The thing about Fraser is, he doesn't listen. Never. Not when Ray tells him to keep his head down, 'cause some nut with a gun is shooting at them again. Not when Ray tells him to stay home because he's had the flu for the past week. And apparently not even when Ray goes undercover and tells Fraser not to follow him.
So he's making a deal with this totally evil chick, Sela -- hundred grand for ten kilos of heroin, which is a fucking rip-off -- and the idea is, he's gonna fake her out of it. No money, just a whole bunch of cops popping out of the woodworks. As far as his plans go, it's a pretty good one, and it's going exactly according to schedule right up until Fraser walks in the alley.
"Good evening, ma'am," Fraser says, tipping his hat. "How are you, on this very fine night?"
"Uh-huh." Sela tosses her dyed red hair over her shoulder and turns that little pout on Ray. "What's this, Brad?"
"Um." Ray's mind races. Fraser's in uniform. Why the hell is Fraser in uniform? Why the hell is Fraser even here?
Typical Mountie's thought ahead, though; he pulls an envelope out of his belt and holds it out to Ray. Ray hopes to God that Fraser's meaningful look'll just look like subordination, or whatever the opposite of insubordination is. "Oh, yeah, sorry -- they sent a Mountie in with the money, see. Totally brilliant."
"And why is that, exactly?"
"Uh, well, my associates, they got this sense of humor, great on the job. And there's this rumor going around that Mounties don't lie, so they figured they'll send in a Mountie. Genius." Ray grins desperately. Plans are not supposed to have Mounties chucked in somewhere along the way. It's not like adding an extra teaspoon of sugar to your coffee.
Sela nods slowly. Not the brightest of crooks, which is probably why he's still alive. Still, he keeps his eye on the gun in her hand. "So, they do lie."
"Oh, no ma'am." Ray wipes the grin off his face. "No, no, they're just very very, um, smart. And careful. And thorough." Ray's not lying either, see. He's just got to pretend he's discussing Fraser in bed, rather than Fraser undercover in an alley. Okay, that's actually maybe not a good way to go, in these pants. "Um, anyway, money's here now, so -- " He holds the envelope out.
She takes it, squinting at him suspiciously. "How many zeros?"
"Uh. Hah. See, I make it a point not to -- "
"Eight, ma'am," Fraser says, with his little helpful smile.
Ray's eyes fall out of his head. Fortunately, Sela's too busy being charmed by Fraser to notice. "Eight, you say?"
"Eight, yes." Fraser leans in, like he's about to tell a big secret. "I counted them myself."
"Oh, did you now."
"Fraser," Ray hisses, because he's pretty sure that whatever Fraser's planning, it's probably going to get them all killed.
Fraser doesn't listen, which is just -- well, okay, it's pretty normal. "Indeed I did. I would hardly jeopardize a transaction of this nature."
"Mm. Well, I think you have very little to worry about," Sela says, smiling sickeningly. "You've been very, very generous." She turns to Ray, smirking. "Well. It seems your associates think more of my product than you do."
"Yeah," Ray mutters weakly. He's got no clue what's going on anymore.
She waves the envelope carelessly towards the mouth of the alley. "You can go. I'll deliver tomorrow morning."
Ray nods, and decides he'd better go while the going's good. Fraser lets him go first, polite as ever; they get halfway down the alley, and nobody's shooting at them yet. End of the alley, and they can hear her tearing the envelope open, but still nobody's shooting at them. And then she says, "Hang on, what the hell is -- "
"Freeze!" somebody yells, and then Fraser's arm is around Ray's shoulders and dragging him down, down, and somebody's shooting somewhere but Fraser's got him. They're okay.
"Jesus Christ," Ray gasps. "What the hell did you give her?"
Fraser peers into the alley. "A water bottle label."
"Sorry, say that again? I thought you said you gave her a water bottle label."
Fraser looks back at him, wearing that earnest face. You know, the one that always means trouble. "That's exactly what I did say."
Ray thinks about this. He thinks about this while Fraser hails them a cab. He thinks about it while the cab takes the long way to the precinct. He thinks about it until Fraser figures out that he's not getting much conversation and starts watching him. "Okay. Why'd you give her a water bottle label?"
"It has eight zeros on it."
Ray nods. This makes sense. Lots of sense. "And where'd the eight zeros come from?"
"Oh, from the bottling plant, I would assume. They are required by law to print the nutrition facts."
And finally it clicks. "You idiot!" he howls, grinning like a maniac. "You total freak -- "
Fraser's eyes twinkle, and Ray freezes. Shit, he's done it now; he said the F-word. "A freak, did you say?" Fraser says slowly, a slow smile spreading across his lips.
"Uh. Not, you know, a freak, I didn't mean that. I just meant, you know. A normal kind of freak."
So, this turns out to be a mistake, because then Fraser decides that he has to stop the cab and blow him in a passing alley. Ray protests, sure, but Fraser just pins Ray's hips to the wall, unbuckles Ray's pants, and sucks him until Ray's shaking and gasping and chewing on his own wrist so he won't yell and bring the cops running. "Jesus, Fraser, stop," he hisses against his own skin, arching up into Fraser's mouth. "Stop, don't -- Oh, God, no, no no -- " and then he's coming, sagging down against the wall, body way too happy to do anything coordinated like getting up and moving.
That, Fraser says, is freakish. He feels Ray needs to understand his vocabulary, and that he will only learn by way of example. Which, sure, perfect fantasy material, but not half as comfortable as you might think in real life. Ray should know; he calls Fraser a freak a hell of a lot. Mostly, it's just force of habit.
The thing is, Ray's pretty used to Fraser not listening to him. That's what makes him the annoying Mountie he is. In fact, the only time Fraser had listened to him, where it really mattered, was hooking up in the first place. So it's not like Ray was expecting Fraser to do a U-turn with their partnership; not that they'd ever talked about it, or anything, but it was a kind of unspoken rule that they couldn't change the partnership. Hell, it wasn't like they needed Welsh suspecting them of being anything other than partners.
So when all that shit with Warfield goes down -- sure, Ray knows he's right in theory. Most of the time, when he and Fraser ain't seeing eye to eye, it's 'cause Ray's being practical and Fraser's too busy being a superhero to listen. You ask anybody -- specifically, you ask Welsh -- and they'll tell you that no way is Warfield going to get busted for slapping some kid in a restaurant. Never happened in a million years, definitely not going to happen now, and it doesn't matter who you are or how pissy you get when people tell you the basic rules of living in America.
But he also knows that Fraser's going to pull some stupid shit without asking him first. That's just the way Fraser rolls. And when Fraser gets a beating in the back alley behind Warfield's club -- that's Ray's fault, that's Ray's fault for actually listening to Fraser telling him that he doesn't need back-up, because everybody needs back-up and Ray should've known better. It's his fault for not being there when he should've been, plain and simple.
So when Fraser brushes off all of Ray's attempts to help him out, take him the hospital, do something -- Ray figures that was all 'cause this was work, and Fraser'd been disappointed in him as a partner, even if he'd never say that. Besides, Fraser never wants to go to the hospital, and he hates looking weak. Just your basic superiority complex.
So Ray tries to do what he can: he chews Welsh out, which would maybe get him fired if he and Fraser didn't have such a good solve rate. He gets the whole damn precinct up in Warfield's face, and when they're done, Fraser's won.
But when Ray finally gets Fraser alone in the car, he figures that work's over, and that maybe he can do what he's been wanting to for the past six hours. Push his fingers through Fraser's hair, check the bump under it. Stroke those tender ribs, kiss that bruised lip -- just fucking take care of him, because he obviously needs it. That annoying Mountie optimism's taken a pretty hard hit, and Ray knows that if it'd been him, Fraser would...well, Fraser had taken care of him, right there in Beth Botrelle's driveway.
But he's barely said Fraser's name, barely put a hand out to touch him, when Fraser says, "Please, Ray -- just take me home. To the Consulate." And even though Fraser's been spending most of his nights at Ray's apartment since they started this...thing, he didn't really need to say exactly what he meant by home. He's all pulled into himself, all tight control and Arctic-Circle-winter-cold shoulder, and if Ray tried to bring him back out he'd probably freeze solid on his way into his side of the car.
He can't comfort that. He's tried, with Fraser and even with Stella, and it's never worked. He's just got to let the guy melt a little, and maybe then he'll be able to relax enough to get a little TLC. So he drives Fraser home, gets a quick kiss good-night for his trouble, and that's that.
They tiptoe around each other at the Christmas party the next day, which is hell -- but by the time they get out of there, Fraser's looking a little happier. Maybe it's the picture Santa brought him, or maybe he's just pumped about Warfield being put away. Ray's not gonna question it, whatever it is.
"Ah, Ray," Fraser says, falling into step with him as they walk into the parking lot, "I just wanted to thank you. For everything."
Ray can feel his ears turning red. "What for? I didn't do anything you wouldn't've done for me."
Fraser's thumb twitches up to his eyebrow. "Nonetheless, I fear I was less than grateful last night, and -- well, I just wanted to make sure that you weren't feeling underappreciated."
Translation: I'm dumb, and I'm sorry.
It actually turns out they're pretty good together. Ray's not gonna lie; when he woke up that first morning, he wondered just how much he'd had to drink. He had. It's what you do when you wake up with eyes that feel hard-boiled, and look over to find a naked guy sleeping next to you.
'Course, it probably helped that he'd been totally sober, so he eventually ended up remembering exactly what'd happened the night before. Well, maybe not exactly, but the important bits, which were also not real surprising bits when you knew the naked guy was Fraser. It'd been good. Maybe even the best sex ever, though he's pretty fuzzy on the details. But he remembers that there was a moment, somewhere in there; one of those "oh, shit," kind of moments, when you figure out that you're in this good and there's no way in hell you're gonna get out easy.
The point is, they work good together. They've had their rough bits, sure -- Fraser's too jealous a guy for Ray not to have a little fun with him. It pays back in the end, most of the time, because Fraser's kind of hot when he's pissed, and he's even hotter when he's possessive. Well, okay, with Maggie'd they'd both gone way too far, and Dief'd gotten all snippy at the both of them for it. Huge, huge mess.
But it's good. It is. It's good living with Fraser. It's good, having somebody to make sure he doesn't fall asleep on the couch. It's even good to snap at Dief for shedding everywhere. It feels good enough to maybe do forever.
And then suddenly Vecchio shows up, out of nowhere, and Fraser's not Fraser anymore.
"Where're you going?" Ray asks softly, watching Fraser putter around their bedroom.
Fraser looks up at him, eyes crinkling. "Oh, evening, Ray. I didn't know you'd come back."
"Yeah, well, you'll miss little things like that if you whistle Beethoven while you work." Ray parks a hip against the doorframe. "You didn't answer my question."
"Ah, sorry." Fraser swipes his hat off the bed and surveys the room. "I'm going to be spending the night in Ray's hotel room."
And just like that, Ray's suddenly not too sure how good this thing of theirs is. "What, you mean you're not coming back tonight?"
"I don't think it would be advisable, no. The more traffic to and from his hotel, the higher the risk someone will begin to suspect he's there. Besides, we have much to discuss before the meet tomorrow." Except for the hat, Fraser's in civvies: black leather jacket, blue flannel shirt. Tight, tight jeans -- which, sure, Fraser always wears his jeans kind of tight, but still. If Ray didn't know better, he'd think Fraser was disguising himself as some kind of farmer-style rent-boy.
"So maybe I should come with you."
"Oh, that won't be necessary. Ray will soon be here to drop Diefenbaker off; I'll ride back with him. Don't worry, Dief's usually very good company."
Ray folds his arms and gives his boots a good, long look. He is not going to kick Fraser in the head. He is going to use his words. No boots. "No, I mean maybe I should come along, talk about the meet, stuff like that."
"Oh." Fraser straightens suddenly, like he'd never even thought of that. "Oh, no. I'm sure Lieutenant Welsh will brief you tomorrow morning."
Ray just stares at him; after a minute of that Fraser buys a clue and wraps his arms around Ray's shoulders. Feels good, sure, but it doesn't really fix anything. "You mean to tell me," Ray growls into Fraser's shoulder, "that for the first time in my whole career, I've got an international espionage case on my hands, and you're not gonna let me in on it?"
"A good night's sleep would do you good."
"Ray, please." Fraser pulls back and holds him at arm's length, like he's giving some kid a talking to. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
"Nothing's gonna happen to me! I mean, sure, I'm a cop, but I'm not a dead cop. I'm a real live totally fine cop, and this is our job, so let's fucking go already," Ray snaps, snatching his jacket from the back of the couch.
"Ray." Fraser catches Ray's face between his palms, and when Ray looks up at him, he actually looks a little scared. Fraser's never scared. "Tomorrow, you'll be on the front lines with the rest of us. There's no avoiding that. But tonight, if I can, I want to keep you safe." Fraser's lips curve up, but he doesn't look any happier. When he speaks again, his voice is quiet and rough. "You know, my father didn't just hate Muldoon. He was afraid. And if my father feared Muldoon, then Muldoon must have known how to take something from him that truly mattered." His thumbs stroke back over Ray's ears. "Of course, there was very little that mattered to my father, so I don't know what that might have been. But I do know that you matter to me, and if Muldoon wants you, then -- then he can't have you." His hands are starting to shake against Ray's cheeks. "I won't let him."
Ray has to look away. "Yeah, well, that's not too generous of you."
"Where you're concerned? Never." There's a knock at the door; Fraser clears his throat and takes a step back. "That'll be Ray. So -- you'll stay, then?"
Ray shrugs. It's not like Fraser's left him too many choices. "I guess."
"Good." Fraser opens the door, and Dief bolts in, followed by Vecchio. "Evening, Ray. I hope he didn't give you too much trouble?"
Dief whines, and stalks off into the bedroom.
Vecchio shrugs, grinning like a guy who knows exactly what he's doing and who he is. Bastard. "Nah, no trouble. I think he's mad at you, though."
"Well. It wouldn't be the first time." Fraser sighs, and reaches for the door handle. "Ah -- good night, Ray. I'll see you in the morning." For a second something like regret flashes across his face; but then it's gone, and it's back to business.
As it turns out, there's nothing in his apartment that's satisfying to throw, and by the time he decides to give Dief's food bowl a try, Fraser's long gone. So instead, Ray goes to see if Dief's on the bed again.
He isn't. His nose's poking out from under it, though. "Sulking, huh?"
Dief growls, and pokes his head out to give Ray a pouty little wolf-glare.
Ray sighs and drops down on the bed, rubbing at the back of his neck. "Yeah. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean." Hopefully, the next morning'll be better.
"What the hell d'you mean, I'm with Thatcher?"
Thank God, Fraser's uncomfortable. He'd damn well better be; Ray's starting up a spat in the middle of the bullpen, right where his superior officer and best friend can see. "Ah. Well. One moment, I think Detective Kowalski and I need to have a discussion."
"Make it quick, Constable," Welsh grumbles, and downs another cup of coffee. As soon as they're out of view, Fraser grabs Ray's elbow and drags him into the storage closet.
Ah, the storage closet. He's had some good freakish times in here, but he's pretty sure that this isn't going to be one of them. "What's the big idea?" Ray hisses. "How many times do I gotta tell you? Partners means sharing. Partners means that when Welsh tells up to break up into groups of two, I don't have to worry about how I'm going to chat with the Ice Queen. Partners means -- "
"Ray, think about this rationally. How many times have you told me that trouble follows me like -- well, like musk on an ox?"
Ray rolls his eyes. Yeah, he knows where this is heading. "I'm pretty sure I didn't put it that way, but yeah, it does."
"Exactly. Now, Inspector Thatcher does not appear to have any such tendencies. You should be glad to be rid of me."
"Oh, sure, Fraser, I'm real glad, except for this one little thing."
"And that would be?"
Fraser groans, and the next thing Ray knows he's up against the wall and getting kissed. He didn't even have a second to prepare, and with this kind of kiss, he sure as hell needed one. "Just -- trust me, Ray," Fraser murmurs against his mouth. "It'll turn out all right, in the end."
Ray sighs and lets his head roll back. "Okay. Fine. Get out there, or they'll think you're convincing me with a handjob."
"Oh, dear. You don't think -- "
"Not yet, I don't."
And then he's gone, and Ray's left right where he was. Kiss or no kiss, he's still not Fraser's partner, and he's not sure how long it's been since Fraser made that decision for him.
Ray's always been good with a gun, so maybe that's why he's here and Vecchio's got a bullet in him. When you see a bad guy with a gun, you shoot him. You don't run in front of him.
Then again, "here" is on a plane with a bunch of criminally insane Canadians, and Ray's starting to think that a hospital bed might be a better reward at this point. But at least now he's with Fraser. After what Muldoon had said about Fraser's mother -- fucking bastard -- Ray was pretty sure that Fraser'd just lock him up in a box and never let him out again.
Still, getting thrown into an ice field sounds like a bad plan, whether he's a free man or not. "We're in trouble, aren't we, Fraser." Ray says. He figures he might as well accept it now. Maybe that way it'll hurt less when he breaks his face on a field of ice.
"Well -- " Fraser looks like he's trying to figure out something optimistic to say, which if he does, Ray'll have to punch him in the face. "Yes, we are in big trouble." He starts fiddling with the ropes around his wrists.
Well, good. Ray probably would've cracked his head open trying to punch him, anyway. "What're you doing? What're you -- " but it's obvious what he's doing, because suddenly his free hand snakes up and grabs a piece of wire from somewhere. "Do mine, do mine, do mine -- "
"All in good time. First, we need to determine what this aircraft's destination is."
"We already know that, Fraser: death. The destination is death." Sometimes Fraser misses these little things. "Now do mine, c'mon."
"Can I borrow your chewing gum?"
"Why?" Ray asks, and regrets asking almost as soon as it's out of his mouth. Fraser's not going to tell him. That's not the way they work, right? Fraser does the thinking, Ray does what he's told, and they both come out of it alive.
"I'm going to stick it in my ear," Fraser says, like it's just proper procedure when you're being held prisoner on a plane. "Please." He puts his palm under Ray's nose. The gum's gone rubbery anyway, and whatever Fraser's plan is, it's probably better than waiting until Muldoon comes along and chucks 'em. Ray spits it out.
"Look, I don't get you. We're about to get tossed out of a plane, and you're making an arts-and-crafts wire sculpture type thing."
"No no no -- what I'm going to attempt to do is to plug into the satellite uplink, hopefully intercept some of the binary information from the airplane's communication system."
Okay. Sure. Jargon's a good thing to have on their side, but there's still one thing Ray doesn't get. "Wire and gum?"
Fraser electrocutes himself for a while instead of answering the question, but when he's done, he's looking dangerously chipper again. "We're in luck. Muldoon's in the process of organizing a rendezvous. My guess is it's connected to the second stage of his plans."
"How'd you get that from a piece of wire and some gum?"
"That's not important." For some reason, things like that never are. "What is important is we now have the coordinates for the rendezvous: seventy degrees north by a hundred and twenty-five degrees west. If memory serves, that's Franklin Bay."
"That's not important," Ray reminds him. "What is important, Fraser, is that we're gonna get tossed out of the plane onto an icefield."
"Well. That too, yeah." Fraser considers this for a bit, at least. "But, rest easy! I have no doubt that Inspector Thatcher is organizing a rescue party, e'en as we speak."
So, great. Now they're depending on the Ice Queen's sense of compassion.
"I think I can take him," Ray insists. Fraser's plan is stupid. Lots of Fraser's plans are stupid, but this one's so stupid that it implicitly requires somebody with a gun, and neither of them's got one.
"Look, this is no time for patience -- look, all I gotta do is draw him a little closer."
"Ray!" Fraser snaps, suddenly looking a little dangerous.
Ray remembers that Fraser's the one with his hands untied, and that if he pushes it, Fraser might just beat his head in. "It's okay, don't sweat it, don't sweat it, I'm gonna do it your way, okay?"
"All right," Fraser replies, immediately pacified.
Ray sighs, and struggles up to his feet so he can work through this stupid, stupid plan. "Excuse me! Henchmen! Uh, it would be very much -- appreciated if you were to throw down your weapons of mass destruction and surrender yourselves to, uh, my partner and myself." The henchmen give him a funny look, which Ray can understand. Right. Right. Plan B. "Okay...dolphin boy," he mutters, and throws himself at the guy in front.
Naturally, that don't work so well, because he doesn't really have enough space to get a running start, and he's kinda scrawny, so the guy just hits him in head -- fuck, ow. "He always like this?" the guy asks Fraser.
"Well, I'm sorry, he's somewhat impulsive. I think that actually what he wanted to say -- Ray?" Ray knows a cue when he hears one -- bam, headbutt, hell yes. That's what he's talking about. "Dolphin boy?" Fraser repeats.
"I -- I, uh -- " Ray mumbles, but c'mon, it was an okay idea, right? It'd worked. Eventually. Sort of.
The door to the cargo bay's gonna be open in a minute. Ray can tell. And the door opening means they're gonna die, which Ray is not really okay with. "You got a plan?" he shouts over to Fraser.
"You bet I do!" Fraser replies cheerfully, chucking stuff into a giant crate. "We're going to jump."
And that right there's the problem with asking Fraser for a plan. "Out of the airplane?"
"Well, it's either that, or they shoot us." Right. He's got a point. "This stuff ought to keep us warm -- "
"All right." This is partners, this is buddies. You follow your partner, even if you're following him out of a plane. "Toss me a parachute."
"Well, you know, that's the really exciting part of this plan, Ray! There are no parachutes."
Some other time, Ray might maybe have something to say about that. Right now, though, he can't kill Fraser, because Fraser's his only ticket out of here.
"The snow is bottomless," Fraser shouts at him, yanking the door open, "so it should be like -- well, like falling into a duvet."
Squinting against the wind, Ray peers out at the snow. It doesn't look too soft. "Yeah, I'm gonna take my chances there." He hears the door bang open, and without even thinking he whirls around and starts shooting at it.
Suddenly, Fraser's hand clamps on his shoulder. "Ray! Look! Turtles!"
What the fuck? "Turtles?" he repeats, looking, and registers that he's the champion of world-class losers right before Fraser sends him spinning out into the open air.
Fraser's not really in a talkative mood, tonight. Normally, you stick him in front of a campfire and he can't shut up: ghost stories, moral tales, you name it. Tonight, though, he's just staring at the fire, looking kind of lost.
If Ray's lucky, maybe Fraser's caught the same bug he's had for the past week. Can't hurt to ask, anyway. "Fraser, you ever get the feeling that, you know. You're lost?"
Fraser blinks, then shakes his head. "No. Quick look to the stars or the sun, you can always find your location."
"No, I don't mean where you are, I mean -- who you are."
"Oh." That, he's got to think about for a while, but eventually he looks into the fire and starts, "When I first came to Chicago, I often felt as though I was from another planet -- "
"Which you are."
Fraser looks up at him seriously. "Which I have come to accept. Everything was unknown, and at times, it was frightening. I felt as though I was -- an explorer. An urban explorer."
Ray smiles. "Urban explorer," he echoes. Crazy Mountie.
"I remember one time we were on a stakeout, and I was trying to explain the sense of otherwordliness to the other detectives..." Fraser's got his storytelling voice going, and it's sending Ray back a couple decades, putting his brain to sleep. So, what the hell? Fraser's still Fraser -- never lost, never will be, 'cause he's always got a story for everything. He probably won't even notice when Ray falls asleep.
"Fraser," Ray gasps, wobbling. The wobbling's not his fault. Normally he's pretty good with skis, or at least Stella'd said he was when they went on that one vacation. Course, Ray's used to using actual ski poles instead of sticks the width of his wrist. "Can we take a nap?"
Fraser squints ahead of them. "Soon, Ray."
"Soon as we get over that." He points up, and Ray follows his finger up, up, up --
"Fraser, that's a mountain."
"Right you are, Ray."
"Fraser, that is not a fucking foothill. We probably won't even get over it today -- "
"In which case we'll camp on the mountainside. It'll be fine," he says brightly. "You'll see."
Next thing Ray knows, he's clinging to a vertical rockface with his fingernails, and having an attack of something that is not panic. Panic would be if he was freaking out about something he shouldn't be freaking out about, whereas right now he's freaking out about the fifty-foot drop under him.
"Just relax, Ray
"I can't." His fingers're sliding; he can feel it.
"Just look above you."
"One hand after another."
"I can't!" he yells, but he tries anyway and something gives under his foot and he's falling, ohgod, falling --
-- and Fraser catches him. Just like that, just reaches down and grabs him like it's nothing. "I got you," he gasps, clutching the back of Ray's longjohns. "I got you." Which, of course he does. He'd never have let Ray fall. It's not in his nature.
Ray's not really paying attention to where Fraser's going, because if he thinks about it too hard he'll start to freak out. All that empty space under him, and they just keep rising. Besides, his mind's like soap, or something; it just keeps sliding off of things and telling him to go to sleep.
So Ray zones out, slipping and sliding on half-thoughts about napping in the back seat on road trips -- and like a road trip, he jolts awake when he realizes that Fraser's stopped moving. Fraser's just hanging there, looking right at an empty spot of rock face and saying, "Because that's what partnership's all about."
Creepy. "Fraser, you got this hypothermia thing?" Ray makes himself ask. "Because you seem to be talking to yourself."
Something in Fraser's back flexes; he probably hadn't even known Ray was conscious. "Possibly."
Shit. Shit shit shit. Ray doesn't know much right now, but he knows that Fraser plus hypothermia equals dead-as-a-doornail Ray. "Okay, well Fraser, just listen to me, you gotta push on through the cold and the pain, and keep moving, because that's what partnership's all about." Partnerships. Ships. Huh. "There's red ships and green ships," he hears himself say, before he's really thought about it, "but there's no ships like partnerships."
Fraser shakes his head and reaches up to pull them up another foot. "You're starting to blither, Ray." Man has no appreciation for Dr. Seuss. What're you gonna do?
Ray knows that he's stupid. Really, he does. It's kind of hard to miss it when somebody like Fraser's around to compare himself to every damn minute. But even he's pretty surprised by how he got them trapped in a crevasse. Hell, even he knows that you're supposed to go over mine fields slow and easy. Moral of the story: panic is not Ray's friend.
"I get out of this?" he says, shivering a little, because his voice sounds creepy when it echoes off the ice walls. "I live through this? I'm gonna find that Hand. I'm gonna find that reaching out Hand."
Fraser winces, shifting position, like he's got better things to worry about than some stupid fantasy. "It might be the hand of death."
Ray shuts his eyes, remembering, a few quick images flying across the backs of his eyelids. He doesn't let himself think too hard about any of 'em. "Yeah, well, I've faced death."
Fraser tenses. He doesn't like that, duh. It's kind of flattering, in a weird way. "And what did you do?"
"I sang." Ray avoids Fraser's eyes. "Of course, it was ABBA, so it sort of spoiled the romantic effect, but -- yeah. I sang."
There's a long pause, and Ray's not sure what's going through that dense Canadian head. Finally, Fraser says throatily, "Then we should sing."
Ray frowns. "What, S.O.S?"
"No." Fraser ducks his head, almost like he's embarrassed -- which he probably should be, talking about singing when they're both about to die -- and starts to sing.
It's funny; Ray's never really listened to Fraser sing before. Sure, he's heard him do it, but he's never really listened. Never really heard how Fraser's voice can get right down into the middle of him, if he lets it. Hell if he knows what the words are, something about Franklin and tracing lines on a map, but it doesn't matter. Fraser's singing, Fraser's singing to him, and if he shuts his eyes he almost doesn't mind that he's going to die. Not if Fraser's gonna keep singing.
Fraser pauses to breathe, starts in on another verse -- and then something goes all wrong, and Fraser's yelping, "Delmar!" which is probably not how the song's supposed to go.
Ray opens his eyes and sees some guy in a fur hat, hanging upside down with a rope attached to an ankle. He looks cheerful enough, and most people'd feel pretty relieved to see that face, even if it is upside-down and doesn't really have anything to be cheerful about. Ray just feels this pang, like he's lost out on a perfectly good way to die.
That's stupid, though, so he quits thinking about it. No matter how much he loves Fraser, he's pretty sure he'd still rather be alive than dead.
Mountie camp is not Ray's favorite place to be. Sure, the tents're warm enough, and there's food. Sort of. But Fraser's not hanging with him so much anymore, 'cause he's got other Mounties to talk to, Mounties like him, Mounties who like jumping off of cliffs and trekking through miles of snow. He's been talking to that guy, Frobisher, for something like three hours. Probably he's even got a good reason.
Well, Ray can come up with a good reason to butt in. He'd had to come up with them for years, back when he was married to Stella and she liked talking to lawyers better than she liked talking to him. "I'm not so sure about this, uh, rendezvous," he says, stomping his way up to the fire. He can feel Fraser's eyes flick over to him, the little invisible jolt of surprise in his shoulders. Whatever. "I mean, we only got half a dozen Mounties, and they got forty armed men. The odds're kinda funky."
Frobisher looks up at him, and Ray knows that he's right. It's not that Frobisher's got some amazing plan. He's just going in there like a typical Mountie, cruising by on his sense of justice, and somebody else's gonna have to come up with the firepower. Ray hopes that somebody's not supposed to be him. "Well, it isn't any good if there's no, uh, challenge," Frobisher mutters, glancing away.
He says some other stuff, not all of it with his mouth, but Ray's not listening. He's watching Fraser; after all this time learning Fraser-speak, he's still not exactly sure what Fraser's eyes are trying to tell him. Tough luck, he tells himself, and settles down in Frobisher's empty seat.
"So if uh, we live through this, we get back to Chicago, you'll partner up with Vecchio?" Something flickers in Fraser's face; might just be the fire. Ray pushes a little more. "That's okay, 'cause he's a -- good guy, you worked with him for a while."
Fires, Ray's learned already, aren't really for staying warm. Mostly, you stay warm by wearing layers, just like his mum told him in grade school. No, fires are for looking at when you don't want to look somebody in the eye, and Fraser's turned it into some kind of deviant art form. "You know, Ray," he says finally, real quiet, "my father and Buck Frobisher were partners for more than twenty years, and their territory was thousands of miles. Sometimes they wouldn't see each other for months." He raises his head and meets Ray's eyes. "And no matter how far apart they were, they always knew that they were partners."
Typical Fraser: real sweet, real nice, but kinda missing the point, which is that Ray needs him. Really needs him, like he'd never needed Stella. "I'm not sure -- "
"Fraser?" Ray looks up and sees the Ice Queen standing there, suddenly remembering that he's not the only one who wants some of what Fraser's got. He wants to get up in her face and tell her to find her own unhinged Mountie, only he doesn't hit girls, and everybody knows it.
Fraser gives him a look. "Duty..." he says, with a little helpless shrug of the shoulders.
Ray gets that. He does. He'll even smile, just to let Fraser off the hook nice and clean. "Barks," he finishes, and watches Fraser wander off to have a heart-to-heart with a woman who's made his life hell for three years.
You'd think Ray'd get dibs over her, at least.
If Ray's not allowed to shoot inside an airplane, he figures he maybe shouldn't be shooting inside a nuclear sub. Still, Fraser isn't stopping him, and it's not like Muldoon's going to hold his fire, so he shoots. Not much of a choice, and he misses anyway, so it doesn't even matter.
His blood's pounding in his ears, and Fraser's right by his elbow, breathing heavily and waiting for a chance to do something crazy and freakish. Instead, Muldoon swings himself onto a ladder, scrambling up and out of the sub. Fraser bolts ahead, taking the rungs three at a time, and Ray's right after him, his bad leg only twinging a little on the way up.
The sunlight on the snow hits him in the face like a really big white pillow, and he's pretty sure that he's blinded for life -- only somehow he sees Muldoon's parka stumbling off to the right, getting away, and if Fraser doesn't catch up soon he never will, and that'll just -- "Fraser," he yells, smacking Fraser's knee, and Fraser sees.
"Wish me luck," he says breathlessly, tearing off his gloves.
Ray snorts. "That, you don't need."
He watches Fraser dive off of the sub onto some horse's back, watches Fraser chase after Muldoon until the both of them are just specks in the snowfield. He waits.
After a while, the other Mounties start asking stupid questions, like whether he wants to come down from the sub, which of course Ray doesn't. You can't see anything from down there. He'll stay right where he is, and that way he'll know when Fraser's back and okay again before anybody else does, which is the way it should be.
Ultimately, it's Dief who gets him down, because he starts barking like a maniac, darting into the sub and trying to bound up the ladder in a single leap. Once he's gotten Ray down, he goes haring off into the snow, and Ray's got no choice to follow him, even though the Mounties all think he's lost it. Maybe he has.
Dief leads him up to this big hole in the ground, all full of splintered wood, and Ray's heart kicks into overdrive. Christ, Fraser might've -- and if he --
He doesn't even have half a minute to think about it, because of course he's gotta look in, and when he does, Fraser's standing at the bottom. He looks fine. A little dusty, but fine. "Fraser!"
Fraser's head snaps up, and Ray can see his face: totally intact, not even a nosebleed . "Ray!"
Ray waves a little stupidly, grinning. "You okay?"
"Just fine." Fraser beams up at him, suddenly looking a little giddy. "Ray -- "
"Hang in there, we'll get you out."
"Ray -- "
"Just need some rope, is all. Frobisher's got some, I bet -- "
"Ray -- "
"I'll just go back and get him, okay? I'll be -- "
"I'll take you on an adventure. I want to. We'll start -- I don't know, today, tomorrow, as soon as we can." Ray squints. Fraser's cheeks are actually a little pink, and Ray doesn't think it's from cold. "Would you -- would you still like that?" Fraser adds as an afterthought, like maybe it's just occured to him that that was the hypothermia talking.
Ray feels his grin widening. "Sure. Just, let me get you out of there first, okay?"
The first couple weeks on the tundra are a piece of cake. So, fine, it's kind of cold, but once he gets past that he starts to see what Fraser loves about this place. Tiny icicles hanging in the trees and sparkling all over the place like a million diamonds, sun glinting off miles and miles of snow that looks fresh even though he knows it hasn't snowed for days. And the sky, it's like nothing he's ever seen -- this deep, solid blue during the day, totally perfect, nothing breaking it up at all except for the sun. Ray can't even remember the last time the sky in Chicago did something interesting enough for him to notice it; mainly it'd just been a dull greyish-blue, even on good days. Fraser must've hated that.
And at night --
"Man, they were not kidding about the aurora," Ray murmurs, staring up at the flickering, shifting colors.
"'They', Ray?" Fraser's curled up behind him in the braked dogsled, arms wrapped around Ray's stomach, his lips warm and soft at Ray's ear. "I assume you mean someone other than myself."
"Yeah, you know, on PBS and stuff. They keep talking about the mystical beauty of the northern skies, stuff like that."
"Well, it's not all that mystical. It's simply a matter of ions in the Earth's atmosphere -- "
"Fraser. You know what I mean. It's like some kind of cosmic kaleidoscope, or something."
Fraser snorts in his ear.
By the time they make it close enough to civilization again, Ray's not looking forward to it as much as he thought he would. He's grown up in the city his whole life; Chinese food and pizza are definitely some of his staples. But that also means that he's never actually been able to take a piss while watching a wolverine doing exactly the same thing only ten yards away. He's never been able to feel exactly how fast he's traveling, because unlike dogsleds, cars have things like windshields and shocks. And he's never been able to make nearly as much noise as he's wanted to in bed -- though technically it's not so much a bed, now, as a sleeping bag. Damn fine sleeping bag, though.
Anyway, the point is that Ray's totally lost his mind by the time they get to the hotel, and is actually trying to convince Fraser to stay in the tent. "I mean, c'mon, Frase. What's the point of moving everything into a room and back out again, just for a bed?"
Fraser frowns. "You mean you don't want a bed?"
"Well, sure, I like beds fine, but it's not that much better than a sleeping bag." Loud sex, on the other hand, is better than a whole lot of things, including central heating.
Fraser nods slowly, eying Ray like he's afraid one of them has hypothermia. "I see. Well, how about we try the beds, and then you can tell me if you want the tent."
"I want the tent."
"And what if I want a bed?"
Ray snorts. Guilt trips only work on him when they're halfway believable. "You've never even slept on a bed! That thing in your office was even harder than the ground!"
"True, but there's always a first time for everything." He squints at Ray. "I don't suppose it would matter to you at all if I told you the rooms were soundproof?"
"Um. Are they?"
"Yeah, okay, let's go." Dief snorts at him, but what does he know? He's a wolf who likes doughnuts better than he likes caribou. No sense of animal desires.
Inside, it's warm, and it smells like fresh laundry. Ray takes a deep breath -- and gags on his own stench. Jesus, he smells like feet, or ass, or some really disgusting combination of the two. "I got dibs on the shower," he informs Fraser.
"Mm." Fraser looks him up and down. "Me too."
"That's not the way dibs works," Ray protests, but by now Fraser's shifted his attention to the big blonde guy behind the reception desk.
Ray wonders where he packed his wallet; he's got plenty of American money in there, and a MasterCard besides, which means he can totally pay for their rooms. Pay Fraser back for all that stuff they've been eating, whatever he'd gone off and killed when they ran out of dried meat. Ray prefers his extra-charred, so he can't really say what it used to be.
"Hang on a second," he mutters, rummaging in his bag; Fraser packed most of it, so he's not even sure if his wallet's in there, but it should be. "I've got plastic, I'll take care of -- "
But Fraser's still not listening. "We won't be needing breakfast, of course," he's saying, signing something.
"What the hell do you mean, we won't be needing breakfast?" Ray demands. Just the thought of coffee, real coffee, is making his mouth water. He's definitely going to get breakfast, even if Fraser makes him pack it.
"Oh, well, we'll be leaving at dawn, so I doubt we'll be able to catch the cooking staff before -- "
"Coffee, Fraser. We've got to get coffee -- "
Ray stares, stunned; for a second there, Fraser'd sounded just like his mother, and not in the good way with the cookies and pierogi. No, this is definitely Fraser sounding like his mother humiliating him in public, age seven, in the changing rooms at the pool. Ray can feel the receptionist's eyes on them, and his ears start to burn. "But -- "
Fraser gives him a glare that's just a shade too polite to actually be a glare. "No buts, Ray. Coffee will only help you to dehydrate faster than otherwise, and believe me, you of all people can't use the help."
"But -- "
"Pardon me, he's an American," Fraser explains to the receptionist, who nods uncertainly. "You know how they can be."
"I'm an -- " Ray looks around wildly for Dief, hoping for somebody to be on his side, but Dief's curled up uselessly on the floor, paws over his nose. Stupid mutt. What's he hiding from? "What's that supposed to mean? So I like coffee -- big fucking deal -- "
"Ray, please." Fraser puts out a hand to touch Ray's shoulder, but Ray doesn't give him the satisfaction. "Why don't you just -- go up to room 104, and I'll be there in a minute. Here's the key."
He tucks the key into Ray's jacket pocket before Ray can get a word out. "Oh, that's great," he manages finally. "You're sending me to my room, huh? Is that it?"
"To our room, yes -- " Fraser starts reasonably, which is exactly the kind of thing Ray's not buying right now.
"Fine. I get it. I'm going." He slings his bag over his shoulder and heads up the stairs, making a point not to look back. Fraser's probably looking real exasperated and sane and a whole bunch of other stuff that's going to send Ray on a mother of a guilt trip.
No, thank you. Guilt trips were definitely Stella's style, and Ray's never developed a taste for them.
The room turns out to be okay -- quiet, clean, blue floral bedsheets. It's not exactly Ray's style, but then it's an inn in the Northwest Territories, so you can't really pick and choose. Ray drops his pack on the floor, drops down next it, and puts his face in his hands.
It wasn't really about breakfast. Of course it wasn't about breakfast. And probably Fraser was right about the coffee, but he hadn't had to say it like -- like Ray was some kind of kid, like Ray wouldn't know a good reason if he heard one. Which Ray wouldn't've, not when it means skipping coffee, but that's not the point. The point is that when Fraser thinks Ray's being an idiot, he says so, and Ray snaps at him and does whatever he wants to anyway. If Fraser's not feeling too persistent, he shuts up; otherwise, he doesn't, and then they argue for an hour or two. It's not like Fraser's automatically right just because he's Fraser, because sometimes Fraser's wrong. Like he was wrong about taking on Warfield all by himself, and he was wrong about Frannie loving him like a brother, and --
Only that's just it. He's never wrong anymore, not since they started the adventure. Now it's just Fraser knowing weird shit that nobody wants to know about bear fat, and Ray doing every damn thing wrong. And Fraser likes it. He likes always being right. That's why they came up here -- not because Ray wanted to go on an adventure, or because Fraser really thought they'd find the Hand of Franklin, but because Fraser wanted to be able to tell Ray that he can't pay for a stupid hotel room.
It feels like forever until the knock comes, and when it does, he just stares stupidly at the door. He can't look at Fraser. Not now. Not --
The lock snicks open, and Fraser pokes his head in. "Ah. I'm sorry, I thought you might be asleep."
"Yes, I can see that." Fraser pushes the key into his jacket, looking down at his boots. "Why are you on the floor?"
Ray shrugs. "Seemed like a good place to be. Where's your wolf?"
"Oh, he's -- " Fraser waves a hand at the hallway. "He wouldn't come in, and Mr. Lewis was kind enough to let him stay in the lobby for a while."
"Yes." Fraser steps inside, drops his bag, and nudges the door shut. "I -- I'm sorry about the coffee, Ray. I suppose that we can get a tin of instant before we head out, so long as we don't make a habit of it -- "
"Fraser, this is not about coffee."
"I know." Fraser drops onto the bed, rubbing at his face, and Ray suddenly notices that the room's only got one bed. Just one queen-size, and that means that Fraser's basically outed them to good old Mr. Lewis down there. Not that he thought he should maybe ask Ray first, because he doesn't need to, does he? He never does. "Ray, we need sleep. Can't we discuss this in the morning?"
"No. No, we can't. Fraser, did you even think about what kind of room to get?"
Fraser blinks. "What do you -- "
"The bed, Fraser! What d'you think your buddy Mr. Lewis is gonna think about us?"
"Oh." Fraser pinches the bridge of his nose. He's got a headache, Ray knows, and for a second he's even sorry. For a second he's even about to apologize, and then he doesn't, and he doesn't have a chance to anymore. "Next time we can -- "
"Next time?" Ray can't stay down; he's gotta get up, gotta move, even if that means he can feel Fraser's eyes on his back. "Look, I -- you -- what the hell do you think I am, some kind of girl?"
Fraser coughs. "Ah, no. No, I don't think you're a girl."
Ray feels his ears turn red. He hates arguing with people like Fraser, people like Stella: they always take things he says and turn them stupid, even if they know exactly what he means. "That's not what I mean. What I mean is, since when am I somebody you just drag around and apologize for? 'Hey, this's Ray, he's my partner, excuse him for being American' -- I can apologize for myself, Fraser, and if I'm not doing it it's 'cause I don't want to -- "
"Don't be ridiculous. Causing a scene in Chicago is not the same as causing a scene here. If you alienate your host -- "
"What's he gonna do, throw me out for wanting coffee? Not everybody thinks like you, Fraser, not everybody's got a bias against coffee -- "
"Of course I don't have a bias against coffee, Ray. It's just that while you're here, you are my responsibility, and -- "
"And what?" Ray snaps, and Fraser goes quiet. "Partners, Frase," he hisses. "Partners. That's what I wanted." Fraser swallows, eyes turned down. Now that Ray can't see them, Fraser looks like a completely different person, like some stranger with a beard and longish hair, who Ray's been stupidly letting inside him for the past three months. Literally, figuratively, the whole enchilada.
Something in his belly goes cold and queasy, like he's just figured out that there's a landmine under his foot. Stupid. This whole thing was so stupid -- just because they'd done it once, just because it had been good once -- "I know," Fraser murmurs.
"Are we partners? Tell me that, Fraser, you look me in the eye and tell me that -- "
"No." Fraser lifts his head, jaw set. "No, we aren't. I'm sorry." It's like a punch in the stomach. Ray's about two seconds from wringing Fraser's neck, but his hands're so slippery that he probably couldn't even get a good grip if he tried. "But up here, you can't -- I have to -- "
"Yeah, sure, that's why you brought me up here. So you could be responsible for all the stupid shit I do, just because -- just because I let you fuck me every night," he spits, fists clenching and stomach rolling. He can't believe he's saying this, but it doesn't sound like a lie. It sounds true. His gut says it's true, and so it's got to be said.
Fraser's eyes drop again. "Yes," he whispers. "Yes, I suppose I did, at that."
A confession. Usually confessions are good things, 'cause they mean that he's going to pack some perp into a cell, fulfill his duty as a cop, all that stuff he likes. But this is Fraser, and Fraser is not a perp. It probably doesn't help that Ray loves the guy, even now; Fraser's looking totally miserable, and half of him just wants to tell him that it's okay, they don't have to be partners, they can keep going like this.
But Ray isn't a -- a pet wolf, or whatever Fraser thinks he is. He likes paying for his own stuff, and he likes drinking coffee even though he knows it's bad for him. He likes choices, and Fraser doesn't want him to have them, and that's -- a problem. It's a big problem, way bigger than just feeling stale. At least back then, they'd both wanted the same thing.
His heart's pounding and his head's echoing with a memory of Stella that's gone all wrong, all flip-flopped, and Fraser's still not looking at him so it's a little easier when he says "I can't stay here," to the top of the stranger's head.
"I understand," the stranger whispers back, with Fraser's voice.
"I'm -- " He stops, swallows. "I'm gonna leave now."
The stranger nods wordlessly.
Ray picks up his bag, and he does not look back. He clomps down the stairs, and he does not look back. He scratches Dief's ears on his way out, hitches a ride to the airport, zones a little on the ride over.
It's only when he's actually boarded the flight that he lets himself think, That was Fraser. I walked out on Fraser, Fraser, that was Fraser back there, no stranger -- and by then, it's too late to think about going back.
Continue to part 4...