First Published: June 30th, 2008
Rating: Adult
Pairing: Benton Fraser/Ray Kowalski
Word Count: 15,321

Summary: Ray is having a nice dinner at Fraser's new apartment when someone starts knocking on the door. This is the beginning of a painful voyage of discovery for Ray. Will he be able to put aside his homophobic reactions long enough to see what's right in front of him? Only time will tell.

"Would you like more pierogi, Ray?"

Across the table, Fraser held out the dish of small sauerkraut and mushroom filled dumplings. Ray had already had way more than was good for his waistline, but they were so damned good that he speared one. "Where'd you learn to cook this shit, Frase?" he asked, surreptitiously helping himself to the last of the placki ziemniaczane, which he shared with Dief under the table.

Fraser replaced the pierogi dish on its mat and leaned back in his chair. "I simply checked a book out of the library on traditional Polish recipes, Ray. I'm pleased you seem to be enjoying it."

That was the understatement of the year. Ray hadn't had food this good since last time his mum had cooked for him. Stella had tried but she just didn't have the cooking gene. Then after she got her first internship, they never seemed to be home at the same time so Ray began his love/hate relationship with Sandor. Had the number on speed dial and everything.

And talking of Sandor... "Why Polish food though?" Ray asked. "I would have been happy enough with pizza and beer." Although this trip down a culinary memory lane was way better than any pizza would have been even with pineapple!

Fraser shook his head, smiling a little sadly. "Ray, we can do that any evening. Tonight is my first night entertaining in my new apartment and I wanted to make it a little more... special."

Ray looked down at his empty plate guiltily. Damn! Open mouth...insert foot.

They'd been back in Chicago for two months and the first thing to change was Fraser's willingness to bunk at the consulate. He'd asked Ray once again to help him find suitable accommodation at a price he could afford that allowed pets.

Say he's a dog, Frase. Trust me, no one is gonna allow a wolf in their building

And Ray had just been so damned surprised that Fraser actually wanted this; wanted Chicago, and the consulate and their partnership more than he wanted snow, and wilderness and wide open spaces, that he'd been afraid to ask why.

Fraser was the most annoying guy on the planet, but he was also the best friend Ray had ever had. The best partner too, and life without the Mountie had been hard to imagine. So, he'd never had the guts to ask if Fraser was here for good or if someday, Canada would claim him back like a piece of oversized lost luggage.

This one-roomed apartment was the result of nearly two months of searching. It was close enough to the consulate that Fraser could walk there, but far enough away that he actually got some exercise doing it. Fraser had brought what few possessions he owned with him, including his rickety single cot, which was half hidden behind a curtain that separated the sleeping alcove from the rest of the room.

The place looked a little larger than Ray's own apartment, but that was probably just an illusion on account of Fraser having almost no furniture to fill the space. A table, two chairs, a battered old sofa, a bookcase, a television set, a wooden chest and a standard lamp. Fraser didn't seem to need much.

"You've uh... done a great job with the place," Ray winced at the cliché. "Very... homey."

Fraser blushed. "Why thank you, Ray. It's kind of you to notice."

And now that he was looking, Ray could see the effort Fraser had gone to, to make this dump liveable. Pictures hiding peeling wallpaper, rugs covering bare floorboards, curtains concealing cracked and ill-fitting windows. There was even a vase of fresh cut flowers on the wooden chest. It might not be the Ritz, but it was home. Way better than the cupboard in the consulate Fraser had existed in before.

"So, you're planning on staying a while?" Ray blurted, immediately horrified that his mouth had taken the conversational ball and run with it. That sounded way too needy.

Fraser's fork froze half way to his mouth. Ray was sure he could feel the blood draining out of his face and wanted nothing more than to bang his head against the table. Stupid, stupid mouth! Why couldn't he just have kept it shut?

It was suddenly very obvious that there was more into this meal than Fraser wanting to play host in his new apartment. Maybe this was Fraser's way of breaking the bad news that he was going home. Ray wasn't hungry anymore. He dropped his fork onto his plate and braced himself for the inevitable.

Which was right about the time that someone started banging on the door.

Ray glanced at Fraser in confusion. It was after nine. Who would be calling this late? Fraser looked equally at a loss. He got to his feet, placing his napkin on the table and excusing himself, like the good, polite Mountie that he was. Dief barked and thumped his tail happily against the floor, which probably meant that the caller was someone he knew.

Ray let out the breath he'd been holding. Any interruption had to be better than the words that would have come out of Fraser's mouth. He needed time to get his tough guy mask back in place.

Ray swivelled round in his seat to watch as Fraser peered through the peephole, gasped in surprise and unlatched the safety chain. Then Fraser was being propelled backwards by the intruder until he hit the central supporting pillar. The only reason Ray didn't immediately launch himself on Fraser's attacker was because the guy, far from harming Fraser, seemed to be kissing the shit out of him.

Ray watched in amazement as Fraser received the sloppiest, wettest, kiss he'd ever seen in real life (as opposed to in some x-rated porn movie that is.) It was all tongues, and teeth, and hands all over the place. There was grunting (the big guy) and gasping (Fraser) and bodies moving against each other. Ray couldn't drag his eyes away. The guy was big, bigger that Fraser by maybe two inches and several pounds, but he was fit. Ray could see muscles bulging under the sleeves of his sweatshirt. And he was kissing Fraser. Like he'd done it before. And wasn't that just a kick in the head?

The thought that Fraser might have kissed this guy; kissed any guy before, was making absolutely no sense inside Ray's head and was the impetus to break the spell. He looked down at Dief who gazed back up at him and seemed to roll his eyes before trotting over to get in on the action.

Ray was wondering whether he should clear his throat or drop a fork to get their attention, when the guy released Fraser's mouth with a wet pop. "Jesus, Ben! You're a hard guy to find." Dief barked and wagged his tail unashamedly as the guy scratched behind his ears. "Hey Diefenbaker. Still my biggest fan, eh?"

This was what Fraser had been working up to? He was softening Ray up to meet his... what? Boyfriend? Lover? Fuck! Ray tried to wipe the 'deer in the headlights' look off his face. He should have known about this. They'd been partners, friends, shared down time, shared a fucking tent for nearly three months in the fucking Yukon Areas! How come he'd never guessed? How come Fraser had never told him that he liked... that he was...

Ray couldn't even bring himself to think the words.

Fraser licked his lips, dragged his eyes away from the newcomer to look pointedly over at his dinner companion. The big guy followed his gaze, saw that they were not alone, and released Fraser's shirtfront, letting him slide back to the floor. "Shit! Um, that wasn't... I mean, it's not the way it looked. Old joke between Benton and me. That's right, eh, Ben?"

Ray lowered himself back into his chair. He was sure he was managing to come across as faintly amused rather than sick to his stomach. "Whatever," he croaked.

Fraser was looking absolutely mortified. "Ray, this is Mark Smithbauer, an old... friend from Inuvik."

The emphasis on the word friend wasn't lost on Ray. He narrowed his eyes. These guys' history went way back. Even before the Mountie had come to Chicago on the search of the killers of his yada, yada, yada.

"Mark, this is Ray Kowalski. My partner."

Give the big guy his due, he recovered from the shock way faster than Ray would have given him credit for. He crossed the room, hand extended in greeting, so Ray did the decent thing and got to his feet to shake hands and make nice with the guy who, scant seconds ago had been sucking on Fraser's tongue.

"Didn't we meet before?" Smithbauer asked, giving Ray the up and down treatment. "I thought you were taller, with less hair, eh? Couldn't skate to save your life."

"That was Ray Vecchio, my previous partner," Fraser explained, finally managing to look Ray in the eye. "And that was two years ago, Mark."

Ray dropped Smithbauer's hand as soon as the crushing pressure of the guy's grip abated. He deliberately didn't try to rub the circulation back into it. Your name's kinda familiar," he mused. So was his face but Ray just couldn't place it. Usually he was really good with faces, but right now, he doubted he could recognise his own in a mirror.

"I played a little hockey before the knee gave out." Smithbauer shrugged. "I coach now. Mostly high school kids."

Jeez! Of course! In his defence, it was easy to see how Ray might not have placed the guy right away. It wasn't every day you expected to see one of the Blackhawks best playing tonsil hockey with your partner.

Part of Ray wanted to smack the guy for manhandling Fraser but another part wanted to ask for his autograph.

"I guess I should have called, eh?" Mark was saying playfully.

"Well, I don't have a phone yet, and even if I did, how could you possibly know...." Fraser trailed off, quietly closed the door and leaned back against it, arms folded tightly around himself. "Mark, what are you doing here?"

Smithbauer lowered himself into Fraser's vacated chair. "I'm in town for a couple of days, Ben. Went by your old apartment block. It's a mini-mart now?"

Fraser didn't move from the doorway. "It burned down a couple of years ago. I lived at the Consulate until recently."

"I went by the Consulate too. It's a Bank."

"They moved the Consulate two years ago also. I assume you managed to find out its new location?""

Ray had to give the guy points for tenaciousness. A lesser man might have given up before now. Yet there he sat, large as a rhino and twice as horny.

Smithbauer picked up a piece of pierogi from Fraser's abandoned plate and sniffed it suspiciously. "Yeah, and your constable Turnbull gave me your address. So, did I um... did I interrupt something?"

Ray got to his feet. He had to get the fuck out of here. He had to get his head wrapped around the idea that Fraser had a history with a famous hockey player that involved kissing and probably much more. He had to get himself a stiff drink in a seedy bar and maybe start a good old fashioned bar room brawl until someone gave him a black eye. That kind of pain he could cope with.

"Nah, it's cool. We were done. Nice meeting you," Ray nodded in Smithbauer's general direction without actually looking at him.

"You're not leaving." Fraser said, in a tone that made it absolutely clear it wasn't a question.

Ray grabbed his coat from the rack by the door. Three was definitely a crowd, and seeing as how Fraser probably got less sex than Ray did, which was practically zero right now, Ray wasn't about to be the fly in the Crisco. "You two got catching up to do," he smiled weakly. "Thanks for the food." And then he couldn't think of anything else to say, so he bolted out of the door, before he was tempted to do something stupid. Like punch Fraser's big Canadian boyfriend on his big Canadian nose.

"Ray... Ray, wait!"

Fraser's voice followed him along the corridor, but he didn't stop, didn't turn around. Couldn't. Not if his life had depended on it.

He'd seen the way Fraser's eyes had fluttered closed when Smithbauer had kissed him. Seen the way his body had gone lax. Like he'd not been kissed in forever and he needed it. Needed it more than the air he breathed. Ray remembered how it felt to need something that bad.

If Smithbauer was what Fraser needed tonight, then Ray wasn't gonna get in the way. He left the GTO where it was parked and strode off in the direction of a little bar he remembered from his Stella days, where the barman knew better than to ask questions and always knew when to call Ray a taxi.

Ray threw back his third double malt and lit up another smoke. His throat was raw and he would probably be coughing up a lung for the next few weeks, but he didn't care. His throat might hurt, but the rest of him was starting to get pleasantly numb. Which was the whole plan.

He figured one more should just about be enough to stop the memory of that searing kiss from replaying itself over and over inside his brain. Nodding to the barman, he threw some cash down and took another deep drag of his cigarette.

"Those things'll kill you," a voice from behind him said in a thick Canadian accent.

Ray didn't bother turning around. He knew who was there. "How'd you find me?"

Smithbauer flopped down onto the barstool next to Ray and snorted. "Get over yourself. I wasn't looking for you. I was looking for a drink and this is the closest bar to Fraser's place."

This was very true. The barman came over with Ray's whiskey and placed it on a mat. "What can I get you, sir?"

Smithbauer jabbed a finger at Ray's glass. "I'll have what he's having. Make it a double. I got some catching up to do."

Ray picked up his whiskey and swirled it around for a bit before taking a sip. He glanced sidelong at Smithbauer, trying to work out if enough time had elapsed from when he'd run out on Frase, for them to have had sex. Probably not, although what did he know about how long it took gay guys to get it on? Still, there had to be some sort of foreplay didn't there?

"Lover's tiff, was it?" he sneered.

"Fuck you!"

"Not if you were the last person on Earth, buddy."

Smithbauer snorted. "Why does that not surprise me?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Ray growled.

The bartender materialised with Smithbauer's drink then disappeared just as quickly to the other end of the bar to clean glasses when he saw the tension between the two men. Smithbauer downed the drink in one, choking a little as the alcohol hit the back of his throat. "Means that I know your kind. People like you make me sick. Is it any wonder Fraser chose not to tell you?"

"You calling me a homophobe?" Ray asked.

Smithbauer waved the bartender over again. "Oh, you really don't want me to get started on this subject, Kowalski. Might come to blows."

Ray hid a sneer. That was kinda what he was hoping for. Ray took a really good look at the guy. Sure he was built. He'd been a professional athlete and they had to be super fit, but to look at, he was no oil painting. Nose a little too long; eyes a little too close together. Of course Fraser wouldn't be so shallow as to be attracted to looks alone. There had to more to the guy than met the eye.

Ray looked up when the bartender appeared. "Two more, and keep 'em coming." Once the drinks were on the bar, Ray swung round on his stool a little unsteadily and narrowed his eyes. "Lets get something clear, here, buddy. I got no problem with gays. What you do in the privacy of your own homes is your own business. I just don't like having to watch it!"

Smithbauer slammed down his glass, spilling whiskey over his hand and the counter. "I saw your face! You looked like you were gonna hurl. And what's more, buddy, Ben saw it too. You really fucked up with him tonight!"

Ray was off his seat and right in Smithbauer's face. "Frase and me are good. We're tight. Best buddies. You ain't even a ripple in that pond, you big fucking queer!"

"Um gentlemen?" The barman had come out from behind the bar and was gently trying to insert his body between the two men. "I think you should take this outside."

"Yeah," Smithbauer sneered. "Bring it on. Lets see what moves you got."

In the alley, Ray carefully took off his coat and laid it on a dumpster. Without his glasses, and after several double whiskeys, all he could see of Smithbauer was a blurry outline. But he wasn't gonna let the guy get away with calling him homophobic. He managed to land a lucky punch, but Smithbauer swung right back and Ray was seeing stars.

Abandoning any further attempt to punch his opponent, Ray lurched forward and wrapped his arms around him, trying to squeeze the life out of him. Or maybe he was just hanging on for grim death, because it felt like his legs had gone numb somewhere between here and the bar. Smithbauer grunted as the momentum carried them both backwards and slammed him into the wall.

They grappled unsteadily for a while, grunting and swearing, with Ray refusing to give an inch to the bigger man. Ray was like a limpet and Mark was the rock. The thought made Ray giggle, which was his undoing, because his distraction allowed Smithbauer to shove him away hard. Ray took a frantic swing at him, missing completely and leaving himself wide open for the roundhouse that felled him.

Lying in a puddle and nursing his sore jaw, Ray felt more that a little put out. Smithbauer had been a professional hockey player. He was fitter, stronger and several whiskeys more sober than Ray, would it have killed him to stand still and let Ray punch him like a gentleman?

Then there was a hand waving in front of his face so he took it and allowed himself to be hauled to his feet. Smithbauer handed him his coat, swiping at the somewhat soggy seat of Ray's pants. "Sorry. I get a little defensive of him. We go way back."

Ray shrugged unsteadily into his coat. Now that the fight had been quite literally knocked out of him, he didn't feel nearly so belligerent towards the big guy. He'd been looking out for Fraser. Who could blame him for that? Ray had been angry, but he'd been angry with the wrong person. Mark wasn't any more to blame for this than Ray was.

"You got somewhere to stay?" he asked.

"I was kinda expecting to be staying with Ben. Are there any hotels near by?"

Ray chewed on his lip before coming to a decision. "I got a sofa you're welcome to."

"Hey, are you coming on to me?"

Ray was about to try for another swing at Smithbauer when he heard the humor in his voice. "In your dreams, pal. I'll let you pay for the taxi."

Smithbauer smiled and patted Ray on the shoulder. "So, you don't mind having a 'big fucking queer' sleeping in your apartment?"

Ray felt his face flush with embarrassment. He wished he could take back the horrible words, but he couldn't. He could apologise, but he wouldn't. Not yet. Not until he knew the guy a little better. "I sleep with a gun under my pillow. I think I'm safe."

Smithbauer nodded in agreement. "You're also not my type. But the gun thing? Totally noted."

"I was 10 when we moved to Inuvik. I'd been born and raised in Vancouver so I fucking hated having to live in a backwater place like that," Mark said, staring into his mug. They were drinking coffee at the breakfast bar in Ray's apartment. Ray's idea. He needed to sober up.

"There were only three other boys in my class and Fraser was the only one my age. Didn't like him much at first mind you. He was way too uptight."

Ray snorted and took another drag of his very last cigarette. "Nothin's changed then?" He had to concentrate really hard on what the guy was saying. He talked fast and what with the Canadian accent, and Ray's elevated alcohol levels, he was having some trouble keeping up.

Mark swirled the dregs of his coffee around. "Yeah, he's still uptight. Still goes to bed at seven. A grown man in bed by seven without the lure of sex? Guy's a freak of nature."

"Yeah, that's Frase alright. And when he gets it into his head he's right about something, he's like... like a dog with a bone."

"Does he still do the Inuit stories? Those fucking things drove me nuts!"

"Me too!" They were both grinning now. Ray realized he liked having someone around who knew Fraser's idiosyncrasies as well as he did. "I swear, my eyes glaze over when he says something like, 'You know, Ray, the Inuit have a story about a pink-footed goose, an Arctic Tern and a Caribou embroiled in a tragic love triangle much like this one...'"

Mark shook his head fondly. "Still, you gotta admit, they guy is hot. And stamina? Don't get me started on that."

Ray had no intention of getting him started on that. "So you and him? You were like... boyfriends back in Inuvik?" Ray blurted. "You were um... intimate?"

Mark almost choked on his coffee. "Jesus, no! My folks moved us back to Vancouver when I was thirteen. Ben and me didn't even know what our dicks were for back then. Don't get me wrong, we were close. Damned near broke my heart when I had to leave him behind, but it wasn't until I ran into him in a liquor store in Chicago two years ago that we... got acquainted in that way."

Ray was sure he didn't want to hear any more details. The details he already did have were making him squirm. Mark loved to talk about himself though, so it was easy enough for Ray to steer the focus of the conversation away from his partner. "Had you.... um. Were there other guys..."

"Yeah. I knew I was gay by the time I signed for the Hawks. You don't get to wallow in denial for long when you spend a lot of time in locker rooms with half naked guys."

"Heh, yeah, I guess not!" Ray snorted, getting to his feet. He'd never had that problem. He'd never so much as kissed a guy before. Never wanted to. It had been girls all the way for Ray. Sure, he'd wondered. It was natural to wonder. But every time he'd looked at a guy and wondered, his father's disapproving face had flashed into his mind and he'd looked the other way.

Come to think of it, the same thing had happened when he'd looked at girls, but he'd gotten over that when the Stella exploded into his life.

"You're wondering if I corrupted innocent little Ben, aren't you?" Mark grinned.

"No!" Ray spluttered, although that very thought had just drifted across his mind. Lots of things seemed to be crossing his mind lately. "I already know more than I want to about Fraser's sexual high jinks."

"So what? He hasn't changed. Does it really matter that he likes to get fucked by men occasionally?"

Ray felt himself grow red and decided to blame it on the booze. "Jesus, Smithbauer!" Some mental images he could really do without. And anyway, that sentence didn't sit well with him. It made Fraser sound desperate. "Maybe that's what you like to do," he said. "But Fraser? He don't do casual."

Smithbauer grinned and tossed back the last of his coffee. "Yeah, so I discovered. He said at his age, he needed something a little more permanent than a couple of hours of passion once every two years. You're a good friend to him, Ray. He's lucky to have a partner like you. Thanks for the use of the sofa."

"Anytime. I mean that. Just call first. Unlike some people, I do have a phone!"

Ray used the bathroom, swallowed a couple of painkillers and drunk about a gallon of water in an attempt to stave off the inevitable hangover and then collapsed onto his unmade bed.

But sleep was slow to come, and when it did, his dreams were disturbing. He woke before dawn, drenched in sweat and panting like he'd run a marathon. Staggering to the bathroom he threw up, clinging weakly to the toilet bowl until his head stopped spinning. Vestiges of half remembered terrors still floated around his head, and he swore by all that was holy, he would never touch whiskey again.

Eventually, he went back to bed and lay listening to Smithbauers' snores, and the noise of traffic on the streets below. He was tired, but fought the urge to sleep, unwilling to have the dream return.

After a while, he heard movement from the living room but he was reluctant to show his face until he was sure no signs of his earlier distress remained on it. He wondered if Smithbauer would want something to eat, and if he had anything to offer that was more substantial than coffee and three day old pizza. He was mentally composing a shopping list when Mark yelled "Hey, Kowalski? Bathroom's free."

Ray emerged from his bedroom to find Mark rummaging around in the kitchen. "Do you have any actual food at all?" he asked.

"I got some eggs in the fridge. Maybe some bacon, if it ain't past its sell by date."

"Great, I'll do omelettes while you take a shower, eh?"

Ray nodded and ducked into the bathroom, sticking his head back out to add, "Put on a pot of coffee too, will ya?"

Smithbauer shook his head but filled the pot none the less.

It amused Ray to think that most times he'd brought someone home to spend the night, he'd had to cook them breakfast the next morning. Gay guys were definitely less high maintenance than women. Maybe there was something to be said for that lifestyle after all?

The omelettes were surprisingly good and the coffee was nice and strong. Ray was on his second cup when Mark decided to bring up the subject of Fraser again. "Hey, listen, Ray. About what happened at Ben's place? I'm really sorry you had to find out that way, but I need to know that you're not gonna go all weird on him because he likes guys as well as girls."

Ray met Mark's eyes over the rim of his cup. "What kind of a dick do you take me for? Fraser's my friend. Like you said, I know all the important stuff about him already. His sexual orientation don't mean squat to me."

Mark stared at him for a long moment. "There have to be a ton of things you want to know, and I'd bet my best stick you won't ask him any of them. Will you?"

Ray didn't answer. Sure there were questions. He wondered how long Fraser had known he liked guys, how he'd found it out, how he'd coped with the knowledge, and how it felt to surrender yourself to someone like that... but he'd sooner cut off his own right testicle than ask any of them.

"Talk to him, Ray. Don't fuck this up."

"Okay, Jesus! You sound like my mother, except she don't have such a potty mouth," Ray complained. "I'll talk to him. I swear."

"Good." Mark got up and reached for his jacket. "Listen, thanks for putting me up last night. Any time you're in my neck of the woods, give me a whistle, eh? I'll take you clubbing."

Ray snorted. "Your sort of clubs, I can do without. But there is something you could do for me."

Mark raised an eyebrow suggestively. Ray rolled his eyes and went over to the closet. After a bit of rummaging, he emerged triumphantly holding a Blackhawks baseball cap in his hand. "Sign my hat?"

Ten minutes later, Ray was trotting down the stairs on his way to the car, thinking about what the hell he would say to Fraser when he arrived at the station that afternoon. That is, if he showed up at all. He might still be embarrassed about the whole kissing thing, which was not cool. They needed to get this all cleared up and move on. Ray wanted nothing more than to get things back the way they had been before.

He barreled out of the door and right into the very person he'd been thinking about.

"Oof!" Ray staggered backwards, impacting with the doorframe. "Jesus, Fraser, what the hell are you doing here?" It was 8am. Far too early for a social call. Unless of course, Fraser had been up half the night like Ray had.

And actually, Fraser did look weird. Ray couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something amiss with the Mountie and you didn't have to be a detective to feel it. He'd been worried that Fraser would seem different to him next time they met, but this was more than a perception shift. Fraser's face was pale, and he had a haunted look about him.

Ray peered at him closely. "You seen a ghost?

Fraser blinked and seemed to pull himself together. "Of course not, Ray. That would just be silly. I was merely going to come up and ask for a lift to the station. I'm not needed at the Consulate today so I was going to offer my services. My... my liaising services that is."

Yup, something was definitely screwy, but this was hardly the place to give Fraser the third degree. "Yeah, okay," he said, unlocking the goat to let Dief into the back seat.

They drove the first few miles in silence. Ray had decided to let Fraser make the first move but he seemed as reluctant as Ray to start the ball rolling. He'd had almost given up hope when Fraser cleared his throat.

"Ray, where did you go last night? After you left my apartment, did you go straight home?"

Ray glanced sideways. Fraser was staring intently out of the window, so Ray couldn't get a good look at his face. It was an odd question, but at least he was talking. "Went to a bar," Ray admitted. "Got shit faced and spent the early hours of the morning speaking to Ralf on the Great White Telephone."

He expected Fraser to admonish him on the perils of excessive alcohol, but the man in the seat next to him was clearly a pod-person because he said instead, "I'm sorry, Ray."

"You're sorry? What the hell you got to be sorry for? You didn't force all that whiskey down my throat."

Fraser turned troubled eyes on him. "But I may as well have. Honestly, Ray, if you hadn't had to witness such a distasteful scene between myself and Mark, would you have drank to such excess? I think not."

Ray sighed deeply. Fraser was feeling guilty. And maybe he wanted Fraser to feel a little guilt. After all, if only he'd trusted Ray with his big secret, then he might have been a bit more prepared for what he'd seen last night.

"Look, Fraser. We got a full day ahead of us. We can't get into this right now. I was feeling sorry for myself. I drank too much. It happens. Let's leave it at that for now?"

Another mile or so of silence slipped by. Then Fraser took a deep breath. "Did you... were you..."

Ray steadfastly watched the road rather than giving into the temptation of watching Fraser squirm. "Did I what?" he asked when Fraser fell silent.

"Nothing," came the tense response. "It's really none of my business who you take home with you, after all."

Now that got Ray's full attention. Fraser sounded downright pissy, and what right did he have to get bent out of shape over something like that? After all, he wasn't Ray's boyfriend.

Before Ray could work up a head of steam over it, a call came over the radio for all cars in the vicinity to attend a robbery going down in a local bookstore. Ray gave Fraser one good long look. "This conversation is not over."

"Hey, you still beating yourself up over this?" Ray asked. They were heading back to Ray's car after the less than successful bookshop bust leaving a trail of cabbage leaves and tissue paper in their wake.

Fraser stared straight ahead as they walked, refusing to make eye contact. "I was... distracted, Ray. Had I been more vigilant, we might have avoided the inevitable plunge through a plate glass window that has so typified our working relationship thus far."

"Oh, har-de har-har," Ray snapped. He wasn't really in the mood for Fraser's attempts at humor right now. His shirt was torn, he had a cut lip and by the feel of it, a rapidly swelling right eye. "I told you already about a million times it wasn't your fault. I checked that broom closet over myself and I didn't see him either. What makes you think you woulda done better?"

Ray unlocked the car and glared at Fraser over the roof.

Fraser opened his mouth to say something no less than three times before he finally settled on, "Well of course I don't think that, Ray. That would be ridiculous."

Ray knew Fraser well enough by now to tell that he was being humored, but decided that this was neither the time nor the place to get into it. He needed to get home, wash off some of the stink from the dumpster they had landed in and maybe top up his depleted caffeine levels.

He opened the door to let Dief in, then quickly shut it again before the wolf could carry the spoils of his own adventure in the alley inside. "Lose the rat fuzzface, or you're walking home."

Dief delicately dropped the dead rodent at Ray's feet, clearly indicating that it had been meant as a gift, but if Ray didn't appreciate the gesture, then fine. His loss.

Fraser barely looked up until Ray was pulling up outside his apartment, and then it was only to raise an eyebrow in query.

"You and me gotta talk, Fraser," Ray said without making any attempt to get out of the car.

"We can't talk at the station?"

Ray slammed his hands down on the steering wheel making Diefenbaker whine and lick his ear. "Get off mutt!" He batted the concerned wolf away gently and turned off the engine. "Okay. You invite me round for dinner, your boyfriend shows up and all but fucks you right in front of me and you start acting queer about what I did with the rest of my evening. You really wanna have that conversation at the stationhouse, Frase?"

Finally Fraser managed to look him in the eye. "I can't apologise enough."

"Shut up, Fraser," Ray sighed. "You're off duty tomorrow, there's at least one pair of your jeans here, and I'm sure I can find a t-shirt that'll stretch to fit."

"I have no shoes."

Ray raised his hand to strike the wheel again, but somehow he managed to stop himself. "That all you gotta say? You have no shoes?" Fraser wasn't looking at him again. It had been a lame excuse and they both knew it. "Things are happening here, Fraser. big things. Things you and me gotta sort out before there's a huge ... huge...."


"Chasm, right, right! Exactly!" Ray stabbed his index finger into Fraser's chest pocket repeatedly. "And cosy though it was, I ain't in no hurry to spend any more time in a chasm with you, buddy."

Fraser closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. "Of course you're not, Ray. I understand. Shall we get this over then?" And without waiting for an answer, he got out of the car.

"Okay, gimme five to wash off some of this stink, and then we talk."

Fraser nodded, tossing his hat, the only part of his uniform that had remained unsoiled from their fall, onto the coffee table. Ray half wondered if Fraser would still be there when he got out of the shower, but short of locking the front door and taking the key into the bathroom with him, there was nothing Ray could do but trust him.

It was the fastest shower Ray had ever had and as he towelled dry his hair, he was relieved to hear Fraser opening and closing the kitchen cabinets. Probably rearranging Ray's spice jars into alphabetical order like he'd done the last time Ray left him alone in there for more than a minute.

Emerging from the bathroom wrapped in a long bathrobe, Ray immediately smelled coffee. Damn, but Fraser knew him too well.

Fraser turned at his approach and gulped, pressing back against the counter wide eyed with trepidation. Ray supposed he probably did look kinda fierce, but hell, there was a mug of steaming coffee in Fraser's hand and Ray had designs on it.

"Candy?" he asked hopefully.

Fraser handed the cup over with a relived sigh and reached for the mug of bark tea he'd made for himself. "Naturally."

Ray took a long sniff of the steaming liquid and blinked at Fraser happily. "I could kiss you!"

Fraser had been taking a sip of the tea, and only just avoided snorting it up his nose.

Which kinda diffused the awkwardness Ray had been feeling about a nanosecond after the words had come out of his mouth, because shit! You don't tell your suddenly gay partner that you want to kiss him. Not that Ray did. Want to kiss him. Not that it would be totally disgusting or anything. Fraser had nice lips. He was probably a good kisser. Not that Ray wanted to know that. Not really....

Ray shook his head and grabbed the mug of coffee to hide his embarrassment. "So, what's with the first aid kit?" He tipped his head towards the medical supplies strewn on the counter.

Fraser picked up the bowl of water and some gauze. "Well, I need to tend to your injuries, Ray."

They had both gotten one or two cuts when they'd dived out of the window, which Ray had become even more painfully aware of in the shower on account of how they had stung like a bastard. If anything, Fraser looked more banged up than Ray. It was kinda weird to see that Fraser hadn't even attempted to clean himself up. Like he didn't care. And there was no way Ray would let him get away with that. "Okay, but do me a favor?"

"Anything, Ray"

Ray tried to ignore how desperate that had sounded. How needy. "Shower first. You stink, buddy."

"Oh! Of course." Fraser looked down at his filthy red serge and seemed to notice for the first time that it was less than pristine. "My apologies." He hurried into the still steamy bathroom.

Ray waited until he heard the water running then leaned against the door jam. "And once you're done playing doctor, I'll do you the same favor, okay?"

Fraser stuck his head around the door. "I beg your pardon?"

"Unless you hadn't noticed, you're pretty banged up too, Fraser. We can do each other."

The look of total shock on Fraser's face as he fled back into the bathroom was enough to make Ray bite back a snort of laughter. This thing with Fraser, it was totally fucked up. But if he could still tease Fraser, if they still had that when all the talking was done and dusted, then maybe there was still a chance for their duet.

Fraser was dressed in old jeans and one of Ray's stretched t-shirts, with his hair combed, his cuts cleaned, and two cups of tea in him before Ray finally lost patience with his blatant stall tactics.

"Look, Frase. It's late and I cleaned my fridge out last week. Sit down will ya? "

Fraser withdrew his head from the bowels of the refrigerator. "Matters of hygiene should never be put off, Ray. There's a piece of cold pizza stuck to the back that looks like it's been here for years."

"Got pineapple on?"

"Hard to tell, Ray. Mostly it's green." Dief whined and licked his lips hopefully. "Not even you would want to eat this Diefenbaker. Trust me."

Ray sighed. "Okay, so I haven't cleaned it in a while, but leave it will ya? We got stuff to talk over. I'd really like to have his conversation with your face, not your ass."

Fraser withdrew quickly, managing to hit his head on the way out, and sat down heavily on said ass.

Ray took the opportunity to grab Fraser by the elbow and herd him to the sofa, shoving him down onto it before parking himself on the coffee table directly in front.

Fraser was chewing on his lower lip. "So indeed," he muttered, clasping his hands together in his lap.

"Okay. First things first, Frase. I want you to know, that whole thing with Mark... Smithbauer I mean - the kissing thing. You don't need to worry about that."

Fraser's eyes snapped up to meet Ray's. "I don't?"

"Nah. I wasn't freaked." Which was a lie and they both knew it but Ray was trying to be magnanimous here.

Fraser frowned. "You weren't?"

"Okay, maybe a little. I mean it was a shock. I didn't know. Hell of a way to find out, you know?"

Fraser watched Ray warily.

"So anyway, I just wanted you to know. I'm fine with it. Nothing's changed."

Fraser's eyes dropped to the vicinity of Ray's knees again. He took a deep breath. Let it out. Took another. "Nothing, Ray?"

Okay, it was a fair question. His perception of who Fraser was might have wobbled a bit, but it hadn't changed.

"Nothing that matters," Ray replied, putting every shred of certainty he possessed into the look.

Fraser blinked and nodded, even managing a weak smile. "Thank you, Ray. That means a great deal to me."

Ray reached out and gently squeezed Fraser's shoulder. "That's good. That's greatness, Frase. Now, you wanna tell me about the whole twenty questions thing in the car this morning?"

Fraser sighed and closed his eyes. "I believed that you and Mark had been... intimate."

Ray's mouth fell open. If Fraser hadn't looked so vulnerable right then, Ray might even have laughed at the absurdity of it. "Are you unhinged?" he spluttered. "I saw him come out of your apartment block. His hair was wet and... "

"Jesus, Frase. Based on that you thought I'd fucked him?" Ray's head was pounding. This didn't make any sense. Fraser was clearly delusional. Where had he gotten the idea that Ray might be into guys? "He walked into the bar, we got talking, I offered him my couch for the night. He's an arrogant prick who can't deliver a decent slap shot these days, but he's an okay guy." Ray squatted down and tried to catch Fraser's eye. "Why the hell would you think I'd sleep with any guy, far less him?"

Fraser had gone red. "Of course you wouldn't, Ray. I don't know what's come over me. I seem to be making a fool of myself at every turn. I should go..."

"Oh no you don't!" Ray placed his hands firmly on Fraser's knees, preventing from standing up. "What the fuck is going on here, Fraser?"

Fraser went, if anything, even redder. His voice, when he finally spoke was pitched so low that Ray had to lean closer to hear.

"Mark came to my apartment last night for sex, Ray. When he didn't get it from me, I assumed he would go looking elsewhere. I saw him come out of your apartment the next morning and made some rather bizarre assumptions. I'm sorry."

Ray sighed and scrubbed his hands through his hair. There were so many questions he needed answered. So much he wanted to know. But one thing was painfully obvious. Fraser's feeling for Smithbauer were anything but casual. And yeah, love made you do crazy things sometimes. Witness the whole 'ex-wife stalking' scenario.

"Okay. Look. I didn't sleep with your boyfriend," Ray couldn't bring himself to look Fraser in the eye either, because he'd already said he wasn't freaked about this, and yet, one look and Fraser would be able to see that for the lie it was. He was all sorts of freaked, "but Frase, if you think he would go looking elsewhere when you say no... then maybe he isn't the stand up guy you think he is."

Fraser leaned back against the couch and sighed too. "He isn't my boyfriend. He isn't even my lover really. It's... it's hard to say what we are to each other."

Ray let out a snort. "I don't see you as a casual sex sort of guy, Frase. Hell you run a mile when a woman smiles at you. Me? Oh, hell yeah. Casual as you like. Had one marriage go bad on me and maybe I'm not ready to go there again anytime soon, but I sure ain't no monk. So yeah, casual is my middle name. But you?"

"You've been hurt in the past, Ray, I know that..."

"No! Don't try to make this about me, Frase. This is about us. This is about friendship, and partnership, and secrets, and lies." He leaned back, giving Fraser room to move if he needed to. "This is about coming clean. Honesty, Fraser. The basis of every relationship. You don't got honesty? You got nothing."

"Yes of course, Ray. You're absolutely right." Fraser leaned his head back against the couch. "On our adventure I realized that I couldn't go on pretending. We'd become so close, you and I. Sharing every hour, sharing meals, sleeping right next to each other... It made me see that I needed to tell you the truth, even if it meant the end of us. Last night... I had hoped..."

"Yeah, I figured something was screwy. The meal. The Martha Stewart treatment of your apartment. I thought maybe you were planning on going back to Yukonsville. That you were trying to soften the blow." Ray laughed mirthlessly. "I tell you, buddy, having you come out of the closet and then introduce me to your boyfriend was the last scenario on my mind."

"No!" Fraser was suddenly on his feet and half way to Ray before Ray had fully turned around. He looked stricken. "You don't understand! I didn't even know Mark was in town. Last night, I was simply going to tell you that I'm in love with you, and that I have been for quite some time."

Ray's heart skipped a beat. All he could hear was Fraser's words, repeating themselves over and over inside his head. In love with you... in love with you... in love...

"Huh?" he croaked, letting the windowsill take his weight, because his legs sure couldn't hack it. "Wait, wait. Hang on. I don't understand..."

Fraser stopped a few inches from him, hands hovering in the air. His eyes were huge. "Ray. Our friendship, our partnership... it means the world to me. But I realize that by withholding my true feelings from you, I'm being a coward." Fraser took one step closer, so that his breath ghosted over Ray's face when he spoke. "Ray, I love you. I can't help that. Nor will I apologize for it."

Ray stood there, frozen to the spot, trying to make sense of it all. Was Fraser expecting some sort of reply to that, because Ray was fucked if he could think of anything to say. This was too damned much. He'd just gotten over the shock of finding out Fraser was gay. He'd accepted it. Decided he could live with it. That it really didn't matter. But this? This he didn't know what to do with.

And then he realized that Fraser was even closer than before, his face looming right in front of Ray, tilted to the side and his eyes were sliding closed and dear God in heaven, Fraser was going to kiss him, and he couldn't fucking move.

It was Dief barking that made him snap out of it. Someone was knocking on his door and Fraser had stopped moving. Ray edged past him, backed away, undid the chain and opened the door, all without taking his eyes off Fraser.

"I think I left my keys here, eh?" Smithbauer asked, stepping past Ray and into the middle of a very tense situation. He looked from Fraser to Ray and back, then let out a muffled curse. "What the fuck have you been saying to him, Kowalski?"

Fraser was suddenly all action. He scooped up his hat and boots, and shoved past them both without so much as a word of explanation. Part of Ray wanted to call him back, and part was relived to see him go, so he didn't do a damned thing. Smithbauer gave him a filthy look, snatched his keys from the kitchen counter and hurried after the fleeing Mountie.

Ray slammed the door shut and kicked it.

He sat in the dark staring at the unplugged television set for hours. Curled up beside him on the sofa, Dief occasionally nuzzled his hand, but Ray ignored him, until Dief's cold, wet nose made contact with his ear. That snapped Ray right out of his fugue.

"Okay, okay! What is it? You want out? Ya hungry? What?"

Dief whined and laid his head in Ray's lap.

"None of the above, huh?" Ray reached down and scratched Dief's ears, making the wolf's tail thump appreciatively.

They sat in silence for a while; until Ray could put into words what he'd been thinking all this time. It wasn't easy saying it out loud, but who would hear him? The wolf was deaf. Allegedly.

"It's not that he's gay," he said vehemently. "Not entirely anyway. I've got nothing but respect for gays that are 'Out and Proud'. Takes a hell of a lot of balls to do that. To stand up to your family, your friends, people you gotta work with and say 'okay, I fuck men. Deal with it.' I wish I had courage like that."

Dief nudged his hand. Ray had momentarily forgotten that the important thing here was to continue to scratch the wolf's ears.

"Okay. So. What's my problem? I'll tell you what my problem is; Frase? He ain't out. He's so far in the closet, people hang coats on him. And all this time, here was me thinking he's the closest thing to perfection on the planet. I put him up on some pedestal and now... now I don't know any more. He's like this regular guy all of a sudden. Like Clark Kent when he takes off the Superman underpants. He's flawed and weak like the rest of us, and I should have known that."

Ray sighed and got up. He went to the kitchen and searched for something to feed his companion. He found a can of stew and opened it.

"But that doesn't even matter. That's just me having my nose outta joint. It's just... well, he tells me he's in love with me! " Ray found an old dish and upended the can, his every move followed by hungry eyes.

Ray stepped back and watched Dief make short work of what had been intended as tomorrow's dinner. "If he were just gay, I could handle that. I could compart-whats-its-name that and work with him and be his best buddy. No worries. But this? I'll look at him and ... and wonder if he's thinking about doing stuff to me. 'Cause you don't love someone and not want to... you know... f-fuck them."

Dief lifted his head long enough to give Ray a quizzical look. Ray took that as an invitation to continue with his self-analysis.

"I can't be thinking about that stuff. I got a job to do. I fight bad guys, and I gotta be tough, and scary. The guys at the station gotta believe I've got their asses, not that I want their asses!

And then there's Stella. Jeez, I can just imagine what she would have to say about it all. Another reason why Ray is a total fuck up. Then Stell would out me to my mum, and, fuck - I just made peace with my father again after years of cold shoulder treatment. "

Ray dragged in a huge shaky lungful of air and let it out slowly. Way to lose the plot Kowalski? What the hell had happened here? He'd been trying to talk himself out of a fit of blatant homophobia, and managed to talk himself into being Fraser's boyfriend? How the fuck did that happen?

"I can't go down that route with him," he muttered, more to himself than to the wolf. "But if I don't... maybe he runs. All the way back to the frozen wilderness to set up housekeeping with some mad trapper, or a ... an ex hockey player with eyes too fucking close together. I don't want to loose him, Dief."

Dief licked the dish clean and chased it into a corner. When there was not so much as a drop of gravy left, he sat down and cocked his head again.

Ray rolled his eyes. "Jeez! I'm getting as bad as Fraser. All you care about is sex, food and walkies, dontcha?"

Dief's ears twitched forward and Ray grinned. "Deaf my ass. Come on, furball. Once round the block. You talk too much.

Of course, a quick jog around the block took considerably longer than Ray had anticipated on account of Diefenbaker having to stop and sniff every lamppost en route, then mark his new territory with his own scent. Ray marveled at just how much pee one wolf could produce.

Leaning against the wall of a Seven Eleven trying to be patient while Dief did his thing, Ray began to wish he hadn't smoked all his cigarettes. He had no intention of starting up again, but this whole situation with Fraser had him on edge. He figured a pack of smokes would do less harm in the short run that drinking himself into the ground, so he pushed open the door and went in.

The guy behind the counter had obviously been taking advantage of a quiet spell to stock some shelves, and was perched on top of a set of rickety step ladders. "Nah, don't rush. I'm not in a hurry," Ray assured the guy, who gratefully went back rearranging bottles of booze.

Ray wandered over to the magazines and picked up a copy of 'The Ring' and flicked to the latest news and who was big in the boxing world. Man, he was so out of touch. He'd never even heard of the latest upcoming star. Working his way along the rack, he flicked through 'Autoracing' shiny, 'Men's Vogue', Ha! Vecchio would so wear that. 'Flex', Whoa, how do guys even walk with thighs that big? and finally something called 'Instinct'. At first he thought it was another magazine like Vogue, lots of good-looking guys, wearing nice clothes and smiling big white smiles, until he noticed the titles of some of the articles.

"Ten Things You Should Know about Butt Plugs!" Ray muttered, flipping the cover shut to read the blurb on the front. "Damn!" He'd picked up a fucking gay magazine.

"Okay buddy, ready when you are," the storekeeper called from behind the counter.

Ray reached up to put the magazine back on the shelf. Hesitated. Reached up again. Grabbed a copy of the Auto racing magazine and headed for the counter.

The guy didn't even blink at his two choices. "And gimme a pack of Marlboro Lights,"

Ray paid, stuffed the gay mag inside the Auto mag and made a hasty exit, by which time Dief had moved on to christening hubcaps.

Ray looked at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and groaned. It wasn't even dawn yet but he'd abandoned any further attempts at sleep. He looked like he hadn't gotten a wink. Which was almost true. When he hadslept, his dreams were more the stuff of nightmares.

Parts had been undeniably erotic, involving massages and whispers and soft breath on the back off his neck, but parts had been terrifying. He remembered being restrained with cuffs, or ropes, being forced to do something that he didn't want to do but couldn't recall. It had been deeply disturbing. He awoke with a hard-on but no desire to do anything with it.

Ray shook his head. He should never have bought the damned magazine. He'd been totally freaked reading all the articles, but he hadn't been able to stop himself. It was like some inner voice had been telling him that he needed to know this stuff if he was going to make a go of it with Fraser.

That made him laugh. Make a go of it? When had he decided that he was going down that route after all? Did he ever have any real choice in this? His relationship with Fraser had always been a run away train. Ray had no control over it. He never had.

There was a slight edge of excitement about it. A feeling of standing on the edge of a cliff, scared shitless that the hang glider would crash, but buzzed enough on the adrenaline to jump anyway.

That is, if he could convince Fraser to be pals again, far less... anything else.

Later, en route to Fraser's place with Dief in the back, Ray tried to practice what he would say.

Fraser, I'm real pink about last night... nope!

Fraser... Frase, I'm sorry I freaked about the whole kissing thing. If you were gonna kiss me that is... you might not have been in which case... shit!

Howzabout you an' me, Frase? Doin' it. The wild thang. The deed. Bumping uglies...the horizontal mambo... hiding the sausage... playing doctor... sinking the soldier... ah fuckfuckfuck!

If it sounded that bad inside his head, how was it going to sound out loud? And Fraser was a master of words, a fucking maestro! Maybe this wasn't such a great idea, but it was a moot point, because they were there. Ray pulled up outside the apartment block and took a deep breath.

"Okay. If all else fails, I'm just here to drop you off." Dief wuffed supportively from the backseat.

Ray stood outside Fraser's door with his fist raised to knock. Dief sat patiently, splitting his attention between Ray's face and the closed door. Eventually, his deep need for breakfast got the better of his good manners and he began to whine, which snapped Ray out of his panic coma.

It seemed to take long time before he heard the chain sliding back. Ray licked dry lips and braced himself for... Mark Smithbauer, rumpled, sleepy and half naked, peering at him in surprise.

Too late! He was too damned late. Smithbauer had played it like a pro and taken full advantage of Fraser's vulnerability. That pissed Ray off beyond the telling of it, but it also gave him a very valid reason to bolt.

Dief shoved past Mark's legs. "I um, I brought the wolf back," Ray stated unnecessarily.

Mark yawned and scratched his belly. "Cool."

Ray took a step backwards, then another. "Tell Fraser..." What? Tell him what? What was there left to say? "Tell him I said sorry. I'll call later."

Ray turned and made a hasty retreat. He was half way down the stairs when a hand grabbed his shoulder and halted him in his tracks.

"Whoa, Ray. Hold it." Smithbauer slipped past him and effectively blocked his way down the stairs. "Come back up. We need to talk."

Ray shook his head. No, they did not need to talk. Talking was the last thing they needed to be doing. Mark had won. Canada had won. End of fucking story. He shook his head. "Get out of my way."

Smithbauer didn't budge. "It's not the way it looks, okay?" he assured Ray, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder, which Ray flinched back from. "Nothing happened. He slept on his bedroll all night. Come on, Ray, come back up?"

Nothing happened? No sex? No... no nothing? Ray was having a hard time believing that. Fraser had been so upset last night when he left. Upset and vulnerable Fraser plus angry and protective Smithbauer equaled a consolatory blowjob at the very least, surely?

"I got... stuff to do," he hedged, wanting to hear more but not wanting to want it.

Mark reached out again, and this time Ray sagged, letting the hand make contact with his shoulder. "He told me what happened last night," Mark said softly. "He's in love with you, eh?"

Ray closed his eyes. "I know."

"Come on, Ray. Come back up?"

Ray took a deep breath and nodded. No more games. He walked up the stairs like a man going to the gallows.

Inside the apartment, Ray saw no evidence that any sexual high jinx had gone on. Smithbauer's clothes were folded and hanging over a chair next to Fraser's rickety cot. Fraser himself was out for the count on the floor at the foot of the bed. This apartment had a perfectly serviceable sofa, yet he still chose the bedroll. Guy was a freak.

Smithbauer drew him into the kitchen and pointed at the kettle. Ray shook his head. He was still borderline freak out material here, he didn't need to add caffeine to the equation. Mark poured himself a glass of water. "He feels like shit you know?"

Ray leaned back against the counter and scowled at Smithbauer. "What's he got to feel shit about?" he hissed, trying to keep it down so as not to wake the exhausted Mountie. "He ain't done nothing wrong."

"That's what I tried to tell him, but you know Ben. He feels that he tried to take advantage of you last night, and if I hadn't barged in when I did, who knows what would have happened?"

Ray stared down at the floor, arms wrapped tightly around himself. "It was just... it was a shock. I didn't know. How could I know? I needed time... some space to think things through."

Smithbauer nodded, swallowed down his water and started to get dressed. "Look, I need to get going. I have a charity match later and I need to get back. Do not let him take the blame for everything, Ray, because you know he'll try, eh? Oh, and make him drink plenty water when he wakes up."

Ray looked at Smithbauer in disbelief. "He's been drinking?"

"We polished off a bottle of Glenfiddich last night. That's why he's slept though all this."

Wow. Ray couldn't remember ever seeing Fraser drink alcohol. Once Smithbauer had left, Ray dug out some breakfast for Dief, poured a glass of water for Fraser and went to sit on the cot.

Fraser looked terrible. He was probably beginning to feel the effects of the hangover. His hair was sticking up in random tufts and he stank of booze. Superman without the pants, Ray smiled fondly.

Fraser groaned and rolled over, exposing his naked back to the elements. Ray put the glass on the chest beside the cot and kicked off his shoes. He needed to see if he could at least hack being in close proximity to a half naked Fraser and in his present state, Ray figured he was no threat, plus he was keeping his pants and t-shirt on.

He lay down on the bedroll next to Fraser, pulled the scratchy blanket over them both and squirmed as close as he could without actually touching. Fraser groaned again and rolled onto his back.

Ray propped his head on his hand and gazed down. Fraser was... well, not beautiful exactly. But he would definitely not look out of place between the covers of the Vogue magazine. He had the softest, clearest skin Ray had ever seen on a guy, even with the beginnings of morning stubble shading his jaw, and the longest eyelashes he'd ever seen outside a mascara ad.

Strong features. Manly features. Not at all how Ray had always though a gay guy should look. Yeah, he'd bought into the stereotype, and he had to rethink that. Look at Smithbauer. Big, butch, masculine athlete, and queer as a coot. Go figure.

Ray looked at Fraser's mouth. It was a nice mouth, as mouths went. He really couldn't think of anything else to say about it. Except that when Fraser smiled, sometimes, it just lit up his whole face. He should smile more often. It was a shame to have a smile like that and not use it.

Ray continued his inspection. Fraser's lips were nothing like a woman's. Ray liked 'em soft and pouty. Fraser's were just guy lips. Then Fraser's tongue darted out to moisten said lips and Ray got a sudden jolt in the groin area. What the... Okay that was unexpected. Ray continued to watch Fraser's face, but nothing else happened and he figured it had just been a coincidence. Nothing to freak about. Everything was cool. He was lying curled up next to Fraser just like on the quest, and nothing had changed. Except that Ray apparently had a thing for Fraser's tongue, but that was neither here not there.

Ray lay down and closed his eyes. This was... okay. He could do this. He could totally sleep with Fraser and if he could do that, maybe he could manage more? Maybe he could give Fraser what he needed?

Ray began to drift off to sleep with thoughts of Fraser licking stuff. Shoes... dirt... oil... Ray's ear... oh yeah... hang on, that felt like....

"Fuck! Dief, get away from me!"

Diefenbaker snorted and jumped up onto the cot.

Ray grinned and snuggled into Fraser's warm back. "Yeah, okay Mutt. No-one else is using it so you might as well."

"Oh, Dear Lord..."

Ray jolted awake at Fraser's words and was instantly disoriented. This wasn't his bed, it wasn't even his floor, and that definitely wasn't his blanket. In fact, it wasn't a blanket at all. It was Fraser.

He was lying on his back, on the floor with Fraser draped all over him. Fraser was heavy, and hot and... fuck, hard. That? That was a definite boner he could feel poking him in the hip. No doubt about it. Shit! Okay, okay don't panic. This is the sort of thing he was going to have to get used to if he and Fraser were going to be together. And it didn't feel too bad really. If he didn't think about it. It was just another part of Fraser, like his fingers, or his feet or his... tongue.

Fraser's face was pressed into the crook of Ray's neck and his hands were balled up tight in Ray's t-shirt. And he was shaking like a leaf.

"Frase?" Ray croaked, wishing he'd left the glass of water a little closer at hand. "You gonna hurl?"

Fraser raised his head and squinted blearily at Ray blearily. "Where... what... why am...uhhh."

"Yeah," Ray sympathized. "That would be the hangover."

Fraser suddenly seemed to realize where he was, and whom he was lying on and he threw himself off, which wasn't the best idea he could have had. Ray imagined that his head must be throbbing like hell right about now.

Ray scrambled up and got the glass of water but Fraser made no attempt to take it. He just lay there looking green about the gills and more than a little bit lost.

"Ray, did I... did I do anything I ought to know about?"

Ray squatted down next to him and offered the glass of water again. This time, Fraser managed to sit upright, and took a sip.

"Perfect gentleman, Frase. Smithbauer said to say bye. He had to rush off."

Fraser was gulping down the water now. "Ray would you be so kind as to fetch me some Aspirin from the drawer in the kitchen. Next to the cutlery. Thank you kindly."

Ray took the empty glass, refilled it and retrieved the bottle of tablets. "So, you and Mark made quite a dent in the good stuff last night?" Ray looked at the almost empty whiskey bottle on Fraser's dining table.

"Oh dear!" Fraser closed his eyes and dry swallowed two pills. Following that up with a gulp of water. "He's really very persuasive. It's lucky I don't have duty today. My mouth feels like the bottom of a bear's den."

"Probably tastes like it too," Ray nodded. "You think you can manage to wash up while I make us some food?" Ray waved his hand dismissively at Fraser's distressed face. "Hey, trust me. You'll actually feel better once you get something solid in there."

Fraser staggered to his feet and shouldered into a ratty old bathrobe. With one final bemused glance over his shoulder, he snagged his shaving kit and went out the door.

Ray shook his head. Shared bathrooms were not his idea of modern living, but after years chipping the ice off some outside toilet, Fraser probably thought he was living in the lap of luxury now. He set to work ransacking the small kitchen for edibles. By the time Fraser had returned, with a little more color in his cheeks, Ray had a large pot of bark tea on the table, along with a couple of rounds of toast and a jar of something that looked like jam. He hoped it was jam. Could be cranberry jelly for all he knew.

Fraser sat down heavily at the table and poured himself a cup of tea with shaking hands. "Ray, why were you sleeping on the floor with me when there was a perfectly good bed less that a foot away?"

Ray almost choked on his mouthful of toast. Trust Fraser to just get right to it. "The um, the fuzzball had made a prior claim. It was the floor or your tiny little sofa. I figured the floor was the best of a bad lot."

Dief was only now thinking of getting up from his cozy bed, stretching his back out and yawning, all teeth and lolling pink tongue.

"Diefenbaker, that was very rude. House guests should always be offered the bed," Fraser admonished half-heartedly. He gingerly nibbled at the corner of a piece of toast. "I should probably apologize for the um, the unwanted activity..."

"You mean the hard-on?"

Fraser dropped the toast onto his plate and went pale again. "Um, yes, as you say. I'm afraid I don't know what came over me."

Ray snorted. "I could make a joke here, but it would be far too crude, even for me. So, what were you dreaming about anyway? Me?" Ray smiled, licked his lips and winked outrageously.

"Ray? Are you... are you flirting with me by any chance?"

"Maybe," Ray replied silkily. "Never flirted with a guy before. How'm I doing?" Fraser looked like he might be turning blue. His excess lung capacity didn't seem to be helping him at all. "Okay, breathe, Frase, breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth..."

"Ray, are you ill. And by that, I mean mentally ill of course. Or perhaps it's me that's ill. I don't recall receiving any blows to the head recently..."

And off he goes, away on a tangent.

Ray absolutely did not want to listen to all the reasons and excuses Fraser could come up to explain away Ray's behavior. His heart spiked with the adrenalin shot and all he could think of was shutting Fraser the hell up. Getting to his feet, he came around the table and sunk to his knees beside Fraser's chair, lunging forward to clamp his lips over the end of Fraser's nose. Not his original target, it has to be said, but Fraser had jerked back in surprise, and anyway, he'd shut up so, mission accomplished!

"You're suckink by dose," Fraser stated conversationally. "Why are you suckink by dose?"


Ray pulled back and took a determined breath. Reaching up, he placed both hands one Fraser's face and tilted his head to the side. "I was trying to kiss you, you freak!" So he tried again. Slowly, and tentatively. Fraser never moved a muscle for the duration. It was like kissing the back of his own hand. Ray opened his eyes and squinted at Fraser. Nothing. Nada. Frozen stiff. Shit. That hadn't felt quite the way he'd expected it to.

"Guess I should have stuck with the nose. Huh?" Ray muttered in disappointment. "I'm clearly not your type and...."

If he'd been paying a bit more attention, Ray might have seen Fraser's eyes narrow. He might even have heard Fraser's slow exhalation. And he would certainly have been more prepared for Fraser's hand on the back of his neck, drawing him close.

This kiss was anything but tentative. This was a more what Ray had expected. Much more. Jesus, it was... it was... what was it? Hot didn't seem to cover it. Unexpected. The intensity, and tenderness of it was totally unexpected. He pulled back, gasping.

Fraser's eyes were glittering. "This better not be your idea of a joke, Ray. Because if it is, so help me... "

"No joke," Ray gasped, tugging Fraser's face towards him for another round of tonsil hockey. "You hear anyone laughing?"

Fraser capitulated for long moments before pushing Ray away again. "But... God, Ray, you're not gay. Why on earth would you want to do this?"

Wasn't it enough that it felt good? He didn't have any answers to give. His brain was offline. He leaned close, pressing his erection against Fraser's leg. "Maybe it's just my dick that's gay?" he hissed, because that felt even better than the kissing had. "You should definitely give it a stern talking to."

"Oh dear," Fraser rasped, squeezing his eyes tightly closed. "I don't have any defenses against you when you look at me like that..."

"Hey, don't go mushy on me," Ray said softly. "We're guys remember. No mush. Just... um... cribbage... cabbage...." He'd read about it just the previous evening in his magazine, how could he have forgotten the damned name already?

"Frottage?" Fraser supplied dubiously.

"Is that the rubbing thing? Cos if that's the rubbing thing, then bring it on."

Fraser made a noise that was half way between a cough and a giggle. "Dear Lord, Ray. Slow down. I'm still not at all sure what's going on here."

Damn. Fraser was right. Ray staggered to his feet and went to sit on the sofa, as far away from Fraser as he could get. "Crap! Sorry, Frase. I kinda lost the plot there."

"It's not that I don't want to take things a step further." Fraser got up and joined Ray on the sofa. "Obviously, I would want... I've dreamed about... I just... well, to be honest, Ray, I don't really understand what happened here. Can we perhaps start at the beginning?" Fraser asked, surreptitiously placing a scatter cushion over his groin. Ray pretended not to notice.

"Okay, well I guess it started when I was about seven...."

"Ah, perhaps not that far back."

Ray flushed red and cleared his throat in embarrassment. "Oh, you mean the beginning of 'us'? Well, that's a kinda new development. Leastways for me."

"A somewhat sudden development," Fraser said. And Ray couldn't blame him for being sceptical. He hadn't exactly been wearing his heart on his sleeve all these months, but hell, he'd was only just working this shit out for himself.

"Look, I know it's hard to believe. I'm not exactly jumping your bones here, but I've never done anything like this before. Not... not with a guy! Flying blind here, Frase."

Fraser licked his lips and nodded. "I'm sorry, please, continue."

"Okay," Ray continued. "Okay. So. It's like this; A) I think I love you. 2) I can't imagine my life without you in it and c) I definitely liked the kissing.

"I could tell," Fraser smiled weakly. "But I'm just not convinced you've thought this through. Yes, it's possible that you love me. Yes, it's possible that you and I are so close now that it would be hard to imaging a future apart. Yet neither of those eventualities means that you're able to embark upon a physical relationship with me. I'm sorry Ray, I've seen little evidence to support that."

"I got hard when we were kissing. That's evidence."

"It's only evidence that you enjoy the sensuality of kissing and that your penis reacts to friction. Hardly an air tight case."

Ray sighed. "What do I gotta do to prove it to you Frase? Bend over the table? Because I will, if that's what it takes." And please God, don't let him say yes to that because he really, really didn't want to do that. At least... not yet.

Fraser's eyes closed and his head drooped almost right onto his chest. "As appealing as that mental image is, Ray, you have no idea what you are offering."

"You're trying to scare me off?" Ray was confused. How come Fraser wasn't all over this? Here he was, being all gay and everything, and Fraser was putting up walls.

"I'm trying to talk some sense into you. Ray, I'm not going anywhere. We can continue like before, being partners and friends..."

Ray shot to his feet and leaned on the mantle over the fireplace. He couldn't sit that close to Fraser and not make a grab for him. "You don't get it. I thought that's all I wanted too." His fingers clenched tight on the wood. "Partners and friends is great, Frase, but it's not forever."

Ray could feel the heat of Fraser's body close behind him before he felt the gentle touch of Fraser's hands on his shoulders. "Forever, Ray? Didn't you say that casual was your middle name?"

Ray turned around, letting some of the insecurity show in his face. "Fraser, I don't know what I want. Not exactly. But whatever it is, you're it."

Ray was beginning to wonder when Fraser would run out of steam. He'd been pacing the floor for several minutes now, hands clasped tightly behind his back, muttering under his breath. It was really quite distracting on many levels not least of which was the fact that Fraser's robe kept flapping open when he changed direction, and it was obvious he was next to naked beneath it.

"Is it really so hard to believe that I want to be with you in every way?" Ray asked to distract himself from the way his thoughts were going more than anything else.

Fraser stopped pacing and whirled around to look at him. "Frankly, Ray? Yes. Yes it is. All this time, all the signals I sent out, and you never once showed even the smallest iota of interest in me physically. I find it hard to believe that suddenly you find me desirable. No, I won't let you sacrifice yourself like this."

"Excuse me?" Did Fraser think he intended to just lie back and think of England?

But Fraser was still droning away, "...I'll always be here for you as your friend, as your partner. We can even live together if that would make you feel more of a commitment, but it doesn't have to go any further than just good friends...."

"What if I want it to?" he interrupted. When he looked at Fraser, even a hung over, flustered and tousled Fraser, he didn't care what people would think anymore. His colleagues, his parents, even Stella's opinion didn't matter. "This? This is no sacrifice, Fraser. I want this." Fraser deserved to be with someone who loved him wholeheartedly, and Ray needed the very same thing.

Fraser stared steadfastly over Ray's shoulder. "This is not something you have to do to keep me with you."

Okay, if Fraser wouldn't listen to him, then he would just have to show him how he felt. Actions speak louder than words right? He took a deep breath. "Yesterday, I would have been relieved to hear that." He grabbed Fraser's shoulders, whirled him around and began backing him towards the alcove

"Ray, if you would just think rationally for a moment..." Fraser said desperately but Ray wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention to him.

"La la la not listening."

"Ray! Stop it! Sex is not a game."

"No, but it can be fun," Ray grinned, shoving Fraser down onto the cot and straddling his legs. "C'mon, Frase. Live a little..."

And what do you know, Fraser was still sporting wood. Hard to ignore when you were practically sitting right on it. And all that separated Ray from Fraser's dick was a layer of denim, and a layer of cotton, which set up the most delicious friction every time he moved.

Fraser was breathing hard. He clenched the metal sides of the cot and gasped as Ray writhed in his lap.

"Please, Ray... you don't understand...."

Ray yanked his t-shirt off and tossed it on the floor. What was to understand? Fraser wanted him. He wanted Fraser. Why Fraser had to complicate even the simplest of equations was totally beyond Ray's ability to comprehend. "Will you shut the fuck up and kiss me?" he demanded.

For a moment, it looked like Fraser might comply. "If I lose control," he said tightly, still clinging to the bed frame like it was an anchor, "I might not be able to stop."

And of course, that would worry a guy like Fraser, who prided himself on his self-control and stamina. The idea that he might be able to break that iron control was more than a little appealing to Ray. He leaned forward and caught Fraser's earlobe between his teeth, nipping lightly. "That's the whole point," he whispered.

Fraser tried to jerk away, causing the cot to tip under the uneven weight distribution and Ray suddenly found himself on the floor, in a tangle of limbs and bed sheets, staring up into Fraser's shocked face.

Fraser was no lightweight. Ray wasn't at all used to being pinned down like this, and maybe he should be freaked by it, but he wasn't. It reminded him that he didn't have to hold back. That Fraser could take everything he had to give and more. And hey, hang on... Fraser was pushing himself upwards, desperately trying to put daylight between their bodies. Ray couldn't allow that. He reached up and grabbed the gaping edges of Fraser's robe, using it to pull him back down. "Where the hell do you think you're going?" he growled.

Ray felt the exact moment that Fraser surrendered.

He stopped fighting and let Ray pull him down, eyes drifting shut on a sigh until there was no space at all between them. Ray closed his eyes tight and let the waves of pleasure lap over him. Those were Fraser's hands touching his face, his neck, his chest. That was Fraser's tongue licking its way into his mouth and that was Fraser's... oh fuck... that was his dick pressing hard against Ray's crotch with every gentle thrust of his hips.

Ray got lost in the kiss, hardly aware that Fraser had made short work of his zipper, until Fraser rolled them over and slipped his hands down the back of Ray's jeans. Holy shit! Fraser had big hands. Big, warm, clever hands that were now full of Ray's ass cheeks.

"Oh, God...." He groaned, grinding helplessly down against Fraser's groin. "...more."

Fraser was still panting. "More... more what, Ray? You have to... tell me what you want."


Ray shoved his jeans and boxers down enough to get the skin on skin action he needed, and began to move.

Fraser was kissing him, mingling his breath with Ray's. He could feel it coiling inside him, the electric burn of release, tightening his balls, stealing his breath, painting his eyelids with flashes of light. "Oh yeah, oh yeah, that's it, Ben, that's... oh fuck!"

He came so hard his ears rang. Ray's eyes rolled back in his head and he went lax with pleasure, sprawled on Fraser's chest like wrung out cloth.

"Wow. That was... that was...." Ray didn't have words to describe it. A small smile tugged at his lips. If he'd still had any doubts that he could make this thing work with Fraser, they were gone now, blown sky high along with Ray's purely heterosexual status. He lifted his head, which felt like it weighed about a ton, and gazed down at his... lover? Oh yeah, that worked.

Fraser was still breathing kinda hard and it occurred to Ray then, at he was being a little derelict in his duties. Fraser still hadn't come and that wasn't buddies. Ray wondered if he should maybe try licking something. Did Fraser like having his nipples played with? Shifting to one side, Ray ran a shaky hand up Fraser's chest, catching his nipple between finger and thumb.

Fraser bucked violently upwards. Okay. He definitely liked that. Ray bent down and suckled the hard little peak into his mouth.

"Fuck, Ray!"

If Ray hadn't just come quite spectacularly once already, hearing Fraser swear like that might just have set him off again. As it was, his cock twitched valiantly. Ray had never had such a responsive sexual partner. Stella and him, they'd been good in bed, even when the marriage was on the rocks, but she had never let go like this.

Ray licked his way down Fraser's chest and belly, avoiding the mess he's made there, high on the rush of endorphins and not a small amount of relief. All of this was new to him, but all of it felt so fucking good. What he lacked in experience he was making make up for in enthusiasm. Fraser's fingers brushed lightly through his hair and Ray shivered with anticipation. He just hoped he could make a fairly good show if this, for Fraser's sake.

Wrapping his hand firmly around Fraser's cock, Ray took a deep breath and slowly sucked his way down the shaft. He had just about enough time to register the taste before Fraser gasped, arched his back and exploded down Ray's throat in short, hot spurts, desperately crying out his name.

Ray did his best to take it all, but this was his first time, and there was rather more than he had expected. Next time... next time he would make sure Fraser lasted longer. This was way too good to hurry. He swallowed around Fraser's still pulsing cock and felt a swell of intense pride. He'd made Fraser come. How cool was that?

Surreptitiously wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, he glanced up to see Fraser looking back at him in amazement.

"You did say, you would try anything once, Ray," he panted.

Ray grinned, crawling up the length of Fraser's body to kiss him. "Wanna try for twice?"

Epilogue - 2 years later.

Ray loved Sundays.

There was something really decadent about lying in bed until noon, reading the papers and sipping coffee. And sometimes, if he played it right, they would have a little game of 'hide the sausage', before Fraser insisted on getting up.

Today had been a particularly great Sunday, on account of how Fraser hadn't tipped him out of bed, but let him wallow while he saw to the dogs and picked up breakfast.

Ray was cleaning out Turk the turtle's tank when Fraser returned, preceded by Mutt, the ever-energetic new member of their little family, and followed up more sedately by Dief.

"Ray, you really need to have a word with your dog. He was exceptionally rude to Mrs Filipowski's pomeranian.

Ray shook his head fondly and smiled, wiping his hands on a dishrag. "Yeah, what'd he do? Use it to wipe his...."

"Ray!" Fraser interrupted loudly, effectively blocking out the end of the sentence. "There's no denying where he gets his manners from."

Ray bent down and scratched the scruffy rescue dog's ears fondly. "He's trying to turn us all into goddamned Canadians, Mutt. What do you think of them apples?"

Mutt snorted and jumped up on the sofa beside his best buddy Dief.

Fraser had started toasting bagels. "Ray, can I ask you something?"

Oh dear. He had that look on his face. The one that meant he needed to get something off his chest. Ray dug the cream cheese out of the refrigerator. "Sure, shoot."

"Do you ever regret giving up your job in Chicago to move up here with me?"

The way he spoke, you'd think Whitehorse was at the ends of the earth. Sure, it wasn't a big city like Vancouver or Toronto, but Fraser wouldn't have been able to hack living in a place like that, even with his years of practice in the Windy City.

They could get pizza here with pineapple, thank you very much. There were shops and restaurants and cinemas. Ray enjoyed the change of pace but more than that, he enjoyed the change in Fraser. Ray had been worried that one day, he would lose Fraser to Canada. As it turned out, Canada won them both! But in truth, Ray would happily have followed Fraser to the ends of the earth.

"Regret it? Yeah, sometimes I miss the scumbags and the rapists and the murderers..." Ray deadpanned, spreading cheese on the bagels Fraser had just lifted out of the toaster. They'd been here almost three years and Ray hadn't threatened to kick anyone in the head even once.

"We have our share of those here, Ray. "

"Yeah, but they're polite scumbags. Look, Ben. I don't miss the town, I don't miss the job, and I certainly don't miss the loneliness." It had been a constant source of amazement to Ray that in a city the size of Chicago, a person could still feel so alone. "I got what I need right here. You're a freak, but I love ya."

Ray took a bite out of his bagel and raised his eyebrows. Was that enough reassurance, or would he be forced to take Fraser to bed and prove his undying devotion again. Oh, the hardship.

"And I you, Ray."

The gentle smile on those sweet, sometimes wicked lips made Ray want to go for the proof thing anyway, because honestly, what harm could it do? He licked cream cheese from the corner of his mouth and leaned across the table, eyes slowly closing with anticipation.

Which was right about when someone started knocking on the door. It was Sunday afternoon. Fraser was off duty. They looked at each other in disbelief. "Nah," Ray laughed, "couldn't be.... Could it?"

The End



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