashing into Lake Michigan.
Fraser's his sequel, his do-over in a new movie that involves hypnotism, voodoo, deaf half-wolves, leaping roofs, submarines, and singing Mounties. Surprise box-office hit: Ray doesn’t regret a thing.
Fraser and Ray, Post-Chicago (working title) is still up in the air. Critical reviews are mixed. Ray's body, at least, is seeing some flaws in the plot.
Ray doesn't even pretend beer is on the list anymore as he collapses on the couch; he really just wants to die. Dief noses his head curiously, and Ray almost thinks he might care, but turns out, he really doesn't. Lick away. He ain't moving.
Abruptly, there's a frown hovering fiveish feet above his head. Ray closes his eyes; maybe Fraser will go away if he pretends like he's not there. "Ray, you need to get up."
Ray's arms throb in memory of the wood still left to chop. There's a *forest* out there. The wood never *ends*. Ray opens his eyes, narrowing them on Fraser's not-even-sweaty face. "Is slavery even legal in Canada?"
Fraser takes a moment to *think about it* before he shakes his head regretfully. "Not as such. However, what I meant is, if you continue to lie there, you will stiffen up and it will be much worse this afternoon."
"Can't. Move. Don't know single syllable words, Fraser? Try the thesaurus." Ray demonstrates by staring at his arm, limp at his side. There's a burning stitch in his side, red heat washing over his back in slow, even throbs. He's an urban detective born and bred who just chopped what had felt like a small forest and turns out will heat the cabin all of *two days*. In *summer*.
"I'm sure I can motivate you. Diefenbaker, if you would be so kind as to assist Ray to his feet, I'd be grateful."
Ray turns his head enough to see Dief looking at him speculatively. "Donuts. You know I'm good for 'em."
Dief whines, glancing up at Fraser. A short battle of wills goes on that ends with Dief abruptly stalking off and Ray knows he's lost, because who knew that the red uniform had actually been some kind of weird kryptonite that made Fraser a nicer person? Here, in flannel and jeans, surrounded by trees and animals and fresh air, *new world fucking order*.
"You could at least *pretend* I got a choice here."
Fraser doesn't laugh, but Ray holds the smile against him anyway. "You know I don't lie. Diefenbaker, if you would--"
"Up. I'm up. Up." God knows what Dief will do; keeping them both in his line of sight, Ray forces himself to his feet, ignoring Fraser hovering inches away, and limps toward the bathroom. At least there's hot water.
"It is for your own good," Fraser says sincerely, pacing him, like he expects Ray to make a break for it or fall down and never get up again. Probably the latter. "You'll feel much better, I promise."
Ray glares, pointedly straightening just long enough to open the bathroom door, go inside, turn around, and slam it shut in Fraser's so-concerned face. "I'm going back to Chicago!" he yells through the door. "I'll *walk* if I have to!"
There's a second where he almost thinks he won and lasts all of five blissful seconds.
Then. "Of course, Ray. When I’m done with you, you'll be able to run."
Oh Jesus Christ. Just what he needs to hear.
(Fraser's weird about the shower; apparently, a real cabin is nothing but wood and snow, or wood and wood; Ray's not clear on that. He'd bought this for reasons that didn't need to be explored at this juncture that Ray suspects is actually Fraser's form of impulse buying. There's a generator, which Fraser had only looked at with a sense of betrayal. It's weird. He stopped asking when Fraser started talking about ancient tests of manhood, because they always end in something being frozen off and that's not something he's up to hearing.
Ray's just saying, an outhouse is not a test of manhood. Fraser's still pissy about that.)
Redressed in clean sweats, Ray comes back in to see Fraser, looking as fresh and rested as someone who hasn't done anything but relax all day, reading something to Dief. Squinting, Ray can just make out the title. "Call of the Wild?" He glances at Dief, who suddenly is fascinated with his toes before getting up with a kind of hurt dignity and hiding behind the couch.
Fraser sighs as he sets it aside. "He's always had questionable taste. The inaccuracies alone…." Fraser shakes his head, then looks at Ray, head tilting slightly in that quick evaluation Ray remembers from the day they met. "Better?"
"Smug ain't buddies." He does feel better, but it'll be a cold day in hell before he'll admit it.
"My apologies. There are sandwiches in the kitchen."
Picking up another book, Fraser is off in his own reading world. Ray noticed when they arrived that the majority of Fraser's square footage is books, books, and more books. He hadn't had this many at the consulate, which makes Ray wonder if they've been up here all along and when he got them.
Feeling ignored and not liking it, Ray gets the entire plate and comes back, deliberately sitting on the other side of the couch and trying to decide if it's worth it to irritate Fraser with bad table manners or just eat. He's still deciding during the second sandwich, and by the third, he figures he'll go with just eating while eyeing the fourth.
Fraser was right about this part; he can't remember ever being this hungry before, not even when he was a kid and would eat pretty much twenty-four/seven.
Ray drags his attention from the sandwich. It's not easy. "Yeah?"
"Did you change your mind?"
Ray slow blinks his irritation with being interrupted. "Course not. Where'd you get that idea?"
Fraser studies him like a crime scene, but an interesting one with a lot of weird clues that require a full-senses approach. In another world, there's a Ray Kowalski who would have no idea what that meant, and Ray personally feels that's a pretty sad world. Benton Fraser isn't something you want to miss.
Rewind. He said-- "Wait. What are you making me do now?"
Fraser grins, ducking his head. "A hike, if you feel up to it."
Since it doesn't use his arms, hell yeah. "Cool." He'll need that fourth sandwich, then. Picking it up, Ray shifts over the couch a little, willing to let the entire threaten-him-with-Dief thing go and resume normal relations. "Whatcha reading?"
"My father's journal. He patrolled the north for thirty years. I wanted to see if he had any notes that might be useful."
"You patrolled it, too. Probably know it as well as he ever did." Fraser had Chicago mapped in his head almost as good as Ray did. Not a surprise, exactly, not if you knew the guy, but this is *Canada*. Probably's known it since he was born.
Fraser shakes his head. "No one knows them perfectly; the man that believes that will soon discover how much he doesn't know. Overconfidence is not a virtue, not here."
Ray takes a bite and considers it, then nods at the journal. "So what does he say?"
"Quite a bit. He worked with a partner--several, actually, but only one with any regularity."
"Frobisher." Ray shakes his head.
"Don't let him fool you," Fraser says seriously. "My father never had another partner, not like they were."
"Huh." Finishing the last sandwich, Ray feels a general sense of sleepy well-being. Maybe there's something to be said for the great outdoors. "So, you gonna read it or not? Like to know what I'll be seeing up there."
"Quite a bit of snow, from what I understand," Fraser says, sounding amused.
The sleepiness increases. Ray can't remember the last time he took a nap during the day that wasn't related to a hangover. Maybe just lying down for a few minutes will clear it up. "Read it. I wanna hear what he said," Ray says, fighting a yawn before giving up the battle to not sink down. Resting his head on the armrest, Ray gets his legs up and scrunched enough so he doesn't knock into Fraser.
Fraser pauses, watching his struggle against the couch with a frown. "That can't be comfortable. Stretch out." Ray doesn't need to be told twice. Fraser apparently picked this couch for length, because his feet don't even touch the other armrest, socked feet resting on warm denim. If Fraser don't mind being a foot rest, well, Ray's not going to argue the point.
"Read," Ray says, eyes falling closed.
Ray hears the sound of paper, and then Fraser's voice. "'There are some things you don't forget'," he reads. "'When we finally found them, one of them had frozen to death. The other had moved far beyond sanity by any man's definition. When it was over, we buried them where they died. Frobisher took it hard. I don't know how much longer he'll stay. You can't survive the Territories if you don't love them, and I don't think he does, not after this.'"
Ray feels the denim clad thighs beneath his feet tense. "Last partner, huh?" Ray asks finally, when the silence goes on for too long.
"Yes. He was--associated with others, but none were partners."
Ray thinks of what he knows of Robert Fraser: not much, or at least, not much from Fraser. Legendary name up here, like Fraser himself; Ray remembers the younger Mounties, fresh faced kids who watched Fraser with wide, awed eyes, whispered like they thought he couldn't hear while Fraser got more formal and farther away by the second. Can't be easy being the son of a legend; can't be any easier to be one yourself.
Ray kicks (gently) until he can feel Fraser looking at him. "Keep going," he says. "I wanna know everything."
"I lied. Take me home. You said *hike*."
Fraser rolls his eyes--when the hell did he start doing that?--and pushes Ray farther out of sight of their *only source of shelter* which had been plenty out of sight already. Ray had this crazy idea that a hike was just that, a *hike*. Take in some nature, breathe some air, look at the plants. Not--not a *death march* that will end with them dead and one of them moving far beyond sanity (like you can't see the word *cannibalism* in *that* one, thanks, Fraser Senior) or something worse. Like *having to walk back*.
"This is a hike, Ray."
Ray resists, digging his heels into the ground. Won't do much good, but he's got to try.
"I don't even know where we are!" All the trees suddenly look eerily similar, like maybe they've been *circling the same one for hours*, and the sun's getting mighty low on the horizon. Eyeing it warily through the trees, Ray eyes Fraser. "Don't say sextant. Don't you *even say*--"
"I know this area like the back of my hand," Fraser answers dryly, giving him another push. "It would be as likely for me to get lost here as it would be for you to get lost in Chicago."
"Chicago," Ray says slowly, because Fraser's uniform also apparently mitigated his crazy, and that's saying something, "has these things called *streets*. With names. Buildings. *Landmarks*. Which you don't notice, being *you*, but how normal people keep from getting lost."
"And there are landmarks here, too. They're just more subtle." Fraser hesitates, head tilting as he eyes the sun. "You're correct, though. Dief will be hungry."
"Glad to know we won't die because Dief might starve," Ray answers without heat. Looking around, Ray tries to remember what direction they came from. There's a faint edge of worry as he looks at the trees, green and lush, the ground, the sameness every direction he looks.
Fraser, though, isn't moving. Like--like maybe he's lost too. "Fraser?" Ray says, fighting down panic. "We aren't moving."
"Tell me what direction we came from," Fraser says suddenly, leaning casually against a tree.
Ray takes a deep breath, fighting down panic. "We're lost."
"No, we're not. I want to see if you are, though. Look around. Tell me what you see."
"Trees." Fraser's fucking with him. Has to be. *Has* to be. "Lots of 'em."
"Look again, Detective."
Ray shoots a glance at Fraser, who looks back blandly and flicks a piece of bark off his sleeve. "You gotta be kidding."
Try, right. In trees. *Identical fucking trees*. Ray takes a deep breath, looking around the small circle of open ground and fighting the urge to strangle Fraser for pulling this. "You want me to figure out how to get back when I can't even *walk* in it without falling over? Tripped *ten times*--"
"Yes, you did. And you counted. When was the last time?"
"When I got here--" Oh. Ray takes his gaze to ground level and finds the root, scraped with the track of his boot. "Huh."
Fraser doesn't smirk, but Ray's pretty sure he wants to.
"That way," Ray says, pointing confidently into more trees and trying to look sure. "Ten times in three hours," he tells Fraser pointedly. "Not going to get us home."
Fraser pushes off the tree and studies the direction Ray pointed. "I think," he answers, "that you'll find you remember more than you think. After you, if you please."
It takes them five hours to get back--five wrong turns where Fraser didn't bother stopping until Ray realized that something felt off. Then he'd turn, stare bitterly at Fraser until he nodded, and they'd go back. Fraser, not a huge amount of help there.
It was weird though; it didn't get easier, but it did get predictable. Look at the roots, remember a fall. Remember scraping his hand on that tree and pulled off a handful of bark. That one with the low limbs that blocked them and they had to go around. The places with sudden bursts of vivid greenery; ferns and flowers, strangely shaped shrubs. Not something he'd thought he'd *noticed* noticed, except he had. Trees might all be alike, but they had different shapes that he'd filed away in the part of his mind that worked crime scenes and studied reports, the slot-slot-slot of a and b and e and j to get l without bothering between.
When the cabin comes into view, Ray's torn between utter relief and wanting to kick Fraser's ass. Sitting down on the stump Fraser had been sitting on earlier, Ray glares up at Fraser. "Not cool."
"You did an excellent job," Fraser answers with sincere admiration. "I'm impressed."
Ray fights down the glow of accomplishment for as long as he can, then gives up. This is *Fraser*, who navigates by scent and air flow or something. Even if he's being humored, he's being humored in style. "Well," he says, staring at the cabin so Fraser won't see him smile, "it was okay."
"It was excellent. With practice, and with a better conscious awareness of your surroundings, you should become extremely proficient."
Crap, there goes the anger. "You couldn't be sure I could do that."
"I worked with you for two years," Fraser answers, doing that leaning thing again. Ray isn't distracted. Much. "I know perfectly well what you're capable of. Applying the same method you employed as a detective to your surroundings lead to success here as much as they did when investigating criminals." There's a pause. "Besides, you would hardly be sufficient to sustain me should we have been truly lost."
Ray jerks his head around, trying to glare even when his mouth is fighting a smile. "We already at cannibalism?"
Fraser flicks out his knife, flipping it casually; Ray never stops getting a kick out of that. "It never hurts to be prepared. Hungry?"
Ray stands up, blinking a little in surprise at the soreness in his legs. He hadn't noticed. "Fatten me up for emergencies?"
"Of course not." The knife goes back in the belt, the faintest smile curving up one corner of Fraser's mouth. "Do you want to cook or should I?"
Ray can't help it; he grins back.
Two ibuprofen, another shower, dinner, and a collapse on the couch after dinner define Ray's perfect evening. Fraser doesn't move, so Ray feels entitled to borrow his lap again, socked feet pushing until Fraser lifts his arm out of the way. "Anything interesting?" Ray finally asks when Fraser doesn't look up from his book.
"Some fascinating ice formations on our projected path," Fraser answers absently. Besides the journal, there are more maps than Ray's gotten around to counting on the floor, neatly folded, and several books that look very, very boring, which probably means they're educational, which means he'll have to read them. "Some interesting surveys of the mating habits of--"
"Don't finish that sentence," Ray warns without opening his eyes. "No mating habits, no cannibalism, no Inuit legends of people going out on adventures and vanishing, neither."
"That significantly reduces the number of conversational topics," Fraser says, a smile in his voice.
"Then you need to learn better conversation topics."
Ray shifts uncomfortably, sore muscles reminding him that he's done more today than he usually does in a week. It's going to be hell tomorrow morning when he gets up, but that's tomorrow, not now. Twisting, he finally rolls onto his side and almost hisses in relief when pressure shifts from his back. Shoulders hurt, but not as much.
"Wonder how Stella's doing." He hasn't thought of her since they left the Mounties with Muldoon; surprisingly, it doesn't bother him all that much.
Fraser's stomach tenses against the side of his foot. Ray wonders if a lot of his communication problems with Fraser could have been solved early on by making him hold his feet. Better than couple's counseling, anyway. "I received a letter from Ray," he says, sounding cautious.
Huh. "He going back or retiring?"
"He's currently undecided. It seems," and Ray can actually *feel* Fraser tense up more, "that he has become involved with someone."
Figures. Ray Kowalski as Vecchio couldn't get the time of day; Vecchio waltzes back in, takes his name back, and gets laid. Karma, or something.
"You know her?"
Wow. Ray hadn't realized you could *feel* worry like that, just floating in the air. Opening his eyes, he sees Fraser is staring at his book like it might blow up unexpectedly if he looks away. "Frase?"
"He has become infatuated with your ex-wife."
It takes a second to penetrate: Vecchio, involved, infatuated, ex-wife. Then, "He's dating Stella?"
Fraser looks at him for a long second, then nods, mouth tight. "Yes. I'm sorry, Ray."
Sorry for something Vecchio did, that's Fraser. Ray takes a breath, nodding like he's perfectly cool with Vecchio banging the ex when he's not. Vecchio, who came back, took his name back, his job, and now's got Ray's ex-wife; all that's missing is Fraser. It's like being erased, like maybe he was never there at all, like none of it even happened.
"Yeah." His voice sounds like shit. Clearing his throat, he licks his lips. Okay. Okay. "I'm good. Just a surprise."
He thinks for a second that Fraser's going to push it, but then Fraser just pats his leg, looking unhappy. "I'm sorry you had to find out this way," Fraser is saying, an edge creeping into his voice. "I'm afraid Ray Vecchio can be--impulsive."
Huh. That almost sounds like Fraser *criticizing* Vecchio. "Not my business," he hazards, curious. "Been years. If it makes her happy…."
Fraser nods in general agreement, but the tightness is still there, and Ray wonders idly what exactly Fraser wrote back to Vecchio about that little piece of news. Letting himself relax, he concentrates on sore muscles and his own exhaustion. Anything's better than thinking of Vecchio and Stella.
It's new, this kind of tired: bone deep exhaustion, but without the jittering edges of worry or tension, cases following him into his dreams. Beth's not the only one by a long shot; there are crime scenes that still make regular appearances, every case he's ever filed unsolved. Even an arrest is a failure when all's said and done; it can't ease the grief of the family, bring the victim back, can't change a goddamn thing.
They still show up here, taking their turn in his head, but not as often. Or maybe he just doesn't remember them. That works, too.
He's not sure how long he drifts, but he's awakened suddenly by Fraser standing up. Opening his eyes, Ray winces as his body checks back in. "Crap," he mutters, struggling to sit up.
"There's no way you will be able to sleep here comfortably," Fraser says, studying him with a critical eye. "Or at all, I imagine."
Ray can't exactly argue that at the angle he's sitting right now. "I'll be fine. Ain't arguing this again; I'm not throwing you out of your own bed. My mother raised me better than that; you should know. You met her. Don't wanna get on her bad side."
Fraser sighs his sigh of the put-upon and abused. Ray ignores it; when Fraser does that, he sounds a lot like Dief. "Ray--"
Ray tilts his head up and feels his neck crack ominously. "Share it," he bargains before Fraser can really get started; otherwise, they'll be here all night. "It's a big bed. Far's I remember, you don't snore."
"You do kick, however."
Ray narrows his eyes, but not because it's not true. It's just Ray did it when he was awake. "Don't think I can kick right now."
A hand comes into his line of sight; Ray grabs it and lets Fraser do all the work of pulling him up. "Promise not to assault your virtue."
Fraser snorts, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like, "I'd be surprised if you could assault your own." Ray stares at him, wondering if there was something more in that ibuprofen than ibuprofen. Fraser smoothly slides an arm under his shoulders, saying in a more normal voice, "Tomorrow we'll find something less--intensive do."
Ray turns his head, squinting in the dim light. "Only have a few weeks," he answers, letting Fraser take his weight. "I can do it."
Fraser considers him thoughtfully, then nods. "Very well."
It's a week of unmitigated hell, and then abruptly, it's uncomfortable but not that bad. Ray's reminded of high school gym and the first few weeks of misery before his body gave up and went with it. There's a point where you just can't feel worse, so might as well feel better.
He's got first aid down; his department certification covered the basics, and Fraser whips him through the stuff that's specific to trying to survive an icy death march. Not too bad; they get that done in an afternoon. Some reading on the climate in the evenings. Lists of gear they gotta get, and how to use it, and why.
Tracking isn't easy, exactly, but it's a hell of a lot more interesting than reading about the mean temperature in October through January in the Arctic Circle. Dief follows them a few times, but he's from the Fraser School of Education--watching expectantly while Ray stumbles around until he gets it right, except Dief don't pretend he doesn't find it really, really funny. Truth is, Ray's getting it right a lot more than he ever thought he would, but that, Ray thinks, is thanks to his instructor, whose probably forgot more about wilderness survival than any other three people ever knew, Fraser Senior included.
The most interesting thing is Fraser himself, though. He's a good teacher, as good as the best Ray's had, unsurprisingly patient and surprisingly able to translate his own knowledge into terms Ray can understand. It occurs to Ray to wonder if Fraser's ever had the opportunity to teach someone else what he'd learned.
If he'd had kids, he'd be doing this with them, but without the translation from Canadian to Chicagoian--they'd have been born here, this place as much a part of their blood as it is Fraser's. Ray imagines small dark-haired girl and boy Frasers following their dad through the woods, knowing by instinct what Ray's learning the hard way. Dief following them, because he'd be just as protective of Fraser's kids as he is of Fraser. Some wife waiting at home--oh hell, what is he saying? She'd be out here with them, a woman born and bred in the Territories, someone smart and sharp, someone who could be his partner out here in the middle of nowhere, who'd love it like he did, love him like he'd love her. And this is Fraser--he'd love her with everything in him.
Instead, Fraser's got a thirty-something burned out cop from Chicago stumbling around after him. There's something wrong with that, but Ray can't make himself regret the lack of perfect Mountie wife and Mountie kids either, not like he should. If they were here, Ray wouldn't be, and he's selfish enough to be glad, fiercely glad he's the one Fraser's got, even if it's only by default.
By the end of the second week, Ray thinks that he'll probably live through this after all.
Coffee cup in hand, Ray watches the threads of pale purple and pink streak slowly through the sky as dawn broke, wondering when it became so easy to get up with the sun. It's beautiful out here, shadowed trees slowly lightening to more shades of green than he'd ever known existed, the sun stretching between the branches to the forest floor in pale green and gold. Yesterday, he'd been startled by how dusk painted everything in deep orange, stopping just to take it in and nearly losing Fraser.
Chicago's great, but it never looked or felt anything like this.
"You're up early."
Ray twists around, barely aware of the twinge in his back. "Wonder why," he says, taking a drink of coffee. "Couldn't be your wolf ambushing me every morning. Self-defense from wolf spit."
Fraser's mouth twitches before he sits down on the step beside Ray, cradling a cup of tea, steaming in the cool morning air. "I'm sure it's meant affectionately."
Ray looks his opinion on that, trying to identify the smell of the tea. It's nice, heavier than the stuff Fraser drank at the consulate. Berry? He sniffs again, frowning.
"Oolong," Fraser says dryly, and Ray realizes he's actually *leaning over the cup*. "Would you like to taste?"
Since Fraser's asking--Ray reaches for the offered cup, taking a sip. Not coffee, but stronger than what he's had before. "Huh." Giving back the cup, Ray returns to his coffee. Next time Fraser makes tea, though, maybe he'll try a cup.
"How is your ankle?"
Ray reaches down, touching the wrapping; he'd tripped himself over some kind of shrub going after Dief. A dull, insistent throb greets the touch; good enough to get around. He'd forgotten until Fraser mentions it. "It's fine," he says. Fraser frowns, unconvinced. "Really. Barely feel it."
They sit in comfortable silence for a while. Not that it's *quiet* here, exactly. Just smaller scale. You have to *listen* for what you wanted to hear. Fraser's slow, even breathing beside him; Dief playing tag-and-kill on some unsuspecting forest animal; the wind whispering beneath the trees. Leaning against the post, he closes his eyes; he can hear his own heartbeat out here if he listens hard enough.
"Just thinking." Opening his eyes, Ray finishes the cup. "So, what's the plan?"
Yesterday had been botany--of course he needs to know the name of *every tree he might ever see*, sure, Ray's not even trying to argue anymore. He's always had a good visual memory. Though how that relates to crossing the Arctic, Ray has no idea; far as he remembers reading over Fraser's shoulder, there ain't a lot of greenery that far north.
"Hmm." Fraser eyes are on the trees, but his mind's a million miles away. "What would you like to do?"
Ray blinks, considering it. He'd wanted an adventure when he didn't know what it would mean, what he'd have to learn to have it. Then again, the same could be said of having Fraser himself; he remembers the day they met, the fragile beginning of something he never could have expected, much less known he could ask for. Didn't even *know* it was a beginning, his sequel, his do-over, and it could have never happened at all.
"You never checked my shoe size," Ray says, slanting a look at Fraser as he sets his cup down. "Been easier than putty."
"You and Ray Vecchio wear the same size," Fraser answers absently, then flushes. "However, there was a considerable difference in height, though considering how much you slouch, at the time I couldn't be exact."
"Also not Italian, in case you missed that."
Fraser's mouth twitches, hiding it behind his cup. "You're never going to stop reminding me, are you?"
"Not as long as we live." Standing up, Ray stretches, reluctant to leave the view, even more reluctant to lose the company. "Make you a deal. I'll make breakfast if you show me your service record."
Fraser freezes, which confirms what Ray had suspected all along. "You've seen my service record," he answers slowly, which isn't a lie at all. Nice.
"I don't mean the nice clean one we got," Ray says maliciously, adding, "You know, Maggie had some interesting stories about your early career. Could mail her, I guess. Get the stories from her."
Fraser finishes his tea too quickly, standing up. "It's not all that interesting," he says, and that's--that's a *lie*. Ray grins at the way Fraser flushes, then sighs. "I'm not sure I even have a copy here--"
This is *Fraser*. Of course he has a copy. To review, find his mistakes, obsess over them for a while. Anal-retentive, dictionary, picture right over the definition.
"In the bottom left drawer that you keep locked." Fraser blinks at him, mouth falling open in undisguised surprise. "Like you said. Detective. I'll start the eggs while you get that." Turning lazily, Ray goes back inside with a spring in his step.