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The Toybox

people for the conservation of limited amounts of indignation


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dsfic: where the story changes, 2/3
due south fraser/kowalski
seperis
part 1



They end up not doing much at all. In an unprecedented display of Ray-level slackerdom, when they finish up the morning's required chores, Fraser suddenly decides they're taking a day off. Ray almost protests, knowing it's about Fraser feeling guilty about his ankle, but Fraser gets him coffee, a book, and settles him on the couch with a pillow to elevate his foot, and he's not stupid enough to fight inevitability when it's comfortable and gets him both mid-morning coffee and Fraser's undivided attention. It's been awhile. He admits, though hell if he'll tell Fraser, it's nice.

From the couch, Ray keeps surreptitious observation on Fraser, who is stretched out on the rug in something that almost looks like a sprawl, pillow tucked beneath chest and chin and reading something in French that, by the pictures, seems to be about the original expedition. Rumpled, in that way that Fraser, as a rule, seems impervious to when in uniform. Even his hair looks more relaxed, like it's okay to kinda lie around and do its own thing. Weirdly mesmerizing.

Compared to the portrait of a Mountie on vacation on the rug, Ray's book is pretty damn boring. Rubbing his forehead, he wills chapter three to become more interesting. Nothing.

"Your glasses are on the desk," Fraser says without looking up, turning a page.

Ray rolls onto his side and squints at Fraser suspiciously. "You got 'em outta that crevasse?"

"No. The new ones came in the mail." Fraser frowns at something on the page, like it just said that maybe Canada wasn't as snowy as Fraser had thought, then shakes his head with sympathy for the unenlightened.

"Huh? When did I get new glasses?"

*Now* Fraser looks at him. "When we were in Chicago," he says slowly, like Ray's being difficult. "You ordered a new pair before we left to capture Muldoon, so I called to see if they could be sent here. They were willing to do so."

That would be right before Vecchio got back; no wonder he forgot. Ray vaguely remembers pointing at frames and one of the salesgirls cornering Fraser and asking about his perfect vision. "Oh. Huh. Thanks." Ray pushes himself off the couch and sees the box immediately. Picking it up, he goes back, ignoring the couch to sit on the floor in easy range of Fraser-taunting. Just in case he gets inspired.

Trying on the glasses, Ray winces at the sudden clarity and vertigo combined. Stronger than his old one; adjustment is gonna be a bitch. Pulling them off, he puts them back in the box and shoves it beside the couch and out of the way.

"Bored?"

Ray thinks about, surprised to realize he's not. Not even a little. He's aware Fraser's watching him with a slight frown and shrugs. "Not really."

"Hmm." Closing the book, Fraser sits up fluidly; Ray can't get over how much more comfortable Fraser is in his skin compared to Chicago. Not just the uniform being packed up: it's something else. "Neither am I, actually."

Ray narrows his eyes. "Thanks."

Fraser twitches, then smile ruefully. "My apologies. What I meant to say is, I'm used to being--busier. Even during my infrequent leave--" Fraser trails off, faintly bewildered. "It's been a long time."

"That, Fraser my friend, is called *relaxation*." Holding Fraser's eyes, Ray grins. "Downtime. *Lazy*."

"Lazy," Fraser echoes, as if he's never heard the word before, then glances at his book unenthusiastically.

Ray gets up on all fours, ignoring the throb of his ankle in the name of further laziness, and snatches it up before Fraser's normal sense of duty returns. Pushing it under the couch, Ray raises an eyebrow at Fraser's frown.

"*Vacation.* That means, in some countries that ain't Canada, doing something for no reason at all. For *fun*."

"Fun," Fraser says in mock wonder. Ray snorts. "Hmm."

Interesting look on his face, though why he's looking at the box with Ray's glasses and then at Ray's ankle is anyone's guess. "Were they correct?" Fraser asks, which only sounds like he's changing the subject, except Ray knows he's not.

"Yeah." If he needs to chase down any crazy Canadian murders--which considering this is Fraser, probably more likely than the non-Fraser exposed would think--his aim's gonna be off. "Need some adjustment time."

Fraser nods seriously. "Can you use a shotgun?"

"Chicago, Fraser. Stupid question. Why?"

"Would you like to work on that--adjustment?"

Ray rolls to his feet with a tiny burst of adrenaline--the good kind, the kind that comes from anticipation--and tests his ankle. As long as they're not running anywhere, he's good. "Can't carry up here," he says, watching Fraser's face. "Gonna arrest me after?"

"I think hunting could be considered an extenuating circumstance," Fraser answers deadpan. He looks--if Ray was betting, he'd say happy. Blue eyes focus on his ankle, biting his lip before coming to a decision. "We'll take it slow."

Well, Fraser would know the law, wouldn't he? "I'll get my boots."

*****

Fraser might lack central heating and a telephone, but he has much cooler modern conveniences; a makeshift shooting range, the kind that Ray remembers from the more rural parts of southern Illinois where he'd visited his grandparents and his grandfather took him out to make a man out of him. Good summers, learning Warsaw Polish and how to shoot rabbits a month every year. The Polish didn't stick too good, though he can still ask for a beer, a fuck, and the bathroom; the hunting did, and Ray never lost either his instinct or his eye.

It's been years since he handled a shotgun regularly; muscle-memory's rusty, but Fraser doesn't bother correcting him, letting him remember with his body the heft and weight, the pull on his shoulder and the stretch of his hands. The first few shots are a little loose, but Ray doesn't fight it, adjusting until he feels the click that means he's found it, everything falling into place. The next five are dead center.

"How old were you?" Fraser asks, taking his turn. Ray studies him critically and can't find any flaw. That kind of ease comes from a lifetime knowing how to use a gun, and for more than a month a year.

"Eight, when Gramps thought I was old enough," Ray says absently, watching Fraser line up his shots, quick and easy. Ray figures he has a better eye--you're born with it or you ain't--but Fraser's got the experience and better natural eyesight. As his grandfather would say, there's nothing like knowing your meal comes from what you shoot to teach you accuracy.

"Rabbit?"

Ray smirks. "Not a lot of caribou in Illinois," he says, drawing out the words. The corner of Fraser's mouth quirks, but he finishes the round before he nods. "How'd you keep in practice in Chicago?" he asks curiously.

Fraser hesitates. "There are other--ways," he says carefully.

"In other words, you ain't telling and I'll have to figure it out for myself." Fair enough: Fraser's a living, breathing mystery. Hunting up the pieces himself is half the fun. "Okay, we gonna do this?" Ray asks, shouldering the gun and fighting the urge to bounce on his toes and setting his ankle off again. There's a whole afternoon and evening stretching out in front of them and he's ready to use it.

Fraser regards him with barely leashed amusement. "Whenever you are, Ray."

*****

"See, you're like a legal contract."

Wiping his mouth, Ray pretends the bushes he just threw up on no longer exist.

"A contract."
"Fine print." Ray spits, then turns back around, only to see two more neatly shot rabbits waiting for him. Christ. "With you, there's always *fine print*. Come to Canada, you said--"

"I don't think that is quite how--"

"And adventure! And hey, Ray, buddy, how about some hunting?" Ray gropes for his water bottle and takes a long drink. It doesn't help. "But fine print? Missed that part."

"Well," Fraser says reasonably, "how did you *think* we were going to eat them?"

Logic. Ray *hates* logic. Taking a deep breath, he looks at the knife waiting for him, then at Fraser, helpfully sitting close enough for Ray to glare at.

Ray stares at the rabbits, then Fraser. He's pretty sure Fraser will take over if he insists, but--but. He doesn't want to. Not because of any bullshit about losing Fraser's respect; Fraser's not that type of guy.

"Do you want me to show you again?" Fraser says finally, giving him an easy out. Ray considers it, like there's any way that he's ever going to forget any of the last five minutes of his life short of his deathbed. Hell, he'll probably be thinking about it then, too.

"No," he says, going back and taking the knife. Dinner, he tells himself, swallowing hard. "You're cooking."

Fraser nods soberly, no smile now. "Understood."

*****

"Eight," Fraser says suddenly from the kitchen.

Ray, currently pretending he'll be able to eat anything tonight, looks up from the book that he isn't pretending is anything but distraction. "Huh?"

"I was eight. I'd--assisted in the preparation with my grandmother, but not the actual skinning and dressing," he said. "It was a rather interesting event in my life. My grandparents were forced by circumstance to stay away longer than expected due to a storm. There was little choice."

Ray wraps his mind around that one. *Eight*. Meals might have been skimpy sometimes when he was a kid, but not like that. What kind of people left a kid alone to hunt or starve? "That sucks."

Fraser raises both eyebrows. "This isn't Chicago, Ray," he says, slowly stirring. Getting up off the couch, Ray thinks he can deal with checking the pot and not embarrassing himself again. "Most of the children I grew up with were far more proficient. I was more--sheltered."

Ray doesn't bother hiding his disbelief, leaning against the counter close enough to see both pot and Fraser's face. Librarians, he remembers abruptly, something in the back of his mind clicking, a-b-c-d-j-k-z--oh. "Your grandparents. They ain't the ones that taught, are they?"

"No. That was--an old friend."

Ray takes a breath, the detective fighting the friend, but both of them are interested and there's no backing out now. Click, click, l, m, n…oh. *Oh*. "They didn't want you to be a Mountie, did they?"

Fraser's hand pauses, just for a second, then calmly continues stirring, slow and easy, before he reduces the heat and places a lid over the top. "It will be ready in an hour," Fraser says, making a wide circle around Ray to reach the sink. He washes his hands with deliberate care before finally looking at Ray in silent question.

"My dad," Ray offers weakly, because Jesus. He should have known this. Two years and it never occurred to him to even wonder how a guy like Fraser ended up a Canadian cop. It only fits if you look at it sideways and squint hard. "Look, I'm sorry. Shouldn't have--"

"Don't trouble yourself."

"--*presumed*</i>, smarty-pants, Jesus, can't you take an apology? I shouldn't've jumped to conclusions."

Fraser's expression relaxes, just a little. "You surprised me," he admits, sounding uncomfortable. "You're correct. They never reconciled themselves to my decision."

Ray sucks in a breath, thinking of his father. "Yeah," he says. His parents may not say it anymore, but they look it, and he can lie to himself and lie to them, but he can't lie to Fraser, not now. "I know the feeling."

On TV, this would call for a hug or beer, but Fraser isn't exactly Mr. Express Feelings Through Full Body Contact and the man runs a dry operation. "Cards?" he says hopefully and is rewarded by Fraser's smile.

*****

"You're cheating," Fraser says in shock when they finish the hand. Ray figures that Fraser's reaction has nothing to do with Ray cheating, but that he didn't *catch* him. The man had played against professionals, after all.

Shuffling the cards expertly, Ray watches Fraser's eyes narrow in thought, rewinding through ten games and looking for the tells. There aren't any; Ray's been playing since he hit puberty. Can't get it passed a pro, maybe, not without a lot of practice and maybe a death wish, but it got passed his Mountie. There's no way not to love that. "So?"

Fraser's eyes flicker from the cards to Ray's face to the cards again before he licks his lower lip. "Show me."

Huh. Ray sits back, surprised. "One condition."

"Such as?"

"Next time you play Vecchio, use it."

Fraser frowns slightly, then smiles. "He would never believe I would cheat, which I assume--"

"Is the point, yeah. You'll clean 'em out." Ray lets Fraser cut the cards, then deals. "You do it?"

Fraser studies him briefly, and Ray has an uncomfortable moment wondering what Fraser can see on his face, then nods. "Done. I won't keep the money and I will tell him after."

"Wouldn't expect anything less." Ray glances at his cards, giving himself a warm moment of imagining Vecchio's face after losing game after game with no end in sight. Then Fraser telling him what Kowalski's been teaching his ex-partner. A reminder, maybe, a place Vecchio will feel Ray's fingerprints, something he'll have left behind when this--when this is over. Like proof he was here. "And tell him who taught you, okay?"

Fraser nods absently and picks up his cards. "Very well. If you would--"

"Right. Let's get started."

*****

Ray had spent most of his adult life with another body in bed with him, sleeping through mattress squeaks and midnight bathroom breaks and all the many and varied ways two people in a single bed could annoy the shit out of each other until they got used to each other. Truth is, five years alone doesn't change years of habit, and it's easy, too easy, to fall right back into what he knows.

This, he knows. Stella'd broken him of every bad sleeping habit he'd ever had and even some he didn't, on the off-chance he might pick 'em up later. Say what you like about Ray the Boyfriend, Husband, or Partner; as far as sharing beds go, Ray is second to none.

Fraser, though, never had shared with anyone and it shows. If Ray had been the type to worry about that sort of thing, he would have wasted a shitload of time, because Fraser sleeps on a full mattress like it's a narrow-ass cot. Ray can almost see the invisible line running down the center of the bed like a forcefield between them. No bad habits here, unless you count the uncomfortable feeling you're sleeping by a corpse that can still breathe.

Ray wakes abruptly from something dark-edged and too vivid, with a mountain, a dark crevasse, and a sense of falling, vanishing almost as soon as he opens his eyes. Dief, curled up at the foot of the bed, looks up with a faint air of irritation that fades almost immediately. Getting up on all four legs, he pads down the space between Ray and Fraser, lying down to stare at Ray with serious eyes and then lick his nose.

Jesus, sympathy from the wolf. "Just bad dream," Ray whispers, shivering from the cold that followed him from sleep, rubbing gently at Dief's soft ears. "No donuts here, you know."

Dief tilts his head smugly.

"Right. Brownie points for the future, huh?" Sitting up, Ray runs a hand through his hair, checking belatedly on Fraser, who hasn't so much as twitched since they went to sleep. How can anyone be at attention when they're *sleeping*? "How's he do that?" Ray whispers.

"Camp beds do not permit a great deal of movement," Fraser answers, sounding like he'd never gone to sleep at all.

Ray winces. "Sorry." It belatedly occurs to him he hasn't made any kind of move to go back to the couch, even though he's pretty much over the worst of the soreness. But he's comfortable, and it's nice, and he can't lie, he misses company. Sure, it's not someone he can fuck later, but junkies take what they can get.

Fraser rolls on his side, staring at Dief with narrowed eyes. "It wasn't you. Diefenbaker has yet to learn the etiquette of sharing bedspace."

Dief's ears twitch slightly.

"We have had this conversation before. There are boundaries."

Dief whines bitterly and gets up, pacing to the foot of the bed before deliberately dropping and curling up, back to them.

"I think you hurt his feelings," Ray says.

"He should know better."

Frase doesn't, however, roll back to attention and go back to sleep; instead, he tucks a hand under hair that's actually--messy. Ray hadn't paid attention before, but now he can't look away. Flushed from sleep, blue eyes heavy and dark, voice sleep-thick and a little scratchy: maybe Ray has another reason he doesn't want to move. "What was it?"

Ray starts, feeling exposed. Anywhere else, he knows how to handle Fraser, but a bed at night is new territory and he's still not that great at navigation. "Don't remember. I'm going to--" he makes a vague motion at the door and couch beyond, hoping Fraser gets the idea and doesn't make him explain.

Fraser sighs. "My father used to say he never slept well near other people," Fraser starts, which sounds like he's agreeing with Ray's removal to the couch, but no, he *keeps going*. "However. Keep in mind my father wasn't entirely--" Fraser hesitates. "Reliable in his social interactions. He learned to preferred solitude."

Ray has no clue where this is going. It's way too late to try and work through one of Fraser's statements. "Uh."

"Go back to sleep," Fraser says, and closes his eyes. Lying on his *side*.

"I can sleep on the couch," Ray says blankly, but even to himself, he doesn't sound convincing. From the foot of the bed, Dief snorts loudly.

"I agree," Fraser says, obviously addressing Dief. Then nothing. Just going to sleep. It's so--Fraser, just do it and not bother with say, oh, explanations. Ray's surprised by the sudden anger. Zero to sixty in under five seconds flat. "Ray?"

"You do it deliberately," Ray says slowly; somehow, though he'd known, he hadn't really *known*. A personality quirk, sure, but not a conscious decision, not something Fraser *knew* he was doing. "Just ignore something when you don't want to deal with it. Don't you?"

Fraser opens his eyes and doesn't even pretend not to understand. "Yes."

Somehow, he hadn't expected Fraser to admit it, and that deflates the anger as suddenly as it started.

"You blow through everything like this," Ray says, and fine, maybe it's not just about the bed, maybe it's about following Fraser wherever he goes, just marking time until he's finally left behind. "Is it that hard to talk about something?"

Lying back down--and God, that's just giving in, he knows it, but he's used to it. This is Fraser, and Ray can't just say, hey, be a different person. That's not buddies. That's Stella after years of marriage, that's his parents, that's his first commanding officer, that's--that's his life, come to think. He's never been quite what anyone thought he should be, not to anyone he's ever cared about, except--

Rolling onto his side, Ray sees Fraser watching him. Ray remembers a day by a bay and the bruises on his knuckles that had hurt him worse than a broken hand or a gunshot ever had, the flicker of expression on Fraser's face before Ray had watched him walked away. That had been bad; somehow, this is worse. "Is it that much easier just to do the steamroll thing?"
"Not--always."

Maybe Fraser's remembering that punch, too.

"Why'd you ask me up here?"

It's easy to ask, in this quiet cabin in the middle of nowhere that's like a different life; Chicago sometimes feels more like a place he read about than a place he lived. Ray feels himself match Fraser's slow breathing and thinks of grandparents who didn't want a Mountie and parents who didn't want a cop.

"Why did you say yes?"

Ray takes a deep breath.

"You're my last partner."

Maybe he knew it when they met, when he drove a burning car into a lake, fell through a skylight, followed Fraser onto a ship of living ghosts, then followed him here, skinned a fucking *rabbit* and even ate the damn thing after. He'd known, had to have known what it meant.

It's like what Fraser had told Ray about Frobisher and his father. When Ray goes back to Chicago, wearing a name and skin that don't fit, he'll work with other people and maybe even like them, but they won't be partners. He has--he *had* his perfect partner, who defined the word and surpassed it, his best friend and occasional rival and the person he trusted more than he trusted himself. No one could compete with that; they wouldn't even know how to start.

"I know." Shadowed blue eyes hold Ray's in perfect understanding.

Ray closes his eyes, chest tight, thinking of Fraser wandering the great white north in his quest for justice, of himself in Chicago chasing down criminals, the years passing until their partnership becomes something they can barely remember. Until they've both forgotten how it felt not to be alone. Until maybe, they even learned to like it.

Ray's two years from the guy he left behind the day he took Vecchio's name; he can't go back to that, to a world defined by the narrow walls of an apartment and the hours of a job, by the memories of a woman who'd left him behind and of a man who fought him and backed him, who liked him and made him want to be better.

"Give me five years."

Fraser's head comes up. "What?"

"Come back to Chicago. I retire in five years." Ray's too surprised by the sound of his voice to stop himself, the words pouring out in a rush like they've been just waiting for the right moment to say. "Come back and liaison some more. Get the bad guys, make fun of Dewey, make Welsh happy when he sees our solve rate, that stuff. When we're done there, we'll come back up here."

Fraser stares at him like Ray just started speaking in tongues. "Five years."

"Yeah. I'll retire and liaison up here with you. Unofficially I guess." Jesus, he thinks, feeling stirrings of panicked hope, that doesn't even make *sense*. How would that work? Rolling on his stomach, he buries his head in his pillow; it's not like he has any clue where this is coming from and God knows what else he'll come up with. Incentives, maybe. Hey, move in with me. I'll let you drive. Maybe. Just stay. Please. Please. Please. "God," he says into the pillow. "I'm dreaming, I gotta be."

"Yes."

Ray lifts a hand and points in Fraser's general direction. "Exactly. Weird dream. Just--you know, forget about--"

"I meant to your offer."

Ray jerks his head up. Fraser looks pretty serious, but then again, he looks serious even when he's being a complete dick. "You're kidding."

"Unless you're withdrawing it--"

Ray has no idea what the hell that expression is on Fraser's face, but he knows like he knows his name that he never, ever wants to see it again.

Ray lurches across the space between them and covers Fraser's mouth with one hand before Fraser gets another word out, just barely missing elbowing Fraser in the head. "Do I look stupid? Don’t answer that. I meant it, all of it." Fraser blinks assent, and Ray warily removes his hand, lightheaded with the rush of relief. "Okay. So. We're doing this."

"I--think so." Fraser looks as surprised as Ray feels, looking at Ray with what seems a lot like hope. Then he has to *keep talking*. "However, there are numerous--" Ray puts his hand back before Fraser explains just what the hell they're doing, hiding the shiver at the brush of a tongue hot against the center of his palm before Fraser cuts himself off mid-word.

"Don't--let's do that thing you do? The steamrolling thing? I like that. Do that. No--no talking about it or anything." Ray kind of thinks any kind of critical thinking will tell them this is a *really stupid idea*, because he's pretty sure what they actually just did was get married, but kind of scarier, because Fraser just promised off five years of his life to Chicago and both of them just promised off the rest of their *lives* to *tundra* after that, and the only thing Ray can think is that he has no idea how to *ski*.

"I can't ski," Ray says blankly, pulling back. He remembers this feeling; right. The day he married Stella, and he'd just barely made it to the bathroom *then*. Fraser looks dangerously close to trying to talk about it--Jesus, why *now*, of all times? "You can ski. Snowshoe. That--all that. Show me how to do it. It's good."

"I'm not--very good at driving," Fraser says slowly. The only real consolation Ray's got is that Fraser looks more shaken than he did the day Ray punched him. "Out of practice, you see. Especially in the city."

"Right, right." Ray breathes out in relief. Take it in steps. Teach Fraser to drive. Learn to ski. Figure out the rest later. Nice and easy. "I can, you know, teach you again. And you cover the skiing thing--" Ray swallows hard when he hears his voice crack. "You wanna sleep?"

"Yes. Please."

Ray pulls back and collapses on his stomach, clutching the pillow to fight down the urge to crawl across the bed and--something. Turning his head a little, he can see Fraser's as awake as he is, even with his eyes closed. This isn't going to work. Ray gets up on both elbows, which gets Fraser's attention instantly.

"What time is it?"

Fraser considers; he has some kind of scary time-thing in his head. "About three-thirty."

Jesus. "Want breakfast? Maybe practice that tracking at night thing?" There's no way they can both get through the next three hours just laying here. It ain't happening. Adrenaline is slamming through him so hard that he's pretty sure Fraser could point him toward a bear and Ray would be *all over that* and maybe not even with a gun.

"That's a very practical idea," Fraser says enthusiastically, getting up so quickly that Ray suspects he was thinking pretty much the same thing. "Any preference?"

"No," Ray manages, mouth dry. "I'll--hit the shower first."

"Excellent."

This is as close as Ray will probably ever come to seeing Benton Fraser in a full retreat, and it would be so much funnier if he wasn't making for the bathroom like it's his last great hope for sanity.

Shower. Yeah. That'll help.

*****

The problem with being urban-bred is that Ray had never pegged himself as outdoorsy, when nothing in Chicago really *qualified*. A park does not make a country, so really, no way Ray could have seen *this* coming.

But Jesus Christ, this is *great*. This is fantastic. This is *fun*. He, Ray Kowalski, has looked into nature and it *flinched*. And maybe he'll never be as good at this shit as Fraser, but he's better at it than he ever could have imagined he could be. And he *likes* it.

Which is his only even half-way reasonable explanation for what happened yesterday evening after Fraser finally figured out how to not blush when he cheats.

Eyeing him warily (Ray hasn't been able to keep still since Fraser agreed), Fraser gives him his pack, in preparation for abandoning him to his fate in the middle of nowhere even more nowhere than the cabin. Somewhere, a hundred generations of ancestral Polish peasants and his grandfather are looking down at him and laughing their dead asses off, he can *feel* it.

"Orienteering," Fraser says in the ponderous tones of Ray's Philosophy 101 professor. "It's a common activity for youth in many countries to learn basic navigation in unknown territory." He hesitates. "However, it's usually done in far more controlled conditions than Canadian wilderness. And with far more practice. And--to be honest, Ray, this is nothing like it at all."

"So some differences, big deal." Ray squints. "You can entertain yourself by making fun of me to Dief while you wait."

Fraser licks his lips nervously, leaving the lower one glossy; Ray finds himself staring and almost stops himself, then--doesn't. He looks, studying the curve of Fraser's mouth, the flash of teeth, soft pink lips, and lets Fraser see him doing it. Then he lazily looks up, watching Fraser flush. "I--will refrain."

"Because Dief's following me, ain't he?"

Fraser gives up and nods as Dief comes up from behind Fraser's legs with a bark of agreement. "Yes. He is. Though I doubt he'll be needed."

Ray kind of wants to says something about how by now, he thinks he can hack it, and maybe a dig about trust, but knowing Fraser, it's this or Fraser will follow him himself. "I can do this, you know."

"I'm sure you can," Fraser says, leaning against a tree, doing his Mountie best not to look worried. "You understand how to send up a signal if you cannot find your way back."

"And will cry into my long johns until you rescue me from the hostile shrubs," Ray retorts. Checking the sun just breaking the horizon, he takes a deep breath. "So we done here?"
Silence. Ray turns back around, but Fraser's gone. Kaputz. Like he was never there at all. Ray blinks, glancing at Dief, who is supremely unconcerned by vanishing Mounties. "So. We doing this?"

Dief barks cheerfully and comes over, nudging Ray's hand. Sitting down, he cocks his head and waits, but Dief doesn't try to nose him in the right direction. "Good boy. No cheating." Check the sun. Check the compass. Stare at the trees. Start to laugh, because how crazy is this? So fucking nuts. Who the hell else in their right mind would do this? "This is incredibly stupid, you know that?"

Well, you wanted to impress him, the cock of Dief's head seems to say.

"Stella was a lot easier than this." God. He's talking to a *wolf*. And thinking he's *answering*. Ray shakes himself, checks again, then points. "Thataway. Hey. If you see any bears, tell me?"

Dief barks. Ray hopes that's an affirmative.

*****

When it starts raining, Ray sits down on the nearest rock and laughs so hard that Dief looks at him worriedly. Ray wipes his face and looks up at the sky. "You know," he says to Dief, getting back up, feeling wobbly and a little drunk, which is crazy since he's at least four weeks from having tasted anything stronger than cooking vanilla, "right now, Fraser just started freaking out, right?"

Dief barks in what sounds like agreement. Ray ruffles his fur cheerfully.

"Exactly. Next time he jumps off a roof? He'll remember this. Let's go."

*****

The actual exercise, by Fraser's freaky timing, would take about five hours. Ray takes eight and a half because Dief suddenly discovered hormones and took off and damned if Ray was going to let Dief get in trouble. And maybe, just maybe, Ray got a little lost there for a bit. No big deal.

Fraser, predictably, is waiting on the porch, and Ray has to stop again and choke back a laugh to see the shotgun lying against the door. Dief gets ahead of him, running up to greet Fraser, which is a mistake, because even in the rain and pissed, Fraser's apparently perfectly capable of recognizing just-got-laid smugness even in a wolf.

"You *didn't*," Fraser says in a voice that sounds a lot like Ray's dad when he found the cigarettes under Ray's pillow when he was fifteen. "Diefenbaker--"

"We were fine. Great." Wet. Cold. Exhausted. Mildly crazy. Amazing. Ray takes the steps two at a time, drops the pack as soon as he gets to solid wood, and smells something that hopefully is already fully cooked, because right now, he ain't picky. "How was your day, dear?"

Fraser's jaw twitches, eyes darting between Dief (whose tail is bent in something approximating guilt), to Ray, then back again, obviously torn. Ray makes it easy--hooking an arm around Fraser's neck, he pulls him bodily toward the door, waving Dief off behind his back. "It's all good. Nice little nature walk. Trees. Stuff. God, I'm hungry."

"I--" Fraser tries to glare backward, but Dief, not being at all stupid, already took off. Probably to find the love of his night or something, because rain apparently is no impediment to good sex. Or maybe just waiting Fraser out, who will feel guilty about leaving him outside and hand feed him when he wanders back. "I made dinner."

"Greatness." Ray starts toward the kitchen and inexplicably finds himself stopped short with a hand in the collar of his shirt. "The hell--"

"Shower before you get chilled," Fraser says with that edge in his voice that's usually pointed at particularly obnoxious criminals or when Turnball tells him how much he enjoys servicing him. Ray swallows another laugh, because yeah, he's cold and tired and jeans *chafe*, though weird how he didn't notice until now.

"'Kay."

*****

A very hot shower later, Ray realizes abruptly that he has no clothes.

"Fraser!" he shouts, clutching the towel and searching desperately for clothes he knows were here at some point in the last week. *Now* he's cold. The rain's gotten a lot worse, temperature dropping with it, coming down heavy enough there's a fairly good chance Fraser might not hear him. There's been some kind of laundry thing going on that Ray's vaguely aware Fraser does every week, since clean clothes keep showing up, but Ray's never gotten around to asking about that.

However, it's raining, and there's a real lack of clothing here. Ray sucks in a breath and turns around, blindly opening drawers until he finds a clean pair of sweatpants in the bottom drawer, shoved to the back. Picking them up, the material is thin and obviously worn, soft against his hands; smaller than he'd have thought, too. Maybe from Fraser's teens, when he was still growing, all bones and skin and earnest eyes. Probably irritating as shit, too. All that too-smart politeness wrapped up in a half-grown package; he must have driven people *nuts*.

Pulling them on, he hunts up a t-shirt, equally worn, probably as old. Does he keep every piece of clothing he's ever had? Probably. Waste not, want not, all that jazz. It's comfortable, but Ray can't quite make himself go to the door yet. They smell clean, a little woodsy from the dresser, and a lot like Fraser. It occurs to him a little dazedly he also doesn't have boxers and stops that thought right when it starts, because that can't go anywhere he needs to be going right now.

So. Door. Right there. Got it.

Luckily, Fraser's doing something with a pot and a spoon, which means Ray has cover to get to the couch, sit down, look casual, not get--

"Ray, I forgot to tell you, your clothes--" Fraser cuts off so abruptly that Ray just has to look up. There's a long, long second where Fraser doesn't say anything at all, just looks at him with blue eyes gone a little glassy. "I see you--took care of that, then."

Ray plucks at the shirt. Not awkward. Not awkward. "Uh, yeah." He thinks vaguely maybe he's supposed to apologize, but what were his options? Naked dinner? No way in hell. Food and nudity mix only strictly controlled conditions. "Just uh--something--" Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.

"No. That's fine." Abruptly, Fraser turns back around, mumbling something about cooking times and unattended fire the leading cause of home accidents, statistics included, but his heart's not in it. Ray picks up a book and pretends they both aren't acting like idiots over something as stupid as clothes.

Maybe he should get his glasses. He can't read a single word.

*****

It takes him way too long to realize it's not because of his eyes, but because it's fucking *French*, but Fraser doesn't say a thing. Maybe assumes Ray's always been a sucker for pictures of snow.

Dinner helps, though. Truth is, there ain't much that smoothes things over like food, assuming there's something to be smoothed, which there is *not*. Rabbit again, which kind of gives Ray a feeling of accomplishment--he, Ray Kowalski, personally killed and skinned this dinner item. Doesn't make it tastier, but taste is a lot less important than the glow of satisfaction that he is now a provider of food.

Fraser--talks. One thing you can count on, rain or shine, weird awkward weirdness or not--Fraser can talk. And he does. He gets thirty minutes of the history of the Territories (first helping), a fifteen minute digression into modern changes in Canadian government structures (second helping), twenty on Inuit customs in regard to trade (dishwashing), and ends it with something about mail routes (Ray has no idea what Fraser's doing in the kitchen now). Ray nods at rough intervals and gets his spot on the couch and *Call of the Wild*, because if you squint, it's educational and also in a language he can actually read. Sled dogs. Snow. Very relevant to his life.

Fraser lets Dief in after only five minutes of slowly escalating scratching and stares at him until he finally barks apologetically, looking ashamed. "I hope you've learned something from this," Fraser says severely, then goes to feed him.

Ray's just getting into the story when his feet are nudged; lifting his legs, he waits until he's pretty sure Fraser's sitting and sets them back down, suddenly perfectly comfortable, like the evening just slipped into place. It's raining outside but warm in here, he's got a book, Fraser, and some sort of tea that's almost as good as coffee. There's even Dief curled up on the rug nearby, sleeping the sleep of the well-laid. Sure, beer and a game would be nice, but this isn't bad at all.

A few more pages pass before it occurs to Ray that Fraser's pretty quiet, even for Fraser. Scratch that: *especially* for Fraser and a more-or-less captive audience.

"Hey." Lowering the book, Ray sees Fraser has the French book open, but something tells Ray he's not really here, no matter what he looks like he's doing. "Fraser. Fraser. *Fraser*."

"What?"

Did he just--snap? Ray blinks. "You okay over there?"

The lack of an instant reply is worrying. "The weather seems to be escalating," Fraser says. Ray can't believe it. Fraser is actually talking about *weather*. "I had thought it would blow over quickly."

"Okay." Ray waits. Gotta be more to it than that. "And?"

Fraser hesitates again. "It may be a week at least before it passes over." He must see Ray's blank look. "There won't be a great deal to do until then."

"You lived in the Yukon. In blizzards."

Fraser doesn't blink. "I prefer cold to wet," he says, voice tight. Ray thinks about the differences inherent between snow (cold, lots of it) and rain (cool, lots of it) and draws a mental line connecting f to m. "You don't like getting muddy."

Fraser doesn't answer. Ray grins for a second--mud! Mountie!--but the reality descends suddenly. This is not Chicago. There aren't a lot of dry places to go here.

Up to now, pretty much all the daylight hours are outside, and a lot of it not necessarily together. And doing things. Lots of things, though Ray only has a hazy idea of all the things Fraser actually does when he isn't tutoring Ray on How to Survive For a Few Extra Minutes in the North, but there are things. Fraser is a very active guy, and it was more than being in a city that made Fraser hate his job. Being trapped inside all day was definitely a big part of it.

Which brings everything back to the bed thing: Fraser probably hasn't had to live with anyone since he left the Depot. Ray had broken him of the habit of staying home and reading early in their friendship (though he admits that was as much about his own loneliness as Fraser himself, at least at first), but spending evenings or weekends with someone is a far cry from living with someone, and that, Fraser doesn't know how to do.

Ray, however, had lived with Stella, and if he's honest with himself, the first few months after the honeymoon was over were a living hell until they finally got to the point where they'd worn off the jagged edges and got used to each other.

Ray figures he and Fraser are two years past getting one of those.

Living with someone, though, Ray knows. Sure, they have no TV or stereo (he should bring one up here next time), no telephone, and basically no distractions but Dief, books, cards, and each other. (Ray adds board games to the list; Fraser would kick ass at Monopoly.) Point is, Ray's been there, done that, and at least Fraser won't try and shave his legs in the living room or something.

"What do you usually do?" Ray asks curiously.

Looking less tense, Fraser leans forward, one arm resting on Ray's calves, warm and heavy. "Repairs, usually. Additions." He gestures toward the bookshelves, and Ray considers the idea that to entertain himself, Fraser actually builds his own furniture. "Actually," and now he sounds surprised, "I don't think I've stayed here longer than a few days."

And when he's here, of course there's crap to do. All the normal homeowner things (whatever those are) compressed into a few days. Ray, who has been apartment bound since the day he was born, is fuzzy on the details.

Closing the book, Ray picks at his shirt thoughtfully, and abruptly remembers laundry. "Um, my clothes." Before it can get awkward over whatever makes *that* awkward, Ray rushes on. "Where are they?"

"I moved them to the garage," is the comforting reply. "But with the drop in temperature and the humidity, even if we had some place to hang them in here, they will take several days to dry."

Ray nods dumbly. Speaking of. "I can do my own laundry." Now it hits--not just shirts and jeans, but--everything else. "How *are* you doing it anyway?" Ray suddenly remembers his grandmother's washboard with a flash of horror. No. Jesus Christ and every saint he learned in Sunday school, no.

"I have a washer," Fraser says, every word carefully spaced for maximum sarcasm. Noted, thanks. "The dryer, however, is not--reliable."

"Want me to take a look at it tomorrow?"

Fraser brightens, probably at the prospect of something new to do.

"Of course."

Activity for tomorrow--fix a dryer. Greatness. That leaves them--the rest of the week. In a small cabin. Together. With no TV.

Going back to his book, Ray tries to remember where he left off. The warmth against his leg never moves, and Ray finds himself paying more attention to that than he thinks he should.

Dogs. Dogsled. Wilderness. Got it.

*****

Interestingly, Fraser's started not being quite so corpse-like in bed. There's movement, and maybe some pillow-shifting, and while the line of his-side, his-side is still there, it's blurrier. Like, a hand went over one night. Kind of shocking. A foot pushing his knee out of the way. Blanket stealing, which is a really *bad* habit but not one Ray really fought at first, because he's an old hand at getting them back and Fraser's hand-eye coordination is kind of shot at two in the morning.

Fraser's *relaxing*. It's--actually, it's pretty damn cool. Right up until tonight.

Grabbing the edge of the blanket, Ray rolls hard before Fraser gets it one single *inch*. "Stop that," he mutters, only half-awake, curling it under his body and lying on top of it. He's almost asleep again when he feels the pull again, slow and almost *stealthy*, and he's shifting over to let it go just as the first stream of cool air hits him.

Fully awake, Ray gets his edge and rolls on his stomach with the blanket until there's no cold, humid air, and Fraser has no blanket at all. This kind of thing has to be dealt with fast and hard or they'll be fighting for covers the rest of their lives, and Ray isn't looking forward to dealing with that shit every night.

"Ray."

Fraser's voice is lower than Ray ever remembers it being, with a husky edge that freezes his next words in his throat. Swallowing, he looks over at Fraser, messy-haired and slightly flushed, surprised by the sudden start of heat low in his belly.

No, not surprised. Resigned, maybe. Accepting. Letting out his breath, Ray gives himself a second. "Stealing blankets is not buddies, Frase."

A beat. "My apologies, Ray," in the most normal Fraser voice imaginable. "I'll be more careful."

Rolling back over, Ray checks his distance from the line, then shifts over until he's nearly on it, letting Fraser pull back his half of the blankets and settle himself again. A few minutes later, Fraser's asleep, and Ray stares up at the ceiling, unfinished boards holding back the entirety of the storm howling outside, which ain't nothing compared to the drama going on in Ray's head at the moment.

He thinks he maybe should be freaked out, or running for the couch, or the border, or *something*. But mostly, he's just relieved, bone-deep and spreading through him like warm honey, relaxing parts of him he hadn't even known were tense, had been tense for too long. The other answer to the question, maybe; *why did you say yes?*

Finally, something murmurs in his head that sounds a lot like Fraser's voice. Figure it out now?

Yeah, got it.

*****

The dryer's about Ray's age and exactly the kind Ray knows best. It's not a challenge, but Fraser's interested and Ray finds himself explaining what he's doing step by step, and then once it's working, pulling it open *again* just for the hell of it and teaching Fraser everything he ever learned about appliance repair. Growing up, repairs were a way of life at the laundromat ,and Ray paid attention to the guys in their stained coveralls who didn't mind a quiet kid who just wanted to watch them work. He's always been good with his hands; engines, toasters, coffeemakers; if it ran on electricity, there's a good chance he can fix it and a better chance he'll enjoy doing it.

Fraser picks it up fast, no surprise there, and follows Ray's explanations pretty easily, filling in when Ray's not sure of the words to use and asking for clarification when the Chicago to Canadian translations fail. That leads to the washer, since hey a set, why not do both, and to car repair, which Ray is an expert at and only wishes the GTO was here so he could *really* show Fraser what he's talking about.

That takes up a lot of the day--along with drying the rest of Ray's clothes since lounging in Fraser's sweats and another t-shirt that seems to have the odd effect of making Fraser easily distractible. Luckily, the dryer's about as old as the permafrost up north and dries low heat and slow as hell, taking frequent breaks to cool down before starting again. He may get another day out of this.

Fraser plays with Dief--well, more like full contact wrestling with a side of annoyed responses to whatever Dief's telling him--"I am *not* losing my edge. I simply don't have canines." and "--one more word about marking territory and you will sleep outside tonight." and "I'll tell you when I know, but thank you for the truly useless advice," while Ray cooks and thinks this is a hell of a lot more interesting than TV. Stew is nicely low-attention, and Ray leaves it to check out who won.

He thinks Fraser did, by the irritated way Dief looks at him. Then two sets of eyes fix on Ray in interest, and Dief's tail goes up hopefully.

"Uh, no." Ray waves both hands; he can already see where this is going and Ray's ego is just not up to that, like, ever. "No."

"Ray," Fraser says, trying to smooth his hair from the mess Dief made of it and failing with hypnotizing results, "wolves have a genetic imperative to establish dominance within the pack. You're confusing him."

Dief agrees, tail flickering cheerfully.

"He's only half-wolf," Ray points out, mapping the distance between himself and the couch and trying not to look at the rumpled man sitting on the floor like a kid, glowing with energy and smiling like he's imagining Ray yelling uncle already.

"Instinct is instinct, Ray."

"You just want to see me fighting off Dief." More like, crawling away desperately covered in wolf hair. Sure Ray can fight, but he's not convinced tactics that work on people work on something that has sharp teeth and knows how to use them.

"Well. Yes." Fraser draws up one knee, jeans riding up to expose an inch of pale skin above the sagging wool of his sock. Ray shakes himself before he can start staring. "Or you could fight me."

Ray stumbles, knows he does, and hopes the rug edge was close enough for Fraser to assume that's what caused it.

"I'd lose." In a fair fight, Fraser's got both the reach and weight, and Ray's pretty sure Fraser's better at dirty tricks then he's ever let on. "Showing throat now. Done."

Fraser watches him for just a little too long. "Very well." Standing up, Fraser opens the door, letting Dief out. "Try to be back before nightfall. I won't get out of bed because you lost track of time. Nor will Ray."

Dief snorts and goes out with another speculative glance at Ray. When the door's closed, Fraser shakes his head. "He's getting lazy."

"Getting laid, you mean," Ray mutters, trying desperately to get interested in his book. Mostly he's thinking about rolling on the floor with Fraser and how it would be the shortest fight in history. Now that he knows, he wants, Christ, does he want, and there's not a repair job in sight. He has stew that's cooking and a book.

"Hmm." From the sound, he's at the bookshelves. Ray sucks in a breath and stares at the page. Chapter four. It's interesting. There's snow. It's about the north. Completely useless as a distraction.

Christ, it's going to be a long evening.

*****

Between food, the sudden discovery of an unopened box of books ("I don't remember buying these," Fraser says, confused, and Ray has to wonder, because Fraser's weird, but no one really buys that many *Southern Living* cook books, do they?), and a short, bitter, and ultimately pointless argument over curling versus baseball, Ray doesn't have any time to worry about obvious physical reactions to his best friend until he's half-asleep and Fraser does this stupid *breathing* thing. Boom. Done. Like it's been a slow burn all day, he's so hard he can't even *see straight*.

There's also some kind of weird noise that doesn't sound like the storm, and Ray feels something's missing. If bloodflow hadn't pretty much stopped going to his head, he might even figure out *what*.

Abruptly, Fraser mutters something, and even though Ray's not sure he can be trusted to know English the way he feels right now, he recognizes that word.

"Did you just say--" Ray pushes up on one elbow and stares in Fraser's direction. There's not nearly enough light to see it, but the embarrassment radiating from the other side of the bed convinces him. "You said fuck."

"Diefenbaker wants to come inside," Fraser says after a pause. Then, "Perhaps I--"

"Lemme get this straight. Tied up and shot at and *almost drowning* ain't enough to get you going, but having to get out of bed does it?"

"It's rather cold," Fraser mutters, checks himself, and sighs, covering his face with one hand. "I'm becoming as lazy as Diefenbaker."

Ray snickers and sits up, wincing when his feet hit the floor. "I'll get him," he offers. Cold, but that's kind of a boon here, what with the--well, cold is good. "Just wallow there. You owe me."

"You don't have to," Fraser offers without any real resistance. Ray rolls his eyes and shivers as he crosses the cold floor, getting a few less-cold seconds on the rug before opening the door. Yeah, that takes care of *that*--cold, wet air and Dief brushing against his legs and stealing even the memory of warmth. Closing the door, Ray locks his jaw to keep his teeth from chattering and follows Dief into the bedroom and crawls back into his now-cold space.

"Ray?'

Locking his jaw, Ray forces his voice steady. "'M fine."

The hand that suddenly appears on his hip is so surprising he actually stop shivering. There's a pause, like he's being checked for a reaction, then he's being--maneuvered, there's no other word for it--and he's not even fighting it, because he's crazy but not stupid. Then Fraser is pressed warm and solid against his back and Ray forgets what cold feels like.

"You're cold," Fraser says unnecessarily, like Ray had done something dumb like ask. Warm breath drifts against the back of his neck, hand on his hip flexing briefly. Fraser doesn't lie, but whatever the fuck they're doing, but it ain't just getting warmer. Not sleeping, either: this close, Ray can feel the rise and fall of Fraser's chest, hear his heartbeat in the quiet, hear his own, and the hand on his hip hasn't moved, burning through the sweatpants and into Ray's skin.

A few long minutes pass, then Dief sits up, head a white blur as he studies them before makes for the floor so fast he leaves skidmarks in the air. Smart wolf.

Ray tenses again at the brush of hair, then Fraser's forehead, hot against the back of his head. "Go to sleep," Fraser says finally.

He's got to be kidding. The hand on his hip shifts, smoothing up his ribs over the cotton shirt, slow and easy like he'd stroke Dief, like he'd calm an animal, and Ray hadn't even realized he was shaking.

"Fraser," he whispers.

Fingers stutter over his ribs, slide down, pressing against the bare skin of his belly warm and firm. Just a little pressure, and apparently, there had been some distance between them, because suddenly, he can feel Fraser hard against his ass. "Fuck."

"Shh," is breathed into his skin, followed by teeth pressing lightly against the base of his neck.

Ray covers Fraser's hand with his, dropping his head. "You--you know--"

Fingers lace through his own, trapping his hand. "I know." Damp heat settles on his neck again, making him shiver again, and Fraser's hand rubs slow circles over his stomach, hypnotizing and soothing. "Go to sleep."

He doesn't think he can, not with Fraser this close and doing--whatever the fuck he's doing, but the slow stroking does the trick; vaguely, he's aware of the blankets being pulled closer around them, Fraser warm against him from head to feet, curving to fit his body, and after that, nothing at all.

part 3


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Due South fic! This is amazing, I love it. One note however-- in the second to last paragraph of this section, is Fraser holding Ray's hand and rubbing his stomach with the same hand? Or are both arms around him? I was confused.

THank you!

Ooh, I'll check that before I start formatting it for my webpage. Thanks again!

ds slash, my favorite! This is lovely.


a) I'm loving this.

b) Shuffling the cards expertly, Ray watches Fraser's eyes narrow in thought, rewinding through ten games and looking for the tells. There aren't any; Ray's been playing since he hit puberty. Can't get it passed a pro, maybe, not without a lot of practice and maybe a death wish, but it got passed his Mountie. There's no way not to love that. "So?" Passed = past?


The slow build of this is just WONDERFUL. Just what I needed today.

Can't get it passed a pro, maybe, not without a lot of practice and maybe a death wish, but it got passed his Mountie.

Hey,love, the woid is "past." Sneaking past somebody.


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